With the hoopla over James Cameron’s upcoming sci-fi blockbuster Avatar, you wouldn’t expect a spanner to be thrown in the works at this stage in the game, less than two months from its release. But that appears to be the case, with the aforementioned trouble taking the form of an uncanny resemblance between Avatar‘s plot and the plot of a 1957 Poul Anderson novella called Call Me Joe.
Some sites – such as over at io9 where this story originated – are asking the question of whether or not Avatar is a rip-off of Anderson’s sci-fi story from over five decades ago. It seems a bit strong to say “rip-off” but the evidence of the similarities between the two plots is undeniable. One of io9‘s readers, “Goldfarb,” pointed them toward Call Me Joe – take a look at the plot synopsis for both it and Avatar, along with some artwork for both, and see if you think they bear more than a passing resemblance to one another:
Call Me Joe:
Call Me Joe centers on a paraplegic – Ed Anglesey – who telepathically connects with an artificially created life form in order to explore a harsh planet (in this case, Jupiter). Anglesey revels in the freedom and strength of his artificial created body, battles predators on the surface of Jupiter, and gradually goes native as he spends more time connected to his artificial body.
In the future, Jake, a paraplegic war veteran, is brought to another planet, Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na’vi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture. Those from Earth find themselves at odds with each other and the local culture.
Pretty striking, eh? One of the big things about Avatar – which is one of the biggest selling points for me personally – is the fact that it’s said to be a ‘totally original work from the mind of Cameron,’ the man who brought us such classic sci-fi classics as The Terminator, Terminator 2 and Aliens. There’s no previous brand to build off of, which will make it all the more interesting to see how well Avatar does at the box office when it opens.
But now that there’s a possibility that the plot might not be as original as we were first lead to believe kind of takes some of the wind out of the sails, at least for me. Of course, there are varying opinions on this matter, ranging from if Cameron was even aware of the novella at all when he came up with the story (i.e. it’s just a coincidence); to some saying it’s one influence but not “the” influence; and some are even going as far to say Cameron stole the idea and Anderson deserves a credit on the film.
io9 reminds us that Cameron doesn’t claim to be totally influence-free when it comes to Avatar - he’s cited the likes of Dances With Wolves, Rudyard Kipling and Edgar Rice Burroughs. But as io9 also says, it’s strange that he hasn’t cited Anderson’s Call Me Joe amongst those.
This isn’t the first time Cameron has run into a problem involving accusations of plagiarism: Back when he made The Terminator, writer Harlan Ellison sued the production company claiming the ideas were already in a couple of Outer Limits episodes. The matter was settled out of court, and Ellison got (and still has) a credit on The Terminator.
Apparently this isn’t the first time Avatar has been compared to Call Me Joe, with /Film doing some research that turned up comments from readers that are months old, pointing out similarities between the two. For some reason it’s taken this long for it to bubble to the surface and become a (semi-)real issue.
It’s up in the air at this point in time what affect this will have on Avatar, Cameron or 20th Century Fox. My bet is that it will turn out to have been an influence of Cameron’s all along, and they will have the permission to use some of the ideas. Kind of the way things turned out with the whole Pirates of the Caribbean 4 book source mess last month. I really don’t think that with a film as huge as Avatar that Cameron, Fox and everyone else at the top haven’t thoroughly covered their hindquarters.
Do you think Avatar is influenced or even based on the Call Me Joe novella? Are the similarities too great to ignore? What do you think this will mean for the movie, Cameron and 20th Century Fox?
Avatar hits theaters on December 18th, 2009.