Avatar director accused of plagiarising Soviet novels

Jan 14, 2010
Rachel Helyer-Donaldson

James Cameron is ‘scum’ for copying a classic Soviet sci-fi series, say his accusers on eve of Golden Globes

Director James Cameron has been accused of plagiarism over his current worldwide blockbuster, Avatar, which is up for four Golden Globes on Sunday, including best drama. And despite the film's anti-materialistic sentiments, the accusation comes from Russia, where it is claimed he ripped off the storyline from a hugely popular futuristic fantasy by two former Soviet sci-fi writers.
Russian film-goers say Avatar has several key elements in common with The World of Noon - or Noon Universe - a series of 10 bestselling novels written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky in the mid-1960s.

A group of modern-day Russian communists based in St Petersburg has even called for Cameron to be arrested for "plundering" Soviet legacy, Pravda reported today. A message posted on the website of the CPLR (the Communists of St Petersburg and the Leningrad Region Organisation) claims that "the starred and striped scum" - ie Cameron - "did that because the late writers would not be able to sue him. Cameron's place is in jail, not on the red carpet of the Oscar ceremony."
The CPLR is wrong on one important point - only Arkady is dead. His brother Boris Strugatsky is still with us and could therefore sue for plagiarism if he wanted. But according to reports, Boris has shrugged off the similarities between Avatar and his work.

However, he hasn't yet seen the Cameron film and some Russians hope he might change his mind when he realises how close the stories are. Given that Avatar is already the second most successful film in the history of Hollywood - and is quickly catching up with the all-time number one, Titanic, also by Cameron - a lawsuit could make him a rich man, though plagiarism is notoriously difficult to prove.

The most obvious similarity is that both stories are set on the planet Pandora in the 22nd century. The Strugatskys' Pandora is inhabited by the Nave, a group of humanoids whose name sounds very much like that of Cameron's humanoids, the Na'vi. Both Pandoras are also warm and humid, and densely covered in trees.
Because the books are so well known - they sold in their millions and were popular with Soviet teenagers and intellectuals alike - the accusations of plagiarism persist in the Russian press. One paper devoted an entire page to detailing similarities, while the author and journalist Dmitry Bykov wrote in Novaya Gazeta that Cameron's Na'vi were "unequivocally reminiscent" of the Strugatskys' Nave.
The studio that made Avatar, 20th Century Fox, has not commented on the allegations. Nor has Cameron - though he has previously insisted that the idea for the film, which he wrote in 1994, is an original one.

The filmmaker is used to defending himself from accusations that he has borrowed from other writers. The same claim was made after the release of his Terminator films and, of course, there was nothing original about Titanic.

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