Does James Cameron garden?


As commenter Town Mouse pointed out in a recent post, however pretty Meryl Streep’s kitchen garden is in It’s Complicated, it surely does not compare to the exceptionally beautiful imaginary landscape in the Christmas blockbuster Avatar.

I saw Avatar as nature intended, in a mall between Christmas and New Year’s with three kids who’d been out of school a full week and were growing bored with their leisure. We were all transported by the movie–me by otherworldly fungi that shrink to the touch, natives who swim in phosphorescent water filled with giant waterlilies, phosphorescent plants that light the night, and trees dangling organic fiber optic lines that connect the natives to the spirit world.  Not to mention the loads of vibrant purple everywhere, just as in any well-designed garden.

We know Avatar director James Cameron understands how to make a
really fun Hollywood movie.  We know he loves powerful women, having
apparently married a bunch of them and making the fearless babe with
muscled arms a regular feature in his films.  But is he also a guy with
a feeling for plants?

The official trailer will only give you the smallest taste of how beautiful this CGI world is:

A New Yorker profile of Cameron suggests that this landscape was inspired by undersea landscapes: Cameron loves to scuba dive.

If Jim Cameron isn’t really plant obsessed, he at least listens to people like mycologist Paul Stamets.  At one point in the movie, Sigourney Weaver excitedly describes the amazing communications network running between all the trees on the alien planet and says their connections outnumber the connections in the human brain.

Here is Stamets in his weird and wonderful book Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World on the subject of mycelia, the underground network of fungal threads whose fruiting bodies are mushrooms:

I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature.  Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind.

Stamets believes we may someday be able to communicate with these all-touching, all-knowing mycelia, the same way that the aliens in Avatar connect with the life force of their planet through a sacred tree.

Anyway, an action movie with a strong feeling for nature.  How unlikely is that?


  1. My son and I thoroughly enjoyed this movie to the point we are planning a return visit. The scenes in the forest made my eyes water they were so beautiful, and you could tell someone knew something about botany in the design department.

  2. You know I had the same feeling, thanks for putting it into words. I am definitely not a science fiction type, but I really resonated with this movie and I think it is because of the lovely landscapes and the feeling of being in touch with nature.

  3. All the reviews and analysis of this movie miss one important point – he made a movie that many people could watch over and over again. It is so visually rich and complex that you can see something new with each viewing. Ka-chingggg

  4. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but a dozen friends, and The New Yorker, have told me it is the most beautiful movie ever made. I am fascinated by its depiction of the interconnectedness of the plants. Can’t wait to see it. I’ll even brave the mall.

  5. I posted almost the same thing when I saw the movie! My brother, not a gardener, hated it because the plot was so flimsy — I say forget the plot and watch the plants! I’m now trying to figure out how to get my garden to glow like that… I’m thinking of trying putting candles all around the garden this summer.

  6. I was transported and transfixed and so saddened by the truths in this visually fantastic movie! The connections between the native peoples and their world is kindred to the Native Americans of our real world. I loved it when Weaver brought up the communications networks and have often thought that way about the underworld of my forest. What really inspires me is the tentacle like connectors between humans, animals and plants… and how once connected they merged as one forever … wonderful concept. The sacred tree concept as well. I am going again! In 3D of course which was so much fun. It did break my heart to see that giant tree come down… could not help but think of the thousands cut in our world. I am happy to see you bring in Stamet … his work is amazing and inspiring. I did not realize he advised Cameron… of course it makes perfect sense. Of course one cannot miss the points in regard to the insanity of war and invading other planets (after one kills one’s own) for a resource . . . be it land or oil. I missed the mineral or whatever the head of the corporation was holding up and which to them justified their invasion. Hearing them call the native peoples ‘hostile and savage’ was too familiar and ludicrous. The plant life was just astounding and magical. I was happy that the violence was kept to a minimum. It was more the might … the power … that truly comes across as evil.

  7. This is interesting because every one of my friends who has seen this (as far as I’ve heard) did not like it at all. I believe they were basing their judgments on standard criteria like plot, dialogue, and so on. But you give me pause Michele, and maybe I will check it out. Some of these friends are gardeners too.

  8. I was blown away by the visual beauty of the plant world imagined in this film. I went to the movie expecting a gamer’s idea of a good action movie but was surprised by the attention devoted to the plant life of Pandora. I’d love to see it again.

  9. Elizabeth, as the whole world has pointed out, the plot of Avatar is crude. But it doesn’t matter, because everything else in the movie is so magical.

  10. The plot and dialogue were forgettable, but the scenery was gorgeous. It certainly looked very undersea inspired to me. The spiral plants that were sensitive to touch in the beginning of the movie looked exactly like the tube worms featured in the BBC’s “Blue Planet” series. So pretty!

  11. Exactly – at first I thought I liked it so much because I’m a SciFi geek, but the beauty of the imaginary landscapes made me want to be a part of it. I admit, the story was cliched, and I sometimes felt like I was watching Aliens in reverse, but seeing a movie championing the connection of all living things and showing such a reverence for life in a blockbuster action film was great. Seeing it in IMAX 3D was the way to go.

