James Cameron knows how to get a story in motion. Jake Sully, a paraplegic Marine, is assigned his late twin brother’s avatar. Though it’s not his body, the avatar gives him an opportunity to walk again. In Avatar‘s screenplay (available for download here), the inciting incident, Jake meeting his avatar, happens on page twelve. In the film, it comes across the screen at minute eight. There was much more to the beginning of the film in the original treatment (available for download here). In the end, Cameron knew what to leave out:
If you look at Cameron’s original Avatar treatment (do a search for “Avatar scriptment”) that was written years before the movie went into production, the story opens on Earth and shows us the environmental devastation that we’ll soon learn has prompted humans to explore deep space for more natural resources. It goes into a long-winded (but fascinating, at least on paper) explanation of the importance of energy to space travel. We meet Jake Sully as he fights in a war and is paralyzed in battle, then approached about filling his brother’s job on Pandora. This was all SETUP that Cameron originally felt was crucial.
But he junked it for the movie so the audience would get into the action as soon as possible. He started the shooting script LATER so we would find the focused throughline–the spine of the story that drives the action–as soon as possible. 1
For those of you who’d like a little Avatar humor, I’ve pasted quite a little gem below:
I’m looking for the *original* 80-page scriptment, not the longer one currently available online. Any chance that you have a copy?
Sorry, Mike. I don’t have that.