Opening scene: a camera sweeps high across the treeline of a lush, green world. Intercut is a sequence of images of Jake Sully, a crippled war veteran and former Marine. He wakes up in a giant spaceship on its way to Pandora, a lush Earth-like moon orbiting Polyphemus, a blue planet similar to Jupiter. He is one of a large number of passengers, all waking up after almost six years of cryosleep en route to Pandora. Drifting out of his sleeping pod in zero G he's tended by the ship's staff. He opens his locker, which is marked SULLY T. Then, through voice-over and flashback with hospital and military officials, we learn that Jake has a deceased twin brother -- Tom, a scientist -- who was to be part of a high-level program overseen by corporate and military strategists. Because Jake and his brother are an exact genetic match, he was presented with a unique opportunity: take over his brother's contract with a corporate-military entity and travel light years away to an outpost on the previously glimpsed world, Pandora. Acknowledging the notions of "being free" and having a "fresh start," Jake agrees to the deal as his brother's body is cremated.
Now being transported from the spaceship to Pandora via a shuttle, Jake is one of many soldiers and civilian personnel about to touch down on Pandora, some 4.3 light years from Earth. We catch views of the base and its construction and immense mining machines digging up the soil in a large quarry as Jake ponders his new role. The passengers are all instructed to wear a full-face breathing mask since the atmosphere of the planet will not support human life; 20 seconds of exposure to the poisonous atmosphere of the planet causes unconsciousness, with death occurring about four minutes later. While the other passengers disembark and take their first steps onto the base, called "Hell's Gate," which is surrounded by a huge perimeter fence. Jake follows them in his wheelchair, earning the moniker "Meals on Wheels" from a few haughty Marines. He acknowledges through voice-over that he lost the use of his legs during one of his tours of duty on Earth, and while a spine can be fixed, that "takes money," which is tough to come by in the present economy.
Jake goes immediately to a military briefing where Colonel Miles Quaritch is addressing the assembled soldiers and a few civilians who have come along. He reminds them they're "not in Kansas any more," and he tells them about Pandora's indigenous population, the Na'vi. Quaritch, sporting a heavy set of scars on the side of his head, says they are "hard to kill" and practically everything "out there" will try to kill you. And, while it's his job to keep his people alive, he says he will not succeed in this task -- "not with all of you." If they wish to survive, he continues, they will have to follow "Pandora rules."
Jake goes to a science lab where he meets biologist Norm Spellman and Dr. Max Patel, two members of the Avatar Program. As Jake gets his first look at his own avatar, we learn about the program itself: humans are unable to breathe Pandora's air, but the Avatar Program enables a human to link with their own avatar, a genetically-bred human-Na'vi hybrid, and function as if they were a Na'vi native. In his avatar body, Jake will be able to walk again and breathe the atmosphere.
Jake and Norm enter the science department just about the time Dr. Grace Augustine, the program's science lead, awakens in a specially designed pod that links her to her avatar and flips open the top. Norm says to Jake he hears she likes "plants better than people." She arises from her pod and converses in Na'vi with Norm. Satisfied with Norm's command of the language, she turns to Jake. She tells him she needs his brother Tom, the PhD who trained 3 years for the Pandora mission, but she doesn't need him, since Jake has no lab experience and has never been linked to an avatar.
Grace storms off to the base's control room to confront...
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