  12. We drove an hour to see it in 3D IMAX and it was well worth the trip. I enjoyed the film on an entertainment level (yes, I cried), but afterward found myself wishing I could go see Pandora’s forest in person. My husband has declared (half seriously) that he will not go to another film until he can see another one like that. The helicopter insects were my favorite. But I think Pandora’s beauty was a large part of why I was so moved by the film.

  13. I am one of those friends of Elizabeth’s that she mentioned, and before you beat me up, bear in mind that she insisted I post here. I truly do not wish to rain on this love parade (especially since Michele’s original post gets at the one aspect of the movie I really liked), but I absolutely hated Avatar to the point that I wanted to walk out–right around the time the Most Exaggeratedly Evil General Since Dr. Strangelove made a reference to “Shock and Awe.” As even some of the film’s biggest fans will agree, the script reads like it was written by a 10-year-old–the dialogue is laughably bad,the politics are heavyhanded enough to turn a lefty like me into Rush Limbaugh, the characters each have exactly one personality trait, and the plot is the latest in a long string of tales that ultimately assure us the only way for people of color to survive is to let a white guy run their tribe. The stock response to this is, “Maybe so, but it’s all so glorious to look at.” To which I reply: “For this year, yes, but it is the nature of technology to render itself obsolete, and I can guarantee you that in a decade or less kids will be giggling at how crude it looks, once the next cinematic breakthrough comes along.” There’s also the simple fact that I just don’t think whiz-bang special effects are as important as a well-written, thoughtful script. (If only Cameron had spent a tenth as long on the words and characters as he did on the flying dragons and lizard-cat-people, all of whom remind me of van art from the 70s.)

    Yeah, the plant stuff is cool, and seems like a perfect use of the 3-D/VR tech. But I would much rather have seen a plotless half-hour film about that (or maybe played with a game based on it) than to have sat through 2 and a half hours of malarkey.

    OK, I’m done. Group hug, anyone?

  14. Despite the fact Avatar should have been titled “Dances with Smurfs” instead and was a happy ending rehash of the Costner movie, and did have a bit of a preachy be nice to the earth, I didn’t care. I could stomach the overt tones versus Wall-E, which left a bad taste in my mouth and was my first ever disappointment in a Pixar film. I was so transfixed by some of the most spectacular CG work and the flora and fauna, I was amazed.

    Though I have never taken drugs, I suppose this would be the closest to an acid trip I could experience legally. Bioluminescent plants that remind me of my brother’s 70’s black-light posters and fantastical sci-fi plant renderings straight from book cover art.

    Compared to many of the other films Cameron has done (Terminator series, Aliens), it’s nice to see he could step out of a post-apocalypse/industrial environment and still tell an entertaining story.

  15. You mean garden ranters can actually get past the idea of Smurfs as Super Heroes to honestly consider the flora in this ridiculous movie?

    Sorry…All I can think of is: the missed opportunity to do some real good…if Cameron had spent those billions of dollars differently…like a truly inspiring, hands-on programs that brought back music, art, and botanizing to schools. Now THAT would be something to write home about…and heap with awards and accolades.

  16. @Ron-I agree with the points you make about script and characters, but on the drive home from the movie last night, I was telling my husband that I thought the General was a little over-the-top and in particular the part where he and all his boys are laughing at the Pandoran’s idea of a “deity” that resides in a tree. OK, the tree part sounds a little out there, but I felt like they were laughing at the fact that they have a God at all, and I thought that was a little over-the-top. My husband, who is former military, responded that he found that part really scary because that’s exactly how a lot of the guys who are either in charge or on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan talk about the Muslim population. So, while I thought it was just a little too much on the crazy bad guy scale, he thought it was a little too realistic.

    Also, again, I see what you’re saying about the message that says “the only way for people of color to survive is to let a white guy run their tribe,” but I think it’s more like “when you’re up against crazy technology and a mindset you don’t understand, it’s best to let someone who understands the crazy mindset and technology lead the battle against it.” That’s how I saw it, but I definitely understand how it could read the other way, especially when grouped together with a bunch of similarly-themed movies.

    Now, get over here for that big group hug!

  17. Shock and Awe – we watched it live in 2003 in our living rooms. If you don’t think there were women and children dying in the rubble – well… What this movie told me was here’s the same story from the other side. How does one tell you what it is like to be under siege? I loved the plants and animal life and the visual affects. Religion should not teach us that it is ever ok to make war but in this nation and in others – we seem to fail to learn that lesson over and over. Seems greed is King on earth – banks, Wall Street, Big Oil, Pharma and Ag. I hope Arrow Trucking drivers make it home – back to West Tulsa – just down the road from my house. Checks bouncing and trucks being empounded. Yeah Corporate America.

    Oh, I am an Air Force Brat white lady farmer in Oklahoma without any indication of being native or African. Go figure.

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