Left: Scene from Avatar. Right: Painting by Roger Dean.
I’m not really into the movies, but last night I saw a really cool science fiction movie that came out a few years ago called Avatar. I think it was just a limited release art-house kind of a thing, so you might have never heard of it. The story takes place on this jungle moon around a gas giant orbiting Alpha Centauri, sort of a big blue Jupiter. It was a very beautiful setting.
The whole time I was watching the story I had a feeling there was something familiar about it all. Giant mushrooms and surreal spiraling trees, floating island and bizarre elephant-like creatures, even blue people. Then I realized that the movie must have been set inside a Yes album jacket!
“The Fish” by Yes
It turns out I am far from the first person to notice the similarity. In fact, earlier this summer British watercolor artist Roger Dean, best known around here for the super trippy album covers he painted for Yes in the 70s, filed a lawsuit against movie director James Cameron and 20th Century Fox. The suit states, in part that “the similarities of each such work are substantial, continuing, and direct so as to rule out any accidental copying or similarity in scenes common to the genre.” Dean is asking for millions in damages and a “cease and desist from any further reproduction, distribution, transmission or other use.”
Yes was not the only group who’s albums featured Dean’s artwork. He also created very similar landscapes, complete with hybrid creatures, for the pioneering African jam band Osibisa (these are really good albums). Another major arena act of the era who he painted covers for was Uriah Heep. Dean happens to have created the covers for two of their best albums.
And if you go get your copy of Demons and Wizards and look closely, you’ll find that Dean hid images of human genitalia in his painting.
Dean also created artwork for several albums that do not feature the surreal landscapes of imagined worlds, such as the first and third albums by Atomic Rooster.
IMBD reports that several sequels to Avatar are in production, and that they are going to explore the moon’s oceans, as well as other moons around the same planet. Cameron has already weather a couple other lawsuits and accusations he lifted from a number of classic science fiction novels (notably Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld, Poul Anderson’s “Call me Joe,” and the Russian Noon Universe series by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky). There’s also some pretty striking similarities to other films, such as Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and Dances with Wolves. If Cameron manages to escape the cabal of attorneys on his tail, we suggest he set the next Avatar film in the world from Roger Dean’s covers for 80s prog-sters Asia. The purple guy on the cover of Astra seems like he’d be bad news.