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Five Movies That Avatar Ripped Off

Movie references found from the Avatar Trailer.

By Daniel Carlson     August 31, 2009


AVATAR
© Mania

 

The stunning thing about the just-released trailer for Avatar — well, one of them — is just how derivative it appears to be, as if culled from the deleted scenes of every sci-fi or fantasy flick from the past 20 years. This is stunning because it’s the new film from James Cameron, and though the director hasn’t released a narrative feature since 1997 (something about a boat) or helmed a genre story since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, his name used to be synonymous with smart, engaging, original science-fiction. But the trailer for Avatar, whose story covers everything from instellar battles to cloning to spiritual transference, feels cobbled together from so many other sources. Here are the top five movies the upcoming Avatar has shamelessly ripped off. (But first, here’s the trailer to refresh your memory.)
 
 
 
 
1. Delgo
 
The story: The stunningly bad CG-animated Delgo, which featured a voice cast including Freddie Prinze, Jr., and Jennifer Love Hewitt, currently holds the record for worst debut for a film opening on more than 2,000 screens (it earned $500k and change that weekend on its way to a grand total just shy of $700,000). Prinze voices the title character in a needlessly dense story about two alien races uniting to save their planet.
 
The parallel: Delgo set a new bar for horrible animation, especially in asking audiences to invest in the romantic tension between two badly drawn characters whose genders were impossible to differentiate. Granted, Cameron’s film has access to just slightly more capital, but setting CG characters in a real environment just heightens their unreality, and watching them sweep in for a kiss isn’t uplifting, it’s just eerie.
 
 
 
 
2. Battle for Terra
 
The story: In a future in which Earth has been destroyed, the surviving remnants of the human race mount a military offensive against the peaceful denizens of the planet Terra, who were clearly modeled after E.T. but rendered with some of the worst CG animation since, well, Delgo.
 
The parallel: Um, this is pretty much the same story as Avatar. Granted, the Cameron film’s trailer is all about image instead of specific plot points (a problem to be addressed later), but a war launched by humans against the harmless inhabitants of a faraway world dotted with floating islands? Come on. That’s shameless.
 
 
 
 
3. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest
 
The story: This forgettable 1992 Fox animated feature was a product of its very earnest era: It’s all about a crusade to save the rainforests in a battle between the forces of good, represented by wood fairies, and an evil cloud of singing pollution (really), voiced by Tim Curry.
 
The parallel: Much of Avatar takes place on a faraway world and concerns a struggle between imperialist Earth forces and the blue, catlike natives bent on preserving their lush jungle home. It’s not that environmentalism is inherently a bad theme for a film, but for a sci-fi spectacle of this scope and pedigree, there needs to be more going on than just a desire to save the trees.
 
 
 
 
4. The Lord of the Rings
 
The story: For the seven of you who haven’t seen the movie, Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel deals with a quest to defeat the dark lord threatening to destroy the world and the eventual return of the people’s king and savior. (And no, it’s actually not an allegory.)
 
The parallel: Although most genre films owe a debt to the template Tolkien laid out, Avatar looks to be borrowing from Jackon’s series in slightly more specific ways, or at least does so enough to give pause. There’s the bow-wielding heroine, the world-spanning battles, the hero who loses his personality and learns to fight, all set against a world that’s been animated to the hilt. This movie wouldn’t even exist in its current form without Jackson. That’s not entirely a compliment.
 
 
 
 
5. Star Wars: Episodes I-III
 
The story: Over the course of three films, George Lucas turned a fantasy empire for children of all ages into a plodding and badly written discourse on the perils of interstellar trade tariffs. The films strove for an epic feel but came out feeling puffed up on their own hype, and only rarely able to connect on the gut level that had come easier to the franchise 30 years earlier.
 
