Avatar: 10 mind-blowing facts and in-jokes

James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi spectacular ‘Avatar’ was the first movie to ever crack the $2bn dollar mark at the global box office, so it’s crazy to think that 20th Century Fox nearly passed on the project for being too risky.

That’s the power of hindsight I guess. Cameron is a master filmmaker and should never be underestimated, even when it comes to cramming his films full of in-jokes and gags that you probably missed the first time around.

As FOUR sequels have been announced, here are 10 things you probably never noticed about the original ‘Avatar’…

The hidden American flag

In case you didn’t spot the anti-imperialism message of ‘Avatar’ that draws parallels between the colonisation of North America and the invasion of Pandora, Cameron sneakily flashed up a huge American flag behind Colonel Quaritch when he’s giving his welcome speech to the raw recruits.

The space left for the stars even looks like it has “50″ inscribed on it in reference to the 50 stars of the Stars and Stripes flag.

Computer generated cigarette

Sigourney Weaver’s character Grace Augustine was a heavy smoker in the film, but only in her human form. Cameron took some flak for this for apparently glorifying smoking but he responded saying it was a comment on how people spend too much time living in virtual worlds, while neglecting their real bodies.

Pretty harsh indictment on fat nerds there, but did you know Sigourney didn’t actually have to smoke a tab for every take? Cameron added a CGI ciggie and smoke in post-production to save Weaver’s lungs, while she pretended to toke on a toothpick.

The CGI took A LONG time

Although it’s easy to assume Cameron animated most of ‘Avatar’ in a computer from scratch, CGI visual effects only account for 60% of the movie, the rest was all live action.

That being said, the film was so visual effect laden, some frames took up to 47 hours to render, which is pretty incredible when you consider each second of film comprises of 24 individual frames. That’s a lot of processing time.

The Lorax Easter egg

In the extended cut of the film a new scene was added showing Jake, Grace and Norm visiting Dr. Augustine’s abandoned Na’vi village.

As they survey the derelict buildings, Norm (in his Na’vi avatar) picks up a discarded copy of Dr. Seuss environmental fable ‘The Lorax’. The book is about a character who speaks up for trees when a business man starts chopping down a forest… just like Jake Sully does for the Na’vi.

Unobtainium is a real thing

Well, kind of. The daft-sounding material that the RDA seeks to mine on Pandora gets its name from a theoretical substance often referenced in aeronautical engineering.  

Engineers use the term “Unobtanium” to denote an idealised - but impossible -material that would solve long-standing design problems (lightweight substances that are also extremely heat-resistant, for example). Designers later adopted the term for materials that do exist, but are prohibitively expensive.

So before you scoff at Giovanni Ribisi talking about Unobtanium, remember the silly name is actually rooted in science.

Na’vi have breasts… for no reason

The Na’vi are a race of sentient humanoid aliens, very similar to man, but also different in many subtle ways. One way in which they’re alike is the presence of breasts on the female. Unfortunately for James Cameron, this makes zero sense in the established biology of the movie’s world, as breasts for nursing are only present on placental mammals like humans, which the Na’vi are most definitely not.

Cameron told Playboy magazine, “Right from the beginning I said, ‘She’s got to have t**s,’ even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na'vi, aren’t placental mammals.”

Hidden message on Norm’s hat

Take a look at the baseball cap Norm wears when he’s in his Na’vi body. That weird pattern could just be the logo for an intergalactic sportswear firm, but in fact it’s actually a neat Easter egg.

The pattern of dots actually spells out “1969″ in braille form. Why 1969? It’s the year man first walked on the moon - pretty apt for a space explorer.

Quaritch missile

In the film’s climactic battle, Jake Sully jumps onto Quaritch’s flying gunship. The grizzled military man tries to dislodge him by steering the plane sharply to one side. Jake loses his balance, falls from the flying ship, but saves himself by hanging onto a missile slung beneath the craft. 

It’s nearly identical to a scene in James Cameron’s ‘True Lies’ that sees Arnold Schwarzenegger do the same thing in a Harrier jump jet to Art Malik’s character. In ‘True Lies’, Malik’s character hangs on to a missile, which Arnie then fires into a nearby building with the immortal one-liner “You’re fired”.

Neytiri’s handprint

Before heading into battle for the film’s climax, Jake and Neytiri daub themselves in neon war paint. Check out Neytiri’s chest though, she has a white handprint on it. The print shows five fingers but Na’vi only have four, so what gives?

It’s actually a subtle pledge of allegiance from Neytiri to her fiver-fingered human lover Jake Sully. Bless.

Timing is everything

Although the future date the film takes place is in never overtly discussed, Jake Sully’s video-logs indicate the year is 2154, which means the final battle takes place in August, 2154… 200 years after the birth of director James Cameron. 

Happy birthday Jim! We’ve blown up a planet for you!

Image credits: 20th Century Fox