James Cameron is a director renowned for wearing his movie influences on his sleeve. Throughout his career the 'Avatar' director has been notable for producing movies that drew strongly from films that pre-dated his productions. This was perhaps more true of the original 'Avatar' movie than any of Cameron's other films, though. Both fans and critics have named numerous movies whose influence is tangible in 'Avatar', but here are three of the most prevalent.
'Apocalypto', released in 2006, was a commercial success for Mel Gibson, but was later criticised for its portrayal of the Mayan people. Nonetheless, the film showed the potential of basing a story in a jungle setting, which though given an outer-space basis in 'Avatar' was very much the setting of Cameron's movie. Cameron's film also depicted the sort of tribal society with a closeness to the land that was depicted in 'Apocalypto', but learned from the mistakes of the Gibson movie, and ensured that his film was far more sympathetic to the Na'vi people than 'Apocalypto' was to its subjects. Where the Mayans were depicted as brutal and blood lusting, the Na'vi in 'Avatar' were spiritual and essentially peace loving.
There is also a distinct air of 'Apocalypse Now' to the warmongering in 'Avatar'. The way that Quaritch speaks about the inhabitants of Pandora is rather akin to the way that American attitudes to Vietnamese are depicted in 'Apocalypse Now'. Again, the jungle parallel between the two is another obviously similar element, the notion of being lost in a foreign world, even if the terrain in 'Avatar' is to some extent depicted as beautiful rather than hostile. And the aggressive character of Quaritch in 'Avatar' is somewhat similar to the brutal Colonel Kilgore character who appears in 'Apocalypse Now'. A prevalence of helicopter / gunship-based battles could also be cited.
Dances with Wolves
This is perhaps the movie most frequently compared with 'Avatar'. Kevin Costner starred in this film in which a white American immerses himself in Native American culture and society during the American Civil War, and becomes seduced by this foreign culture. Both films obviously also feature white colonialists threatening the existence of an indigenous people. Both movies see their protagonists fall in love with a woman native to the tribes that they infiltrate, and both involve a large conflict between natives and colonials. It is hard to deny the common ground between the two, and this film was perhaps the biggest influence of all on the way that 'Avatar' turned out.
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