With filmmaker James Cameron in the news following his solo dive to the Marianas Trench and the re-release of Titanic, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the ship’s collision with an iceberg, I’ve been reminded of his 3-D eco-extravaganza, Avatar, and its amazing scenery. I was lucky enough to shoot the mountains that were the inspiration for the floating peaks of the movie’s Pandora. They’re in Wulingyuan National Park in Zhangjiajie of China’s Hunan Province, a 266-square- mile preserve that includes a stone forest of 3100 quartz sandstone pillars, lush valleys, dense forests, a mountain lake, caves, waterfalls and streams. Even without the help of CGI and 3D, it’s easy to see why Avatar’s set designers chose Wulingyuan as the model for the fictional world of Pandora.
The most memorable of the peaks, the one featured in the posters for Avatar, seems to be floating in space. As part of a move to capitalize on the huge popularity of Avatar in China, this 3544 -foot tall pillar of sandstone was recently renamed the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. “Pandora is far, but Zhangjiajie is near,” goes the marketing slogan. And lest anyone forget the movie, huge billboards and flat-screen tvs blast reminders of Avatar at the entrance and throughout the park.