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25 Mind-Blowing Facts About James Cameron's Avatar

Avatar (2009) - Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldana)

Read on to find out a bunch of things you never knew about Avatar (2009).

The movie Avatar came out on December 18, 2009, and turned eight years old last month. The movie has ground-breaking special effects and broke box office records that are still there today! Cameron's said the movie is going to spawn a total of five movies with the last opening on December 19, 2025.

Here are some facts you may not know about the first Avatar.

1. Jake's Legs Aren't CGI

While a lot of the movie is computer generated, Jake's atrophied legs were not! They’re prosthetics cast from the legs of a real paraplegic.

Sam Worthington's real legs were tucked into the wheelchair and digitally removed in post-production. "John Rosengrant at Stan Winston's studio took a mold from the legs of a paraplegic who had about Sam's skeletal size, and then we created rubber legs," Cameron said.

2. Sigourney Weaver's Cigarette Is CGI

Sigourney Weaver's character smokes in many films like Alien. But, in real life, actress Sigourney Weaver doesn't smoke. For Avatar, Weaver’s character is a chain smoker but the cigarette is computer-generated.

In the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray, you can see scenes where she is puffing away with nothing in her hand.

3. Cameron Defended Weaver's Cigarettes

The film was criticized for its portrayal of tobacco and the idea that environmental scientists don't usually smoke. In response to the criticism in the film Cameron told Wired, "She's rude, she swears, she drinks, she smokes. Also, from a character perspective, we were showing that Grace doesn't care about her human body, only her avatar body, which again is a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games."

4. Avatar Broke Box Office Records 

Avatar is the first movie to cross the $2-billion mark worldwide and is still the highest grossing movie in history.

5. Avatar Broke Oscar Records

Avatar is the first movie to be shot with a 3D camera, released in 3D to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. It’s also the first movie completely shot on digital to win an Oscar.

6. The Music For Avatar Was The "Biggest Challenge" 

Composer James Horner has won multiple Grammy awards and has worked since the 1970s. But he said this was his most difficult film and the biggest challenge of his career. He worked for a year and a half from 4:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. every day.

"Avatar has been one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever been involved with, and I have never worked so closely with a group of musicians as I did on this film." Horner said, "My usual writing process is a very solitary experience, with the music being realized for the first time on the recording stage. On Avatar, synth programmers Aaron Martin, Ian Underwood, and Simon Franglen, music editors Jim Henrikson and Dick Bernstein, my recording mixer Simon Rhodes and I spent the past year mocking up and editing the music as I’d write and orchestrate it each day". He said this process created an exotic and “other-worldly” feel.

7. Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal Almost Played Jake

The studio originally wanted the role of Jake to go to either Matt Damon or Jake Gyllenhaal. But Damon had a schedule conflict with The Bourne Ultimatum. Gyllenhaal turned the role down to play in the box office bomb Prince of Persia.

So Cameron got to pick his lead.

8. Cameron Wanted Jake to Be a Regular Guy

That worked out well because James Cameron wanted to cast an up-and-coming actor in the lead role. He felt it would give the movie a "real" quality.

He wanted Jake to be the guy you want to have a beer with before transforming into a leader.

Plus, it would keep the costs down.

9. Sam Worthington Was Living in His Car

While Sam Worthington was a star in Australia at the time of auditioning for Avatar, the English-Australian actor had mainly done small roles in America. His biggest part had been playing a cyborg in Terminator Salvation. Worthington had even tried out to play Jomes Bond in Casino Royale but lost to Daniel Craig.

At the time of auditioning, Sam Worthington was living in his car. He later said “I put myself there. Nobody else did it, I did it. I wasn’t struggling. I had a very successful career in my own country. I was just control-deleting my life before anyone else could f--king do it.”

10. Avatar Was Inspired By Disney

According to James Cameron, he began working on preliminary drafts of his movie in the mid-'90s. He watched Disney's animated film Pocahontas (1995) and the idea of a soldier falling in love with the native daughter of his enemy became the core of the story.

There are other parallels to Pocahontas. Jake Sully's initials (J.S.) are the same as the hero John Smith. Plus, Cameron originally wanted Q'orianka Kilcher to play Neytiri, after seeing her play Pocahontas in the film The New World (2005). The role went to Zoe Saldana.

11. Most of the Names Changed

A lot of the names changed from the original script. Neytiri's original name was originally Zuleika. Jake Sully was named Josh. Grace Augustine was named Shipley in early drafts.

12. Lord of the Rings Led to Avatar

The computer-generated characters look amazing, right? When Cameron first visualized the film he realized the visual concepts would be too expensive to make with the technology of the time. So he shelved the idea.

It was only after seeing the CGI effect of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) that he thought it would work.

13. Avatar is One of the Most Expensive Films Ever Made

How much did it cost to make Avatar? A lot. Avatar is one of the most expensive movies ever made, with an estimated budget of $280,000,000 (in U.S. 2009 dollars).

