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While James Cameron’s Avatar has many ardent supporters, it’s unlikely that the release of fifteen minutes from the film last week had the effect Fox was hoping for. More than a few fans have decried it as, well, rather silly. Others have even gone so far as to label it a rip-off. Worse, the makers of the animated movie Delgo not only think it’s a rip-off, they appear to think they may have a lawsuit.
In a press release the film’s distributor, Fathom Studios, had this to say about Cameron’s upcoming film: “From what we have seen, we are amazed by the visual similarities between the two films and we are reviewing what legal options may be available to us.” Alright, this has gone too far.
I’m not a fan of what I’ve seen from Avatar, but let's forget whether the animation is cartoonish (I think it is) and focus on what it’s about. First one thing must be accepted: It’s not original. Not at all. I’ve read the script and seen the footage and to me a much of it seems a lot like Quigley Down Under. Distilled down to its simplest form, Avatar is the story of a soldier who enters a hostile environment in the employ of settlers, and then decides to switch sides and go native. That story has been done and been done a million times before. To me that’s Quigley Down Under with aliens. Personally, I liked it better when it starred Tom Selleck. Sam Worthington needs a mustache.
Others have compared Avatar to Pocahantas and that’s easy to see too. A lot of it also feels eerily similar to Battle for Terra, another computer animated movie released earlier this year. And then there’s Delgo. What all of these movies have in common is that they’re using the same, repetitive themes. It’s a played out, preachy genre which we’ve all seen a million times before. That doesn’t make it a rip-off of any one thing. It makes it the James Cameron equivalent of a Matthew McConaughey movie.
Avatar contains elements from all of those films and probably a little bit of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings too. Barring some miracle reworking of everything in the script or ideas which bear no resemblance to the ones we’ve seen pushed in the movie’s early footage and trailer, odds are that Avatar isn’t going to be a very original film. But it’s probably not a rip-off of Delgo or anything else. It’s just not a very fresh idea, and it wasn’t fresh when Delgo did it either. That’s probably why no one bothered to see it. Avatar, if it’s a rip-off, is a rip-off in the same way that Matthew McConaughey’s next horrible rom-com will bear a strange resemblance to every other lame rom-com that’s come before it. That doesn’t mean Matthew McConaughey should be sued, it just means we all ought to wise up and spend our ticket money on something better. In the case of James Cameron, maybe it means he has the chance to take a tired, cliché idea and breathe new life into it. Or maybe we’d all be better off Netflixing Quigley Down Under.