On this day in 2009, “Avatar,” a 3-D science-fiction epic helmed by “Titanic” director James Cameron, makes its world debut in London and goes on to become the highest-grossing movie in history. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver, the box-office mega-hit was praised for its state-of-the-art technology and earned nine Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best director.
Set in the year 2154, “Avatar” tells the story of disabled ex-Marine Jake Sully, who is recruited to help conquer and colonize Pandora, a faraway moon that is home to a mineral deposit coveted by people on Earth, whose energy resources are almost depleted. Pandora is inhabited by the Na’vi, a group of nature-loving, blue-skinned, half-alien/half-human creatures intent on protecting their own eco-system. (Cameron hired a linguist to create a unique language for the Na’vi.) Using an avatar to explore Pandora because the air there is toxic to humans, Jake falls in love with a Na’vi princess and goes native, eventually working to save the Na’vi from the human colonists.
Cameron wrote the script for “Avatar” in 1994; however, at that point the technology didn’t exist to produce the movie he wanted. In the meantime, he penned and directed “Titanic,” the 1997 blockbuster that garnered 11 Oscars and became the first film to gross more than $1 billion internationally. Prior to “Titanic,” Cameron helmed such hit films as “The Terminator” (1984), “Aliens” (1986) and “The Abyss” (1989), and became known for his imaginative use of special effects. In 2009, he told The New Yorker: “[‘Avatar’] integrates my life’s achievements…It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done.” Among the technologies used to make “Avatar” was performance capture, which turns an actor’s movements into a computer-generated image.
At the 82nd Academy Awards, held in March 2010, “Avatar” won Oscars for best visual effects, cinematography and art direction.