Is Avatar ripping off Ben Bova’s “Winds of Altair”?

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Everyone is dying to hype up James Cameron’s Avatar as the second coming of film. There really hasn’t been hype for a movie like this since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and we all know how that turned out. But is Avatar as original as everyone thinks? Not really.

This is the Avatar description from Wikipedia:

The story’s protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is a former Marine who was wounded and paralyzed from the waist down in combat on Earth. Jake is selected to participate in the Avatar program, which will enable him to walk. Jake travels to Pandora, a lush jungle-covered extraterrestrial moon filled with incredible life forms, some beautiful, many terrifying. Pandora is also home to the Na’vi, a sentient humanoid race that humans consider primitive, yet are more physically capable than humans. Standing three meters tall (approximately 10ft), with tails and sparkling blue skin, the Na’vi live in harmony with their unspoiled world. As humans encroach deeper into Pandora’s forests in search of valuable minerals, the Na’vi unleash their formidable warrior abilities to defend their threatened existence.

Jake has unwittingly been recruited to become part of this encroachment. Since humans are unable to breathe the air on Pandora, they have created genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars. The Avatars are living, breathing bodies that are controlled by a human “driver” through a technology that links the driver’s mind to their Avatar body. On Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can be whole once again. Sent deep into Pandora’s jungles as a scout for the soldiers that will follow, Jake encounters many of Pandora’s beauties and dangers. There he meets a young Na’vi female, Neytiri, whose beauty is matched only by her ferocity in battle.

Over time, Jake integrates himself into Neytiri’s clan, and begins to fall in love with her. As a result, Jake finds himself caught between the military-industrial forces of Earth, and the Na’vi, forcing him to choose sides in an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.

Sounds pretty cool. Unfortunately, that is the plot of Ben Bova’s 1972 novel “Winds of Altair”:
Winds of Altair Cover

The classic SciFi novel tells the story of humans trying to terraform the planet of Altair IV, where they cannot breath the air. The natives of this planet are a cat-like race (hmm, the Na’vi in Avatar look a little like cats) and Humans are able to transfer their minds into these cats in order to explore the planet safely. Throughout the course of the novel, the main character inhabits the body of one of these cats (just like in Avatar) and grows to side with the natives against the Military in the story.

The plots are almost identical. But will Cameron give credit to Bova for the story in Avatar? Doubt it.

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~ by ManaByte on August 27, 2009.

11 Responses to “Is Avatar ripping off Ben Bova’s “Winds of Altair”?”

  1. I was exited about this movie till I read the plot, and realized it was a rip off of Ben Bova’s book. So sad really I hope he acknowledges where he stole it from as well.

  2. I also agree the plots seem similar. I did a search on “ben bova avatar” and came to your page. To be fair, I haven’t seen Avatar yet. What I remember most about Bova’s book was the psychological strain of virtual reality, the madness endured as the protagonist’s thoughts changed from man to cat. IIRC, eventually he did not want to go back to human reality. Reminded me of “Altered States”.

  3. […] “The classic SciFi novel tells the story of humans trying to terraform the planet of Altair IV, where they cannot breath the air. The natives of this planet are a cat-like race and humans are able to transfer their minds into these cats in order to explore the planet safely. Throughout the course of the novel, the main character inhabits the body of one of these cats (just like in Avatar) and grows to side with the natives against the Military in the story.” (source) […]

  4. Yes, very similar premise. A few years ago I was bemoaning the lack of good Sci-Fi movies. “When I was a kid, I read a book about embedding one’s mind in six-legged panthers — why don’t they make that movie?” I’m glad they did. I wouldn’t want legal concerns to stifle creativity, although it’s important to give credit where credit’s due.

    If Avatar is a rip-off (haven’t seen it yet), then Bova will get his due. Anyone who wants to capitalize on Avatar’s success can now buy the rights to “Winds of Altair” not just for movies, but for TV, video games, online multiplayer, etc.

  5. Hey, thanks for the post. I watched the trailer and it seemed the plot was a lot like a Ben Bova book I’d read a while back, but couldn’t remember the title. (This is the first hit for “avatar ben bova”.)

  6. I actually felt that the story borrowed a lot more from Apocalypse Now than from Dances With Wolves, even in terms of the cinematography and the mental breakdown of the protagonist. Of course, AN borrowed it’s story from The Heart of Darkness.

    I could swear that there is a 1970s science fiction story called “green hell” or something similar where there is a native race that lives in a unbelievably dangerous environment of multi-canopied jungle, psychically links with cat-like creatures that become their companions for life, live in biological harmony with the planet. A corporation comes to the planet to look for medicines and stumbles onto these pods connected to trees that contain a serum that is a “fountain of youth”. Needless to say, the human protagonist decides to fight with the aliens against the corporation. In the end he destroys the outpost, and drives them away.

    The twist is that the pods are the graves of the cat-like “pets”. When the pods mature they actually give birth to the human-like aliens.

    • THIS SOUNDS IKE THE BOOK I’M REMEMBERING. THE “NATIVES” WERE DESCENDANTS OF HAS WHO AHD EVOLVED TO THE FEROCIOUSLY VIBRANT ALIEN LIFE-FORMS, AND THE COMPANY WAS EXPLOITING THE PLANET ILLEGALLY. DOES ANYONE KNOW THE NAME OF THEIS BOOK AND THE AUTHOR?

  7. I read Winds of Altair back when I was in High School, not too long after the book was first published (I still have it). As I watched Avatar (other than the obvious Dances With Wolves similarity) I was strongly reminded of Winds. Honestly, I think the book (story-wise) was better, as far as I can remember. Avatar is probably an amalgam of several of the books mentioned with similar storylines. Not original, even though the graphics were great.

  8. I only serched this subject becuz someone told me the movie was actually based on a novel. i wanted to know which novel. so far i’ve found a bunch of different stories that Avatar was “ripped-off” from. obviously humans going to a different planet where they cannot breathe the atmosphere therefore they control bodies of native species and realize what they’re doing is wrong and decide is much better to just live where they are happiest which is not as a human is a very common plot to come across. that or this story plot has been ripped off more then once. and bova was not the first to come up with it becuz call me joe by poul anderson came out in the 50’s while this story came out in the 70’s.

  9. the cat like race in the book reminded me much more of the ferocious tiger-like creatures in the movies. Of course Pandora is in Alpha Centauri system, not Altair system, but maybe James read the book, and dreamt up something similar without really realizing it.

  10. I watched Avatar last night on DVD. My wife and I were talking about the plot this morning (as she fell asleep before it was over) and I said to her that I thought I had heard this story before. I dug through some old paperbacks I had in the garage and found the Winds of Altair. I love Ben Bova’s books and wish someone would make a movie about any of them. Moon War/Moon Rise would be awesome. Anyway, I did some searching on the web and found this post along with a few others. Cameron even put in the six legged critters part. What a rip off. No imagination in Hollywood, amen to that!!!

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