The Na'vi language was created entirely from scratch by linguist Paul R. Frommer. James Cameron hired him to construct a language that the actors could pronounce easily, but did not resemble any single human language. Frommer created about 1000 words.
To help the actors prepare for their roles, director James Cameron took the cast and crew to Hawaii, where they spent their days trekking through the forests and jungles and living like tribes (building campfires, eating fish, etc), in order to get a better sense of what it would be like to live and move around in the jungle on Pandora, since there would not be any actual jungle sets to aid and guide the actors and crew. Zoe Saldana even dressed up as a warrior during these journeys, complete with an alien tail symbolic of the one her character has in the movie. These hikes were only done during the daytime, though; the cast and crew spent their nights at a Four Seasons hotel.
"Unobtainium" is a humorous term used mainly in the aerospace industry. It describes a material that is perfect for an application, but does not exist, is extremely expensive, or violates the laws of physics. Its chemical symbol is Uo. "Unobtainium" is also a general concept term used by sci-fi enthusiasts for any fictional substance that is needed to build a certain device that is crucial to the plot of a sci-fi story. "Unobtainium" is featured in the movie The Core (2003), where the earth-boring vessel called the "Virgil" has a hull made from unobtainium to help it withstand the massive pressures inside the Earth's core. "Unobtainium" is also an anti-gravity element in the online multi-player video game "Skyrates."
Colonel Quaritch mentions that being on Pandora made him feel "like a shave-tail Looie." "Shave tail" was a term originally used in the 19th century among U.S. cavalry regiments. Newly assigned cavalry troopers were given horses with a shaved tail, to let other troopers know that the rider was dangerously inexperienced, and should be given extra room to maneuver during training. "Looie" is a nickname for lieutenant, the lowest ranking, and least experienced, rank among U.S. Marine Corps officers.
The concept of a network of trees in which minds of the deceased continue to exist appears in several novels of the "Ender" series by Orson Scott Card, most prominently in "Speaker for the Dead". Just like in the movie, the trees in the novel are sacred to the native (remotely humanoid) inhabitants, who tolerate the presence of a small human colony on their world until cultural misunderstandings lead to conflict.
The word "na'vi" in Hebrew means prophet. A na'vi is a visionary or someone who communicates directly with God. Its plural, nevi'im, also refers to the prophetic books of the bible, which include "Daniel," "Micah," and "Isaiah."
According to Sam Worthington, he was invited to the casting via a phone call. Who called told him nothing about the script, nor even told the director's name and Sam was disappointed at first, thinking it was "another waste of time".
James Cameron wanted an unknown actor to play Sully, because it would give the character a "real" quality. The guy you want to have a beer with, who ultimately becomes the leader that transforms a whole world.
There are striking similarities between the movie and the "Destination: Void" universe depicted by Frank Herbert and 'Bill Ransom' in the science fiction novels 'The Jesus Incident' and 'The Lazarus Effect'. In the novels, an alien planet called Pandora is home to a global network of sentient kelp in which the minds of the deceased also continue to exist. The kelp, as well as other native lifeforms on the planet, are linked into a large entity with a shared consciousness, called "Avata".
The common spirit of Pandora where every creature is constantly connected to each other and the planet itself is based on the concept of Gaia described in Isaac Asimov's novel 'Foundation's Edge' (1982).
The book Grace picks up in the abandoned school is called 'The Lorax' by Dr. Seuss. Like the plot of the film the book is about a mystical forest full of beautiful trees and mystical creatures that are destroyed by man's lust for ever growing industry.
In James Cameron movies, allies to the main characters often have Catholic references. In Aliens (1986), this ally was called 'Bishop'; in The Abyss (1989), it was 'Monk'. In 'Avatar', Sigourney Weaver plays a character called Grace Augustine. Saint Augustine was a Catholic monk who brought Christianity to pagan England, and became Archbishop. One manner of address for an Archbishop is 'Your Grace'.
