Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Avatar and "Call Me Joe"?

And now for something mostly different...

When I first saw the trailers for James Cameron's upcoming film Avatar, I thought, "That looks like "Call Me Joe."" It's nice to see others had the same thought. Cameron's film is much longer, and more involved, as one would expect. However, the central device and other key details appear to be the same as in Poul Anderson's novella "Call Me Joe," which appeared in the "Science Fiction Hall of Fame" book series (so it's not that obscure). It's completely cool to use the story as a launching point, but a little credit (and probably some compensation) might be in order. If and when I see the film, I'll be interested to see how the plot compares (and plays out).

Accusations about rip-offs aren't unusual, and some are definitely unwarranted. Maybe in science fiction, similarities are just more obvious. Darren Aronofsy's film Pi bears some striking similarities to Alfred Bester's short story "The Pi Man," enough so that I was taken aback to see it not credited. On the other hand, The Matrix, Dark City, Groundhog Day, Back to the Future and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind all use devices that have appeared in science-fiction before, including some fairly famous pieces. Yet I'm pretty sure those films were (mostly) original in conception. Certainly they are much more involved, or the mix, tone, and execution of ideas is original. I can buy that filmmakers might not consciously remember a story. But then the question is, when one becomes aware of a very similar story, what does one do? If one realizes, goddam, I read that story, the honorable thing to do is give some credit.
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This wouldn't be the first time Cameron has faced such an issue, since Harlan Ellison charged Cameron with ripping off two teleplays of his for The Terminator. The difference there is that Cameron admitted it – and in the ending credits he did credit Ellison, who also got a settlement. I haven't seen the two Outer Limits episodes in question, but I have read Harlan Ellison's short story "Soldier," which apparently has some significant plot differences from the TV version. I'd actually say that "Second Variety" by Philip K. Dick, mentioned in the linked Wiki article, is closer to The Terminator that the short story "Soldier" is, but the Outer Limits version of "Soldier" apparently adds a pursuing villain, which makes the comparison to The Terminator much stronger.

At the very least, I hope the film is good...

10 comments:

driouxcipher said...

I have always thought that The Matrix films owed a serious to debt to Gibson's Neuromancer but even moreso to Robert Holmes' immortal 1976 Doctor Who story, The Deadly Assassin. Philip Hinchcliffe (the producer of that story) has even said as much in the DVD commentary for that story. They both definitely deserve a nod as well. The Avatar trailer is gorgeous and I hope it is as beautiful as it looks to be.

Batocchio said...

Interesting. It's been a long time since I've seen that episode. There's also Philip K. Dick, though, who did more virtual reality-related stories than pretty much anyone, and The Matrix also reminded me of stories by Frederick Pohl and Fritz Leiber that pre-date everything else we've mentioned. I'll have to see that episode again at some point, though. Holmes wrote some great ones.

Onandogan said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed the premise of Call Me Joe in the Avatar preview.

There is also a similar story by Clifford SImak enititled Desertion.

It would be far easier for me to appreciate the updated versions if their creators would at least deign to acknowledge the efforts of the trailblazers who have trod similar paths before them.

I'm still a bit ticked off about Idiocracy's Mike Judge completely ignoring Kornbluth's superior The Marching Morons. An official adaptation of TMM would've produced a far stronger film with some actual dramatic heft to it.

I don't doubt that Avatar will be skillfully entertaining, though.

Anonymous said...

Whew - I thought I was the only one who read that story ;)

"Call me Joe" is also in a compilation called "Mutants" edited by Silverberg, the story really made ya think about disabled ppl and the possibilities for contributions in zero-G environs

Funny to type in "Call Me Joe" & Avatar into Google and come up with so many hits.

The Marching Morons was much more about intelligent ppl as a class being slaves to a world comprised of idiots. Idiocracy is movie who's central premise itself deteriorated into idiocy - I'm sure Kornbluth didn't mind NOT being associated with that film

But TMM would make a fine SciFi movie, no doubt

Batocchio said...

I actually still need to see Idiocracy - I was holding off because I heard it was really chopped up, and was hoping a more complete version might become available. But when I heard the premise, it made me think of "The Marching Morons." Since I haven't seen the film, I'll defer to you two on its similarities. Let's also not forget the Hitchhiker's Guide and the spaceship full of telephone sanitizers...

Anonymous said...

yes, when i saw the trailer for Avatar, it tinged in my memory the Desertion story by Simak....it actually took some google searches for me to recall this...at first i thought it might be "call me Joe" but i recall the term lopers...

in any case, the similar idea is rolling around the sci fi universe for a while..

Paul said...

When I saw Avatar last night, I noticed it was set on a moon of a gas giant, and within minutes I thought of Call Me Joe, which I read about 30 years ago.
Now I have to see if I can read CMJ again.
As I remember it, Joe was on the surface of Jupiter; I think the copy I read was in an anthology of Jupiter stories. Also I only remember that Joe was alone down there. I want to check back in and re-learn the CMJ premise/central conflict and how it turned out.
I definitely agree that Cameron, an obvious fan of good SF, may have been influenced by CMJ. However, the way he took off from that into Avatar, I feel the new story does not rip off CMJ.
Thanks for the forum!

Steven said...

As soon as I heard the basic premise of Avatar, I immediately thought of Poul Anderson's 1957 story Call Me Joe. The story concept parallels are so obvious: a paraplegic who uniquely operates an extremely expensive remote slate-blue body (with a tail) on an alien world [Jupiter in CMJ], finds a comforting symbiosis with the alien world, and eventually abandons his original body for the remote one.

I recently reread Call Me Joe from my paperback copy of the 1963 anthology Spectrum 3, and recalled in turn Clifford Simak's superb 1952 story, Desertion, which I had in my paperback copy of the 1959 anthology, Off the Beaten Orbit.

Call Me Joe is more related than parallel to Desertion, in which Kent Fowler and his dog Towser are transformed into native Jovian beings to explore Jupiter and attempt to discover what happened to the previous four transformed men who had been sent down to explore, but never returned.

Welshdog said...

Thank you for the mention of Desertion. I knew I had read that story, but I could not remember the name.

Jim said...

I first read Call Me Joe when I was in High School and had every Poul Anderson book by the time I'd been out of college for 5 or 6 years. I read Joe a couple times a year and like it so much I passed it around to all my friends to read.

I liked Avatar but the plot is obviously borrowed from Anderson's work