Posted on Monday, October 26th, 2009 by Russ Fischer
The line between deliberate rip-off and unintentional reflection is thin and blurry. There’s now an accusation that James Cameron‘s upcoming Avatar might sit somewhere uncomfortably close to that line. Seems that the film bears an uncanny resemblance to Poul Anderson‘s 1957 short story Call Me Joe.
io9 was directed towards a synopsis of the tale, which the site recounts as follows:
Call Me Joe centers on a paraplegic — Ed Anglesey — who telepathically connects with an artificially created life form in order to explore a harsh planet (in this case, Jupiter). Anglesey, like Avatar’s Jake Sully, revels in the freedom and strength of his artificial created body, battles predators on the surface of Jupiter, and gradually goes native as he spends more time connected to his artificial body.
That’s a pretty striking similarity, and there’s also the case of the cover art associated with the Poul Anderson short story collection that reprints the story: giant blue spear-carrying alien? Uh-oh.
This might seem less striking if Cameron hadn’t faced a charge of plagiarism once before. Harlan Ellison — hardly the shrinking violent of science fiction — accused Cameron of lifting some of The Terminator‘s ideas from two Ellison-penned Outer Limits episodes. That case was eventually settled out of court, and Ellison now has a credit in the film.
Not having seen Avatar in full, it’s possible that there is an acknowledgment credit for Anderson in the movie — you’d expect Fox’s legal team to catch something like this and pre-emptively head off any problem. But the fact that we haven’t heard about it until now suggests that’s not the case.
Have you read Call Me Joe? If so, let us know if the content is actually as close to our understanding of Avatar as io9 makes it sound. (Wikipedia provides a longer synopsis.) I’ll try to track down the story this evening so I can check it out for myself. If the two are as similar as we’re being led to believe, that would be a damaging blow to the claim that Avatar is a big new piece of original sci-fi. (Which isn’t to say that’s necessarily the case; almost every ‘original’ work owes something to someone else.)
EDIT: Searching the web for references to Cameron and this story prior to today’s post, I see a few people mentioning this link over the past few months, almost all in reader comments on articles across the web. /Film reader cafais even mentioned it here in an Avatar story I wrote during E3. Just reinforces the lesson that reader comments are an essential source of info.