Jake Sully's initials (J.S.) are the same as John Smith, a central figure in the historical and often romanticized story of Pocahontas. Avatar shares many similarities with the Pocahontas story in plot and theme. Like John Smith, Sully is a member of an invading force who falls in love with a tribal princess, after learning her customs.
When Sully reassures Mo'at (the shaman) that he is "empty", it refers to his life being empty. The term "jarhead" is applied to Marines referring to their traditional 'high and tight' haircut, and is used by Dr. Augustine when Sully is entering the Avatar link for the first time.
Sigourney Weaver plays a James Cameron persona for her character in this film. Sigourney stated in an interview, "I teased him because to me I'm playing Jim Cameron in the movie as this kind of brilliant, approach-driven, idealistic perfectionist. But that same somebody has a great heart underneath. So I have to say I was always kind of channeling him."
James Cameron originally planned to have the film completed for release in 1999. At the time, the special effects he wanted increased the budget to $400 million. No studio would fund the film, and it was shelved for eight years.
The actors playing the Na'vi had cameras attached to their head so that they filmed close-ups of their faces. Dots painted on their faces allowed motion-capture software to record their facial expressions, providing a 'framework' from which the CG artists worked.
The film reached the US$500 million dollar mark in 32 days, beating The Dark Knight (2008)'s previous record of 45 days. James Cameron's previous film, Titanic (1997), took 98 days to reach the US$500 million dollar mark.
According to James Cameron, the Na'vi are blue to create a conceptual parallel with traditional Hindu depictions of God (e.g., in the forms of Vishnu, Shiva, Rama, Krishna, etc.), but also because "I just like the color blue."
Became the highest-grossing film of all time on January 26th, 2010, with a final worldwide gross of US$ 2,779,404,183. The previous record-holder was Titanic (1997), also written and directed by James Cameron, with a worldwide gross of US$1,843,201,268.
James Cameron disclosed on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (2009) that he began working on preliminary drafts of his movie as early as the mid 1990's. Because his visual concepts were so avant-garde, the technology required to consummate his vision was not then yet available. Not until 2005 was he able to proceed with viable script scenarios.
To appease 20th Century Fox's fears, and remembering the harrowing experience of Titanic (1997) and its production overruns and costly delays, James Cameron promised to forgo his director's fee if Avatar (2009) flopped.
The RDA (Resources Development Administration)'s private security force members all wear French military rank badge. Colonel Miles Quaritch ('Stephen Lang') wears the rank badge of a French Colonel. When Trudy Chacón (Michelle Rodriguez) breaks Sully and Angustine out from jail and flies them to the avatar link outpost, the woman alerting Quaritch is shown wearing the 3 ribbons of a French captain.
Mo'at, the spiritual leader of the tribe, is referred to by the title "Tsahik". This name sounds remarkably similar to the Hebrew "Tsaddik", meaning an individual of outstanding virtue and piety. The term is often applied to an especially knowledgeable interpreter of Biblical law and scriptures.
Close-up of Jake's feet when he moves them around in the soil; close-up of Col. Quaritch's feet in his first scene; slow-mo focus on the wolf-creature's feet as it circles around Jake's avatar, just before he first meets Neytiri.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In the final battle sequence, Neytiri has a white hand print on her chest as part of her warpaint. It has five fingers, indicating that it is Jake's hand (avatars have five fingers while Na'vi only have four).
When Jake is examining his ponytail, Dr. Augustine states, "Don't play with that, you'll go blind." This is a common phrase that is taught to adolescent boys (referencing their genitalia) to discourage them from masturbating. It is shown later in the film that the Na'vi use their ponytails to link their minds during mating.
In the scene that introduces the concept of the tree of souls to the viewer, Grace remarks that outsiders are forbidden to go there, but that she would "die to get samples." This turns out to be an unfortunately prophetic figure of speech as later, she is allowed to go to the tree of souls because she is dying. Her first words upon arriving are, "I need to get samples..."
In the scene where Jake Sully is in prison, his back is to the camera and you can see the back of his wheelchair. The brand of wheelchair he is in is "Grunt", which is another term for a Marine infantryman.