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Why Avatar’s Unobtainium Isn’t As Dumb As You Think

Ever since Avatar was released, the decision to name the precious mineral at the heart of the story unobtainium has been criticized, but there were several reasons why this choice made sense. Of course, this was not the only aspect of Avatar which was subject to criticism. Some have focused on the plot’s similarities to Kevin Costner’s Dancing with wolves and the traditional white savior story, while there have also been ongoing and vocal complaints about the film’s lack of cultural footprint in the 13 years since its release.


Ironically, this was hugely at odds with the initial reaction to the film. Avatar was nothing short of a box office phenomenon, as it grossed $2.74 billion worldwide during its initial release. The stunningly immersive world of Pandora that writer-director James Cameron created for the film was undoubtedly one that audiences wanted to experience again and again. As such, there can be little doubt that in 2009 there was a lot of love for James Cameron’s vision and for… Avatar like a movie.

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A lot has changed in the 13 years since its release and Avatar has been criticized for giving the name unobtainium to the rare and hugely valuable mineral in the story. However, there were good reasons why James Cameron chose the name. The most obvious was the fact that it was a name that was already in use, as aerospace engineers have used the term unobtainium since the 1950s to refer to rare and/or precious materials. Plus, there was also a compelling story-based reason, as the placeholder-like name helped illustrate the motivations of Avatarhuman opponents, including Quaritch, who returns as the… Avatar 2 villain. This was because the story repeatedly showed that after traveling deep into space, the folks at the Resources Development Administration were willing to do almost anything for the money they could get from a mineral they didn’t even have a specific name for. given. As such, the only property, value, or value the mineral had to them was the amount for which it could be sold. Everything else, including the name, was ultimately irrelevant.

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Avatar’s Unobtainium Highlights a Major James Cameron Strength

The fact that there were both scientific and narrative reasons for using the name, unobtainium, helped to illustrate one of James Cameron’s greatest qualities as a filmmaker. Understandably, a fundamental mistake was made to view unobtainium as lazy, ignoring its legendary attention to detail. After all, Cameron’s extraordinary gift for world building has helped define sci-fi classics like Alienshis best underwater movie to date, the abyss, the terminatorand Terminator 2: Judgment Day. More than this, when making TitanicHis almost obsessive need for authenticity even led to the White Star Line emblem on the cutlery and silverware.

Although his films, including Titanic, still have quite a few flaws in them, James Cameron has proven to be a filmmaker who would leave little to chance. As result, Avatarthe 15-year production process and the long delays for the sequel, Avatar: The way of the watershould not be considered surprising. Avatar‘s production certainly illustrated his need to find the best ways, whether through technology or scripting, to tell an incredible story in a way that was believable to the audience.

The years since Avatar‘s release have given ample opportunity to pick holes in the film. That’s one reason why some found it easy to believe that AvatarThe late sequels are at risk or even doomed to fail. That may turn out to be a mistake, though, as James Cameron has repeatedly shown that few blockbuster filmmakers have a better understanding of the difference small details can make in selling the biggest shots. His choices are often based on his attention to detail, which has expanded to something as seemingly silly as the name unobtainium. But it’s also been a major reason why it would be unwise to write off James Cameron at the box office.

Next: Avatar Re-Release’s End-Credits: All Avatar 2 Images and Reveals Explained

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