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Avatar--WTF?

avatar-plot-fail.jpg

While everyone else is all agog over how Evo went to see Avatar with his daughter (and loved it), I found something very different regarding that film in Russia:

Soviet sci-fi writer, 76-year-old Boris Strugatsky, has accused Oscar-winning director James Cameron of plagiarism.

One of the authors of "Roadside Picnic" is claiming that the plot of Cameron's latest 3-D sci-fi adventure, "Avatar", has been taken from his "Noon: 22nd Century" novel, released in mid '60s.

"The Americans have borrowed our idea - it's very unpleasant," Boris Strugatsky was quoted as saying. "But I won't take them to court. Or shall I?"

[...]

"Avatar" is set on Pandora, a moon with an Earthlike environment that orbits a gas-giant planet called Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri-A star system, our nearest stellar neighbor.

Meanwhile, the collection of "Noon Universe" novels written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky in the 1960s features a number of planets, including Pandora.

[...]

According to the Soviet writer, "Avatar" is akin to an illustration to Strugatsky's books. For instance, their "Disquiet" novel focuses on a biologist, Mikhail Sidorov, who finds himself on Pandora among the native population. In Cameron's film, according to Strugatsky, he has morphed into a former Marine, Jake Sully.

In Strugatsky's books, the inhabitants of the planet resemble dogs, while Cameron's creatures have the features of cats.

Boris Strugatsky (who, along with his late brother Arkady, is a very leading name in Russian SF, BTW) may be mulling suing, but the Communists of St. Petersburg have already taken things a step further:

The organization "Communists of Petersburg" has demanded to arrest the creator of Avatar James Cameron for being "the plunderer of Soviet science fiction". The statement has been published at the official website of the organization.

According to the secretary of Volkhov Department of the Communists of Petersburg Organization, James Cameron "lifted his hand against the creative legacy of the late sci-fi writers Arkady Strugatsky, Ivan Yefremov, Kir Bulychev, and film director Pavel Arsenov, making use of the fact that the dead authors cannot go to the law".

"Cameron deserves a place in prison and not at the Oscar ceremony" - communists of Petersburg claim.

This movie is now one to watch...on more fronts than one, it seems.

(Although, if the illustration I found on FailBlog is any indication, it looks like Cameron may have lifted the plot of Pocahontas, as well--throwing a further kink into the whole matter.)

UPDATE, 11:38 am: Commenter Alexander, below, says this was a hoax, and that Boris Strugatsky has not threatened to sue.

Comments

Avatar, being the blockbuster hit that it is, is attracting all sorts of critics who make bizarre bedfellows. But the real story is how the media controversy and flacking on many fronts in trying to dilute the central subversive message.

Yeah, no shit about the bedfellows thing--I mean, US fascists and Russian communists both slamming it (for radically different reasons, no less)? Wow.

Now I really have to see it.

Monbiot's take is fair (although he does try to inoculate himself with a dismal of Avatar's basic hollywood-ness), while Carlos in DC's take is even more interesting. It's a great movie with powerful themes, undermined somewhat by its underdeveloped dialogue and and cliched tropes. Then again, for a movie of its size (the biggest ever), that's inevitable!

I haven't seen the movie yet, although my sweetie and the kids have. (And they insist I have to see it... I'll get that done some time!)

For the plagiarism claim to stick they'd have to prove a few things:
1. That the originals were available in a language Cameron reads (were they ever published in English?)
2. That Cameron had the opportunity to read the book (even if it was published in English, was it ever brought to market in the US?)
3. That the timing was right for 1 and 2 to happen before Cameron started working on Avatar, back in the 1970s when he first put together the idea for the movie.
4. That the Russian sci-fi stories are so unique in themselves, with no ideas drawn from any other source that Cameron might have also drawn from, that the only possible source for these ideas would have to be the Russian sci-fi stories.

There are dozens if not hundreds of books on the craft of writing that bluntly state that when we tell stories we're really just retelling long-repeated plots and ideas mixed together in different ways. How many times have we retold "Romeo and Juliet", or "Macbeth," or "Noah's Ark" (2012 anyone?)

The similarities between Pocahontas and Avatar to me just underscore the fact that all stories are remixes of the same basic plots rather than being attempts outright plagiarism. (But then some authors are apparently so wrapped up in their own egos that they can't accept the fact that their own precious work might not be 100% original...)

Damn, 'Bina! You let that other lawyer steal all my best stuff. I didn't know you were using other lawyers. Hmmmm! And I thought we had a relationship going. Professional, that is!

Well, according to the Wikipedia link for the Brothers Strugatsky, the novel Cameron is accused of copycatting was published in English in 1978. That would certainly put it within the right time frame for when he started thinking about the film, if he started mulling it in the late '70s. In all likelihood, it was available in the US as well; Ursula Le Guin makes mention of the Strugatskys in her essays on SF. How widely available this particular book was, I don't know, but I'm assuming it was easier to get hold of then than it would be now. (SF novels, unless they become cult classics, tend to have a short shelf life and go out of print practically as soon as published in most cases.) A reasonably well-read SF-nerd could easily have picked it up--SF from behind the Iron Curtain was well received over here, since its authors often had themes in common with their western counterparts. So there is a pretty good chance that Cameron read it. Unless he mentions it as an inspiration, though, it would be hard to prove that he used it, even inadvertently. Whether or not he ever has to answer to court challenges, though, it would be interesting to hear more about how he conceived the film.

And yes, it's hard to find anything new under the sun, plot-wise. No doubt the Strugatskys knew that already. And SF is particularly notorious for its reliance on formula, never more so than in movies. "Boy meets girl, girl mistrusts boy, boy proves himself to girl" is common in a lot of movie genres, including John Hughes '80s-teen sagas. I prefer character over plot, since stock plots are easy to plug into, but well-developed characters tend to be much more individual and challenging (and less reliant on special effects to make their stories interesting).

LOL, Jim! I pinky-swear on a stack of bibles that I'll never let it happen again.

Boris Strugatsky has already bashed this hoax. He never accused Cameron of anything and doesn't even know what the movie is about, except that it has "planet of monsters Pandora". :-)

Good to know, thanks.

Now, how about those Petrograd Communists?