One of the reasons I love James Cameron is because he is so absurdly ambitious, and more often than not, when he aims high, he actually hits the target.
From The Abyss through Avatar, every time Cameron made a film, it would be accompanied by tons of press about how much money he was spending and how crazy he was and what a giant failure each film would be. It”s become a fairly familiar pattern. How many times in a row does someone have to do something before people stop predicting failure? At least three times, he”s made the most expensive movie of all time and the film has become a massive hit anyway.
Forget about the business side of things, though. What I love about James Cameron is his single-mindedness. When he believes in something, he attacks it with everything he has. I remember the two years leading up to the release of Avatar and all the conversations I had with people who mocked the ambition of it. It was enormously divisive even before it was released, and even as it went on to become the most successful film of all time, it continued to divide audiences. Small wonder, then, that each piece of news about Cameron”s sequel plans has been met with a huge hubbub.
I”m intrigued by everything I”ve heard about the sequels so far. Hell, I”ll admit it… I”ve been on the hook since 1997, when I first read the 80-page scriptment that Cameron wrote for the film. It took 12 years for Cameron to finally bring that vision to life, much of which he spent literally inventing the technology he needed to make the film. By the time the first Avatar sequel comes out in 2018, it will have been nine years between films, and sure enough, Cameron has spent much of that time pushing technology forward and exploring the ocean, two things that will pay off in these sequels. Cameron may move at a glacial pace these days (he”s only released two films in the last 20 years), but that”s because he dreams bigger than anyone else dares.
It makes sense that Cameron would take some shots at The Screening Room when he appeared onstage at the 20th Century Fox CinemaCon presentation today in Las Vegas. The Screening Room is the on-demand service that Sean Parker is currently trying to promote, and if it works, you”ll be able to see brand new studio films at home at the same time they open in theaters. Cameron”s films are designed to be theatrical experiences. I love the memories I have of seeing The Terminator or T2 or True Lies or Titanic in the theater and listening to the audiences reacting to those films.
I suspect it is no longer allowed to say that I like Avatar, but since I really don”t care whether it”s “cool” to like something or not, I”m going to tell you that my review of the film today would be the same as my review when it came out. It”s an amazing piece of world-building, and a wholly persuasive experience of a completely fictional place. There are some truly tin-eared moments in the movie, and that”s always been Cameron”s weakest area. He writes like he directs, like a blunt-force weapon, and his dialogue can be almost ridiculously on-the-nose. I”m hoping that one of the effects of hiring three other writers to work with him on the Avatar sequels is going to mean we get all of the ambition and aggressive energy of Cameron”s work, but with different voices in the mix. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman, Steven Gould, and Shane Salerno are all working on the films as well as the novels that will be published, and the process sounds like a rewarding one. The scripts were developed by Cameron with these writers, and he”s going to ask Fox to bet at least a billion dollars on the vision that these scripts represent. They didn”t just write movies. They created an overall plan for a multimedia venture that could last as long as 20 years if Cameron has his way, telling stories in films, books, games, and VR adventures. By the time these movies open, Disney”s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, FL should have completed its conversion to an Avatar attraction, just in time for audiences to be able to see these new films and then step directly into Cameron”s world.
In December of 2014, I went to a Christmas party at the home of Jim Gianopulos, 20th Century Fox”s CEO, and Cameron was there. Oddly, he was just standing off to the side of things, by himself, no one approaching him. I walked right up and we ended up chatting for about a half-hour. It was interesting to see how open he was about Avatar and its sequels, and how confident he sounded about giving audiences something brand-new with each trip back to Pandora. I love that there”s going to be a ton of underwater greenscreen for the sequel. The idea of Cameron getting to design his own underwater ecosystem sounds like the ultimate expression of who he is, both in film and in life.
I”m glad Cameron made an appearance today to make it clear that these films are coming. It”s been a long wait so far, and almost six years ago, Rupert Murdoch was already grumbling about how long it would take for these films to come to fruition. They”ve spent a ton of money on them so far in development, and it will be an act of faith for Fox to move forward on the series as a whole. Cameron”s talked about shooting giant chunks of the film in one massive production push as a way of keeping costs realistic, but when you”re talking about four full feature films, that doesn”t seem possible. Cameron said today, “We”re embarking on a truly massive cinematic project, making four epic films, each of which stands alone but together forms a complete saga.” That feels like a shift from his earlier statements about how the relationship between Neytiri and Jake would form the center of the entire series.
If Cameron has his way, he”s going to be building one of the most fully-explored science fiction landscapes in Hollywood history. Here's the official logo Fox sent over:
Just tell me where to send my money now.
Avatar 2 will be in theaters Christmas 2018.
Avatar 3 will be in theaters Christmas 2020.
Avatar 4 will be in theaters Christmas 2022.
Avatar 5 will be in theaters Christmas 2023.