Q&A: James Cameron on ‘Avatar’ Return | Nation/World

NEW YORK (AP) — Thirteen years after James Cameron plunged moviegoers into the space world of “Avatar,” the gorgeous, distant moon of Pandora is finally returning to orbit.

Cameron’s Avatar industrial complex has been spinning at high speed for a while; production of the upcoming sequel, “Avatar: The Path of Water”, started back in 2017. But after shuffling release dates for half a decade, Cameron’s sci-fi epic is ready to close cinema screens again and transport eager travelers back, in 3D, to the land of the Na’vi.

Even for the visionary director of “Titanic” and “The Terminator,” rebooting “Avatar” is, as Cameron said in a recent interview from Wellington, New Zealand, “a big bet.” The third Avatar is already in post-production, and production has begun on the fourth. Avatar’s record-breaking $2.8 billion at the box office made the upcoming Avatar armada far from a risky bet. But a lot has changed since the release of the original, when Netflix was still distributing DVDs by mail and Cameron was working for 20th Century Fox.

To whet moviegoers’ appetites ahead of the Dec. 16 debut of the three-hour long movie Avatar: The Last Airbender and remind them of a world of movies they may have lost touch with, Walt Disney Co. on Friday. re-release Avatar in a remastered 4K and HDR version which he says is “better than it’s ever looked.”

It’s the first salvo in Cameron’s ambitious plan to sketch out an even grander sci-fi saga and rekindle a cinematic experience he says “that just can’t be had at home.” Taking a break from juggling Avatar, Cameron talked about revisiting the original, his expectations for Waterway, and why he almost left the Avatar business.

Notes have been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: Does “Avatar” seem old to you?

CAMERON: Sometimes it seems like yesterday, and other times it’s obviously over a decade. Time passed quickly. I did all sorts of interesting things. Exploring the depths of the ocean. Construction of underwater vehicles. Writing four epic films. We’re wrapping up Avatar 2 right now, and we’re in the middle of working on Avatar 3. So Avatar was never in my head. I keep coming back to it, obviously in the remastering process, to make it better than ever. I just live on Pandora now.

AP: When you went back to watch Avatar, how did you like it?

CAMERON: I see a lot of good work by a lot of good people in terms of the production, the visual effects, the groundbreaking advances that were being made at the time in acting, and the great work of the actors. . It was hard to live. At that time, we set a very high bar for ourselves, and this time with the new films, we had to reach that bar. I keep reminding our VFX team, “Look at the beetles in the forest in the first movie. We had the best bugs!”

AP: Movie-going has picked up this summer, but there’s been a lull at the end of the summer, and the Avatar re-release could help kick it off. How do you see the health of the theater now?

CAMERON: It showed a resilience that I don’t think we expected. The pandemic quite rightly scared everyone. There was a time when you basically risked your life to go to the movies. People did it anyway. Now we feel like we’ve gotten over the hump, or at least it’s a solvable problem. We are seeing a revival in cinemas. This is not where we were before. The jet movement took a bite. The pandemic has bitten. We’re probably down 20, 25% from what it was before the pandemic. I think it will be a very long time before we get back to where we were before. We are obliged to double the effectiveness.

AP: For years, some have argued that Avatar, despite its status as the highest-grossing film of all time, not stuck in the culture as you would expect. Do these arguments irritate you?

CAMERON: I think that’s true for a reason, which is that we didn’t immediately follow it up with another movie two or three years later, and another movie two or three years later. We didn’t play the Marvel game. We’re playing the longer game here. Avatar isn’t going anywhere, it just hasn’t been followed up with a continuous barrage to keep it in the public eye and public consciousness, which is what you need to do. Based on that, we basically developed four sequels so that if Avatar 2 is successful, we can continue it with a normal cadence of two years, maybe three years at the most between “3” and “4.” It will become more and more common in the public mind, but only if people embrace Avatar 2.

AP: Your films have grossed more than $6 billion. I’m guessing you’re not a director who gets nervous before starting a movie.

CAMERON: You could argue that. Anyone who says they’re not nervous before a movie’s release is a lying son of a (expletive).

AP: And there is a lot of driving on the “Way of Water”.

CAMERON: Yeah, it’s a big game. That’s a big bet. And we won’t know where we are until the second or third weekend. The success of the first movie—we had a pretty good $75 million opening. But discoveries nowadays are much less than twice or even three times. Even if we have a stellar opening, we won’t know where we are for a couple of weeks because they were return visits during the first one. These were people who wanted to go and share. If we get it again, we’ll probably be on solid ground.

AP: I think the odds are in your favor.

CAMERON: Nobody knows. The market has changed. Twenty-five percent could be our entire margin. It’s one thing to make a lot of money, it’s another thing to actually make a profit. We’re not going to keep making movies that lose money, even if they look good and make a ton of money. It’s a wait-and-see, let’s-put-it-out-and-see-if-people-take-it situation.

AP: “Avatar” was especially rich in environmental subtext. In the 13 years since then, the planet’s climate and health have deteriorated. How much of that was in your mind when creating the sequels?

CAMERON: Very much so, even to the point where I debated with myself and my wife a lot about whether I should stop making films and work on sustainability issues. But we managed to do it in parallel with the process of film production. We’re doing all of our sustainability efforts—I don’t want to say it’s a side hustle, but it’s parallel. I put as much effort into it as I put into making the film.

Still, the new Avatar films are no more like a lecture on climate or ecology than the first. The first was adventurous. It captured you on a character level, on a narrative level. I think subtext is a useful way to look at it. It’s there, but it’s not what drives the story. And we took that into account in the new films. Yes, Avatar: The Last Airbender is about the oceans and our relationship with the oceans and the animals that live in them. But it is due to character.

AP: ‘Avatar: Path of Water’ will bring back the 3D and high-frame-rate footage moviegoers love have different opinions. What do you think has been the biggest technological leap in the last 13 years?

CAMERON: In terms of presentation, we write in a high dynamic range, which I think is very important. The projection in the field is now brighter than ten years ago, which is much better for 3D. We intelligently use high frame rates in our 3D creation process because people are more sensitive to fast lateral movements. Your mind is more sensitive, so we solved that by judiciously applying high frame rates here and there throughout the film. This is all to make viewing better.

I don’t think anyone should go see a movie because it’s made a certain way. This is only part of our skill. I think the reasons to see this movie are the same as to see the first one. You enter the world. You completely immerse yourself in it. You feel that it surrounds you, and you become a resident there, and you have to stay there. You are embarking on this journey. Of course, in the new movie it’s a little bit longer because we have more characters and more story. I think people are very story driven. If they get a set of characters they like and they get into their problems, they’ll watch it for hours on end over the years of the limited series. It doesn’t bother me.

Follow AP Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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