Avatar is the latest blockbuster movie that’s visually stunning and breaking box office records. But at its heart, it’s still an easy to analyze story.
“Avatar” may be visually stunning, but it’s still a basic story that can be divided into eight distinct segments.
Act I — Exposition
Part 1 — Jake Sully is the hero. His problem is that he’s a paraplegic and has the opportunity to regain his legs if he completes his mission of moving around in an avatar. The beginning of this segment shows us Jake arriving on Pandora where he meets the villain and Grace, the scientist studying the native population. This segment ends when Jake learns about the avatar program and the people of Pandora.
Part 2 — Jake gets inside his avatar for the first time and finds freedom in running around. He goes on an expedition with Grace, learns about the various wild animals, and gets chased by one. Jake barely escapes, but finds himself separated from the rest of the group, who have to abandon him as nightfalls. That’s when Jake is found and rescued by Neytiri.
Act IIa — Positive Rising Action
Part 3 — Neytiri brings Jake to her clan where they agree to let him stay and learn their ways. Neytiri teaches Jake how to run and maneuver around her world, which ends when Jake falls asleep in a hammock in the trees.
Part 4 — Grace moves Jake to a remote location and Jake gradually learns to become a warrior. He also falls in love with Neytiri and his False Victory is completed when he makes love to her.
Act IIb — Negative Rising Action
Part 5 — Immediately after the False Victory, something bad has to start happening and that’s when the bulldozers come along to knock over the trees. Enraged, Jake knocks out the cameras on the bulldozer, but he’s identified in the process. The military then decides to wipe out the native’s Hometree, but gives Grace and Jake one hour to get the natives out of there or else they’ll come in and make them leave.
Part 6 — Jake and Grace fail to get the natives to leave, the military wipes out the Hometree, Neytiri feels betrayed by Jake, and everything gets blown apart with Neytiri’s father dying and the natives escaping as refugees to regroup. The military cuts off Grace and Jake’s avatar link and locks them up. This is the low point for the hero since he’s now isolated and cut off from the people and the woman he truly loves.
Act III — Climax
Part 7 — Trudy, the pilot, helps break them out and they manage to escape, but not before the villain shoots Grace, severely wounding her. Despite the efforts of the natives, Grace dies. The remaining humans band together and convince the natives to fight back. The military detects their presence and plans a final attack to demoralize them for good.
Part 8 — The military arrives to destroy the native’s sacred area for good. The natives attack and suffer heavy casualties until all appears lost with Trudy getting shot down and most of the natives wiped out. That’s when the wild animals join into the fight and charge to overrun the military forces. Jake helps lead the air battle in taking down the flying ships. Then Jake fights one on one with the villain until Neytiri saves him at the last moment by shooting the villain with two arrows. The natives force the humans to leave and Jake transfers into his avatar body for good.
The story behind “Avatar” simply follows the basic eight-part structure of any story. What makes “Avatar” amazing is the visual effects. The story is adequate, but easily overshadowed by the special effects.
By studying “Avatar,” you can see that it’s basic story structure isn’t anything special or unique, but it still tells a good story about a hero who changes through the course of the movie and becomes a better person. Originally Jake’s goal was to get his legs back. Like all good stories, the hero gets his goal, but in an unexpected way. In this case, Jake becomes a native.
Watch “Avatar” a second time, ignore the visual effects, and focus strictly on the story. You’ll see that even a billion dollar blockbuster follows the same eight-part structure of every story in existence.