The parallel: Of all the possible genre stories, the clip for Avatar seems most comfortable ripping off Lucas’ prequel trilogy. There’s the importance of clones, from Lucas’ decision to make an army of them to Cameron’s story about a soldier transplanting his personality into a cloned member of the alien race. (The trailer is mum on how space travel and cloning are possible but no one’s able to get a paraplegic a good set of robotic legs.) There’s the heavy use of CG characters, from Jar-Jar Binks to the central characters of Cameron’s film. Yes, animation has definitely advanced in 10 years, but that doesn’t mean these things aren’t any less goofy-looking, especially when forced to interact with real human beings. But worst of all, Lucas’ movies placed an emphasis on style over substance, acting as if a pod race or lightsaber duel could compensate for the absence of an engaging plot. Cameron’s film has the potential to fall into the same trap, especially since Avatar is meant to be seen in 3-D. It’s as if the movie was created not to tell a story but to take advantage of technology, which is never a reason to ask a viewer to throw down $10 and two-plus hours. If the trailer is any indication, Cameron’s in danger of ignoring the lesson Lucas forgot he ever taught: A special effect is just a tool, a means to tell a story. It’s not the story itself.
 
 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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Chopsaki 8/31/2009 3:29:05 AM

And to think the trailer is only 2 min 11 sec long with no dialogue.  And no mention of Dances with Wolves, that must of taken a great deal of restraint Let me guess too easy? Once the movie is released in it's entirety just think of the endless possibilities Born on the 4th of July, The Matrix, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Muppets Take Manhattan!!!

To think that the movies you listed above didn't borrow ideas or even entire visual concepts for there source material from stories & movies like Beowolf or The Seven Samurai is being a little short sighted. Unlike some people I will attempt to reserve judgement untill I see the finished movie and I advise others to do the same. The more things change the more they stay the same. It's just building a better mouse trap...

On that note, Hanso & Wiseguy...power rings unite!!! Let the verbal sparring begin :)

Miner49er 8/31/2009 3:39:07 AM

And that camera shot of the jungle was ripped off the trailer for DisneyNature's earth.

kingMAB 8/31/2009 5:10:45 AM

The biggest influences are clearly the miniseries Roots and the movie Cool World.  Not to mention the 1987 season of Days of our Lives.

Hobbs 8/31/2009 6:21:47 AM

I'll be the first to jump in line and say the CGI sucks for this movie but I don't think this is a fair article.  Do you really know everything that's in it already?  Have you read the script?  As Chopsaki pointed out, everyone borrows from everyone else in story telling ever since Homer's Odyssey.

I think this article is a little premature.  It should be saved for AFTER the movie comes out so you can get your comparisons correct.

NotAFan 8/31/2009 6:22:27 AM

Hmm, I wonder if this article might be a weeeeeeeeeee bit premature! ........ NAAAAAAH!

Knightsong 8/31/2009 6:30:37 AM

I've been reading this list articles and while occasionally they hold some merit they same to generally just fill up space. They don't always seem to well thought out. The batle for terra reference seems to be your best argument, it seems more logical to have based the article around that. Might be an idea to maybe put it out to your talk backers to do an article or collaborate with them on this lists.

monkeyfoot 8/31/2009 7:03:20 AM

I truly hate the term "Ripped Off." Especially saying this about a film we've only seen the trailer for. As I, and others have sad in other commentary, there are no new stories. In the Human Condition every conceivable form of human drama has been done with some even being part of every human being's subconcious thoughts as archetypes.

For example,as much as everyone's praised District 9 for being a great original story, it has some of the same themes and ideas portrayed in these examples.

What it all comes down to is EXECUTION, EXECUTION, EXECUTION. It is how you tell the tale with passion and creativity that makes the re-telling of time-honored themes into great works.

And we haven't seen how Cameron tells the tale so pipe down already!!!!

hanso 8/31/2009 7:29:32 AM

Monkeyfoot you missed the Halloween 3d thread, get to it!

hanso 8/31/2009 7:31:59 AM

Someone should write an article on how many people Daniel Carlson ripped off to write this article.

Bryzarro 8/31/2009 7:58:34 AM

UMMMM this list is missing the key movie Avatar ripped off.....Invasion of the Boobie Snatchers!!  (1992)

Flat chested nerds creating large breasted bodies to switch into.  the helping an alien plant against invaders!!

These articles suck cause they just want to get chatter alone from the article name.  I won't be reading anymore until the movie comes out.  I just hope nobody buys into this as Chopsaki said a 2 min trailer and all is decided!!  Unreal!

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