In the day's "frivolous lawsuit" news, according to a story on PR Newswire, Fathom Studios, the producers of the little-seen animated film Delgo are contemplating legal action against the makers of Avatar, James Cameron's 12-years-in-the-making return to mainstream filmmaking. "From what we have seen, we are amazed by the visual similarities between the two films," a Fathom spokesperson said. "We are reviewing what legal options may be available to us."
The bad news for Fathom is that lawyers for Fox, the studio distributing Cameron's film, are tenacious and shrewd; earlier this year, a dispute between Fox and Warner Brothers over the adaptation rights of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' source material almost derailed the release of Watchmen, and the subsequent settlement virtually ensured that Warner turn over a big chunk of the film's profits to Fox. And of course, there's also the fact that a trailer for a film may or may not actually contain all of a film's surprises, story developments, or ideas, so Fathom may be gobsmacked over several images in the teaser which ultimately have little or nothing to do with Avatar's overall content. But then again, the good thing is that in Hollywood – indeed, in the entire known universe – only one person is allowed to have an idea, and that idea is unique and completely separate from any other ideas that people come up with; see Volcano and Dante's Peak, Deep Impact and Armageddon, Freaky Friday, Vice Versa, 18 Again, Big, and the other Freaky Friday for examples of how this worked out wonderfully for everyone, especially including (but not limited to) Charlie Schlatter and Judge Reinhold.
The reason that this has become a source of contention for filmgoers and now potential plaintiffs is twofold: first, James Cameron hasn't been around for a while, but his mouth has, and it's been indicating that Avatar is nothing short of a cinematic revolution in two-hour form; second, media pundits and critics have analyzed and emphasized the similarities between this so-called completely new movie experience and other films that suggest its ideas are in fact, not new. Delgo is one of these films. Ferngully is another. I'm pretty sure Joe Dirt is a third. But as far as I'm aware, only a handful of industry insiders have actually seen the film, which means that most of this commentary is pure speculation – which doesn't make it wrong, but while both Delgo and Avatar took almost a decade apiece to come to fruition, one suspects that Cameron wasn't spending that time looking through Fathom's windows with a pair of binoculars and smuggling a tape recorder in a briefcase into their boardroom meetings.
But all snark aside, do the similarities suggested in the Joblo comparison story and the Movieline piece – even if they're legitimate – mean that Fathom truly has a leg to stand on legally? Or that even if they could prove somehow that their ideas were stolen, Fathom could successfully bring a suit against Cameron, much less win? My suggestion, since no one's asking, is that Fathom wait until the film is released, and then they hit up Cameron and co. for some money; at that point, Avatar is out there and they can't tinker or change or adjust anything that might be one of these overlaps in imagery or design. But until then, what do you think? Would a lawsuit by the Delgo filmmakers be legitimate venture for them? Do you think that the similarities are significant enough to warrant legal attention? Let us know!