After my film was shown at USC's First Look in 1993, I was contacted by Hanna-Barbera (recently purchased by Turner) and got a couple interviews, and was asked if I had any script ideas for a new animated film, with an emphasis on a more adult theme. I did, and I tried really hard to develop them. I was never really happy with them, always too dark and not the satire I was hoping for. Also it is not clear what happened to Hanna-Barbera/Turner, as they never talked to me again, and it does not seem they hired anybody else or went anywhere near producing any such films.

I was shocked at the similarities of my plot with Avatar, and I feel I really should post this, just in case the sequels, now in production, have any resemblance to how the idea developed. I do not think James Cameron stole my idea. Instead I think we both stole from the movie Fern Gully, and perhaps other stories and movies, with attempts to add twists to make it more interesting and plausible.

I think I was also satirizing HB's own Once Upon a Forest, which I knew about even though I have never seen it.

The Original Script for Guardian of the Forest

The original script had the primitive denizens (the "Fluffies") of an alien planet rise up in arms and revolt against the new colony from Earth, and eventually defeat them and drive them off. They learned war and stole weapons from the colony, and they were organized and far outnumbered the humans, and they quickly learned technology from them to the point where they were forging their own weapons. The finale was a violent and destructive fire fight, and the majority (all in some versions) of the colonists were killed.

Besides the obvious, I noticed these similarities with Avatar:
  • The residents had a mental connection to the forest and all the life in them. I did this partly as a satire of Fern Gully and other fantasy films. They used this as much for evil as for good, it was also clearly electromagnetic and not magical. It also seemed to me that if they could physically feel the destruction the earth people were causing it would motivate them much more.
  • They had giant trees which were their symbol. I did this because of the similarity in appearance to nuclear mushroom clouds...
  • A member of one group is assimilated into the enemy and bonds with them, and this leads to the war. However in my version it was reversed, with one of the Fluffies joining the earthlings, then turning on them.
  • The aliens are short and furry, not tall and blue
  • It was never intended to be CG. This was to be a battle between hand-drawn animation styles, with the aliens distinctly designed to be Disney/Bluth characters, while Earth was distinctly Japanese Animation style. I thought line-drawn backgrounds and all the spaceships and buildings would be computer generated, however. Note this was 1993 and modern CG did not exist yet.
  • The earth people were a Libertarian collective, trying to colonize the planet and declare independence from Earth. Their colony looked more like Epcot surrounded by US suburbia and was not militarily hardened. Part of their failure was a refusal to cooperate with the visiting Earth military, who recognized what was going to happen much sooner than the idealists. So in fact the military was good and the civilians evil and/or stupid.
  • I never really considered wildlife on the planet other than the Fluffies. Damn good idea there, James Cameron.
  • There is a twist ending that differs:

The Twist Ending

Where I differed most from Avatar is that I was worried that the whole thing sounded a bit sappy and too preachy for an entertainment that is supposed to be adult, and too blunt of an environmental statement. I also had some close friends who would probably not be very happy that I modeled some characters on them and made Libertarians into the bad guys. There was also the problem of exactly what the Fluffies would do after very quickly turning from a primitive society into an organized one with modern technology and enough drive to defeat and wipe out a much better-armed enemy: it seemed unlikely that things would just stop and they would go back to as they were before! I think all these criticisms can be directed at Avatar as well!

So during the final firefight, an earth military leader, recognizing defeat, makes an all-out effort to destroy every piece of technology left in the colony. It is impossible and she is defeated, though (in some versions) she escapes. The Fluffies are seen wandering through the burning wreckage of the colony, shocked at what they have done, but searching. One digs up a CD marked as containing the Library of Congress (this is before Wikipedia!).

