The idea for the Na’vi, the made-up humanoid species indigenous to the planet Pandora in James Cameron’s 2009 primitivist blockbuster Avatar, came to the director via his mother. In the 1970s, she told her son about a dream of a 12-foot blue woman, and this formed the basis for the brief he would deliver to his designers 30 years later. The Na’vi were to be blue, tall, muscular, sleek, and feline. They had to be alien enough to be plausibly otherworldly, but take a form, the concept artist Jordu Schell recalled Cameron stipulating, that “the audience has to want to fuck.” Among other things, this meant that the film’s female Na’vi lead, Neytiri, had “to have tits” even though, Cameron freely admitted to Playboy, the Na’vi are not placental mammals. As he developed prototypes, Schell pinned up pictures of “beautiful ethnic women” to ensure that his feline aliens would reflect the ids of the teenage boys who made up the film’s key demographics.
The plot of the film follows the tested formula of primitivist transformation. A man of civilization, in this case the paraplegic US marine Jake Sully, is sent to colonize the primitive lands beyond civilization’s perimeter only himself to “go primitive” after learning of their innocent beauty and recognizing the barbarism of his own destructive civilization. It’s a structure that underlies other blockbusters like Dances with Wolves, its sci-fi equivalents, and numerous journey-into-the-interior classics (especially the work of Joseph Conrad). Eros is built into this formula. Coition marks the point at which the civilized man gives himself over to the primitive tribe and discovers, or recovers, his primitive self. Primitivist utopias, in short, are fuckable utopias.