14. Avatar Took Four years to Make

How long does it take to make a Hollywood blockbuster? According to StephenFollows it takes about two years on average.

This movie took four years to make including pre-production work. Principal photography for Avatar began in 2007 in Los Angeles and New Zealand. That's twice as long as most Hollywood movies. but that's nothing compared to the sequel which is just now being filmed nine years later!

15. A Dream Inspired the Look of the Aliens

According to James Cameron, the Na'vi are blue because of a dream his mother had about a tall, blue woman. Plus, there’s a visual parallel with traditional Hindu depictions of God. For example, Vishnu, Rama, and Krishna are all depicted with blue skin.

The term for the alien host bodies, called "avatars", is based on a Sanskrit word meaning "a manifestation of divinity in bodily form".

16. The Movie is Set Over 100 Years in the Future

Do you know what year Avatar is set in? Probably not. Because no one says and there's no title card saying the year. But there is a way to find out.

While the movie doesn’t explicitly tell the year, the movie takes place in the future year of 2154. This can be seen in Jake’s video logs on Pandora which start on May 5, 2154, and end on August 19, 2154. The entire movie takes place over 90 days.

17. Sigourney Weaver Cost Michael Biehn His Role in Avatar

Michael Biehn was originally up for the role of Colonel Miles Quaritch chief of security at Hell's Gate on Pandora. Biehn helped develop the character with the director and saw some of the 3D footage. He expected to be cast but found out he lost the role through an unlikely source.

Biehn's son went to school with producer Jon Landau's son. Landau's son told Biehn's son he didn't think his father would get the role. This was because once Cameron cast Sigourney Weaver he felt that casting Biehn would remind people too much of Aliens and he didn't want that connection.

"About two or three months later my agent called and said I wasn't gonna get the role and that was the reason," Biehn later said. The role went to Stephan Lang.

18. Avatar is the First Film Not to Have Cameron's Regular Actors

Avatar is the first James Cameron film not to feature any of his "regular" actors.

This includes Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss), Bill Paxton (The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies), Lance Henriksen (Piranha II: The Spawning, The Terminator, Aliens) or Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lies).

19. Dr. Seuss Has An Important Role in Avatar

One of the book's Grace uses in her Na'vi school is "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss. The book mirrors the film's theme of the danger corporate greed poses to nature

20. Jake Sully is a "Born Loser"

Jake Sully has the words "Born Loser" tattooed on his left arm. This possibly represents Jake’s feeling about his life.

Sully said he became a marine “for the hardship” and all he ever wanted in his “sorry-a** life" was a single thing worth fighting for”. After being paralyzed as a marine and being confined to a wheelchair he had become despondent.

21. Avatar Recycles Jurassic Park's T' Rex

Did some of the creatures sound familiar? Probably. That's because most of the animal noises heard in the movie are reused dinosaur noises from Jurassic Park (1993). For example, the flying Great Leonopteryx uses T-Rex roars and several creatures sound like raptors.

This may not have been a coincidence since several of the sound and foley artists on the film such as Jana Vance and Dennie Thorpe had actually worked on the first Jurassic Park film.

22. Weaver Asked for a Stanford Easter Egg

In 1972, Sigourney Weaver graduated with a B.A. in English from Stanford University. She's proud of her alma mater. In honor of that, she asked that her avatar wear a Stanford tank top.

23. The Avatars Don't Look Right

While the avatars look very similar to the alien Navii there are some big differences. The avatars have eyebrows and five digits on each hand and foot while the Na'vi only have four and don't have facial hair. The Avatars are also broader in the chest and arms to appear more muscular.

24. The Cast Only Ate Plants

James Cameron is a staunch advocate of vegan diets and only allowed plant-based food to be served on the set.

25. Cameron Really Wanted Neytiri to Have Breasts

The alien Na’vi shouldn’t have breasts but James Cameron insisted on having them. “Right from the beginning, I said, 'She's got to have t*ts,' even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals,” he told Playboy magazine.

They worked hard on the breasts too using a "physics-based sim that takes into consideration gravity, air movement and the momentum of her hair, and her top". The team strategically placed feathers and used lighting and angles to cover them for the PG-13 rating.

But there was one scene where they accidentally showed Neytiri's nipples. They had to cut it.

About Avatar (2009)

Official synopsis: "On the lush alien world of Pandora live the Na'vi, beings who appear primitive but are highly evolved. Because the planet's environment is poisonous, human/Na'vi hybrids, called Avatars, must link to human minds to allow for free movement on Pandora. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed former Marine, becomes mobile again through one such Avatar and falls in love with a Na'vi woman (Zoe Saldana). As a bond with her grows, he is drawn into a battle for the survival of her world."
Directed by James Cameron
Cinematography by Mauro Fiore
Production Design by Robert Stromberg, Rick Carter
"Avatar" stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi
"Avatar" was released on December 18, 2009 (United States)
Check back with the Geek Twins for more Avatar movie news and hype!

What facts surprised you about Avatar? Is there something we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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