Then the main Fluffy character, who had joined the humans because he was fascinated by their ability to fly, is seen. He is older and he is in the cockpit of a plane of some sort. There are many others, in a hanger like on an aircraft carrier, all buzzing to life and preparing to launch. A group of Fluffies in military uniforms on the bridge study a big black globe with symbols and battle plans drawn on it. Great doors open and the ships are launched out of a huge organic-looking spaceship, into a hellish space battle, and they dive toward a planet that is blasted with craters and red glows and is shooting at them. On the bridge the globe is spun and you see the lines showing the continents. They are attacking Earth. End credits.

I seriously expected Avatar to end the same way. I was both disappointed and happy when it did not...

Further Developments

That basic plot dates from 1993. I worked on it on and off over the next few years, when I actually was working for James Cameron at Digital Domain.

I felt there was no way the twist ending could be kept a secret. Also the battle with Earth was becoming more and more interesting, and it started taking over a longer part of the end of the script. It would be a War of the Worlds told from the alien's point of view! And they would be adorably cute and emphatic! It all seemed like a great idea and I really wanted to see it. The original environmentalist stuff was reduced but it was an excellent motivation plot point. I though it could be two movies, with the war of the worlds being the sequel, I thought this would work very well because you would be rooting for the aliens in the first one, and questioning your own judgement in the second. But I am not James Cameron and I doubt suggesting two movies would get me very far. I do wonder if that is what James Cameron is up to with the Avatar sequels, but I have not heard any such rumors.

I did want it to be somewhat hard science fiction (much more so than Avatar) and did spend some time developing the back story and technology:
  • The reason the Fluffies are in such a advantageous position is that they had the only hyperdrive, which was an alien machine the earth people found abandoned in orbit around Saturn, and the Fluffies aquired during the battle. This plot point fixes a lot of problems and makes a Fluffy resistance and attack (which would take years to organize) possible. (It also means there cannot be human survivors of the attack back on earth, you can see I did not think of this when I wrote the treatment!)
  • Both sides use very similar ships and technology, as they both steal from each other. This is how things really work. They look different, but it is just aesthetics, the Fluffies like curves and Earth likes angular shapes.
  • The ships have impervious force fields, but those fields are opaque reflective bubbles, and the ship is blind and cannot fire it's engine or weapons when it is on. It seems Earth can make much bigger force fields, while the Fluffies have the ability to adjust them to a partial state (where they are just highly refractive).
  • The ships fly vertically and artificial gravity is from spinning them or from thrust. And the main weapon is the engine, an engine capable of 1G thrust is vastly more powerful than any particle beam we can dream of today.
  • There is no sound in space, and you cannot see weapon beams except when they hit things such as gas. Ships are thousands of miles apart when they fight. And space after a battle is filled with shrapnel flying at lethal speeds. (well, I can always dream that a movie will dare to do these things, I don't expect it however...)
Other than such technical details, I never really came up with a script. Later versions kept making the war bigger, until the original movie had all happened in flashback. I tried lots of variations involving a Fluffy who is caught by the humans and thus makes the first contact (all others are killed when their ships are shot down). I never really had anything that I thought was a story. Writing is a frustrating experience. Besides what is in the treatment, here are some plot ideas:
  • Earth proves they are as nasty as the Fluffies, they have launched a planet-killer kinetic weapon, an interstellar ramjet which will be going at nearly the speed of light when it reaches the Fluffy planet and will smash it to asteroids, but this will happen 60 years from now and nobody can stop it unless they cooperate.
  • The aliens who built the hyperdrive show up and are not nice. The humans and Fluffies are forced to work together, fortunately both are armed to the teeth.
  • There is a coup on the Fluffy planet and the isolationists take over, the main character's father installed as the figurehead. But the main character is captured by the humans and it is a political mess to back out of the war...
  • The Fluffies and Humans find common ground, and are last seen attacking another civilization who is destroying their environment even worse than either of them have been doing.
Also it was obvious that my career was going to be writing software, not producing movies. In addition the failure of 2D animation (the movies Treasure Planet and Titan A.E were similar sci-fi/animation mash-ups and they bombed!) made me think this was not going to work (I was convinced my idea required traditional 2D animation so the Anime/Disney styles would fight).

The Treatment