The Legendary Scriptment
"Welcome to JOSH SULLY'S world.
"It is a century from now, and the population of our tired planet has tripled. Finally, drowning in its own toxic waste, starvation and poverty, the population has topped out at a nice even 20 billion.
"The Earth is dying, covered with a gray mold of human civilization. Even the moon is spiderwebbed with city lights on its dark side.
"Overpopulation, over- development, nuclear terrorism, environmental warfare tactics, radiation leakage from power plants and waste dumps, toxic waste, air pollution, deforestation, pollution and overfishing of the oceans, global warming, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity through extinction...
"…All of these have combined to make the once green and beautiful planet a terminal cesspool."
That's how Cameron's original scriptment for the film opens. Back then, the lead character was called Josh, but many of the ideas present in the final movie were born from that original screed (so anyone seeking it out online should be aware that spoilers lurk within it).
The ideas for the story draw more from the past than they do from the future: "We’re basically telling the story of the Americas and to a certain extent some of the other areas in the world that were conquered by the British, Dutch and so on.
"But we’re really telling the story of what happens when a technologically superior culture comes into a place with resources that the conquerors want," explains the director.
The story was originally considered as Cameron's next big thing following True Lies.
"I had planned to make this film before Titanic. I wrote the treatment of Avatar in spring 1995. It is a film I’ve always wanted to make. It was just a question of when.
"But it was driven by the maturation of technology. Then I wanted to make the film right after Titanic which would have been around 1998.
"I was told pretty much right away that it wasn’t going to be possible.”
And it wasn't a producer letting him know this - it was Digital Domain, the visual effects house he largely owned that warned even they couldn't pull it off with the mid-nineties' tech.
Of course, the filmmaker is famous for pushing ahead regardless. "The words ‘No’ and ‘That’s impossible’ and phrases like ‘That can’t be done ’ - that’s the stuff that gives him an erection,” Bill Paxton told The New Yorker this year.
Cameron might have realised that he couldn't make Avatar right there and then. And so he put the scriptment into a draw while he focused on a few other things, like making a little film called Titanic and becoming obsessed with diving deep into the ocean.
But he never forgot Avatar. And the story would surface again, once the tech was ready for it, even if it meant Cameron doing it himself…
Next: Building The Tech