James Cameron on Why 'Avatar' Has a Simple Plot: "Layers"

'Avatar'Credit: Disney
Avatar got slammed by some critics as a Pocahontas story. James Cameron rolls his eyes at that. 

One of my favorite movies is Avatar. I think it's a sweeping epic that certified James Cameron as one of our most important storytellers. He has incredible original ideas. I wish Hollywood would learn from him and greenlight for others. 

But when Avatar came out, one of the biggest rags on it was that the story was too familiar. People called it Fern Gully and Pocahontas. But in a recent question and answer session, Cameron addressed these critics head-on. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7msv2ed4Wc

Cameron's basic answer was "layers."

Avatar had to have a simple entry point so most people could come through the door. It's the top-grossing movie of all time because it had mass appeal. It also had a lot more to say than just the plot. It was about conservation and environmentalism. It was about harmony with nature and an understanding of our planet. 

Another part of this is the theatrical experience. The plot is thin because the experience is rich. Cameron wanted you to be able to steep in the world without missing intricate details. He knew how rich the film would be, especially in 3D. 

Cameron does everything with intention. It's no surprise he was thinking about the next steps here.

I wonder how far the visuals take you, though. Avatar is easy to get into, but there's a lot to learn and understand the deeper you get inside. From the rituals to the stakes, this might seem familiar, but I think Cameron put enough of a spin on it to make things feel fresh. 

A lot of times, riffing on genre tropes can revamp these older stories and spin them into being relevant today. Avatar took those pillars and delivered a movie widely accepted all over the world. It felt universal and true, even though it was happening in the distant future.  

Let us know what you think in the comments.      

Your Comment


I don't think that his ideas were all that fresh. Avatar's ideas were better delivered in Miyazaki's films (Cameron was inspired by Princess Mononoke for Avatar). It's world was very well realised but also quite limited. It's why it hasn't realy worked in all the other mediums Avatar has tried to expand to, like comics and video games.

If you want a fresh world with simple stories, the other franchise called Avatar is way more creative: Avatar The Last Airbender/ The Legend of Korra. There's a reason so many people still discuss Aang, Zuko, etc, but nobody realy talks about Jake Sully.

Luke wasn't that forgetable in the first Star Wars film either. Neither was Jack or Rose in Titanic.

March 25, 2021 at 12:09PM


It's also a great excuse when you have a REALLY unoriginal and cliched script.

Jim and layers......like an onion!

March 25, 2021 at 3:16PM


People complain about the plot because it's not a good movie. Many movies with a simple plot are amazing, that's not the problem. The problem is it's crap. He sold an experience, 3d - all that. That's why it's one of the highest grossing films. People don't care that much about good movies. Seeing a movie is low stakes, doesn't take that long. People what to be entertained and part of the conversation. If it feels like everybody's going to see Avatar, I better go see Avatar.

March 30, 2021 at 7:24PM