Even though the Yuanjiajie's peaks don't float in the air, nonetheless some locals are sure they were the inspiration for the film. James Cameron did say at one point that Avatar's mountains were modeled after Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province. "All we had to do was simply re-create Huangshan Mountain in outer space," he said. But, Chinese citizens are quick to point out the fact that the Huangshan Mountains are granite formations and that photographers for the movie showed models for Avatar that were actually Zhangjiajie, not the Huangshan.
Then, just in case you weren't confused enough, there was reportedly a ceremony to officially change the name of the peaks, but officials are now saying they did no such thing. The name change apparently caused quite a backlash from Chinese citizens who said "officials were being money-oriented and blindly worshiping Western culture." So now they're saying they only "added a way to call the mountain and the previous name is not abolished." Of course, they didn't want to completely abandon the potential tourism dollars an Avatar mountain would bring, so they put a poster of two pictures comparing 'South Sky Pillar' with 'Hallelujah Mountain' on the mountain to show the evidence that it was indeed James Cameron's inspiration.
The bottom line seems to be that its anyone's guess whether or not the Yuanjiajie peaks were the inspiration for Avatar or what their real name is now.
· China City Denies Renaming Mountain After "Avatar" [ABC]
· China's 'Avatar' link [Variety]
· Movie Set Travel Coverage [Jaunted]