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Avatar – Director James Cameron

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Avatar - Director James Cameron
Director James Cameron © 20th Century Fox

When James Cameron had the vision for Avatar fifteen years ago, the means to realize his concept had not been invented. Now, after four years of production, the live action film with a new generation of special effects delivers a cinematic experience of a new kind.

The story unfolds through the eyes of Jake Sully, a former Marine confined to a wheelchair who replaces his deceased brother at the human outpost on Pandora, where a corporation is mining a rare mineral that is the key to solving Earth’s energy crisis. Because Pandora’s atmosphere is poisonous to humans, they have created the Avatar Program in which humans have their consciousness linked to an avatar – in this reborn-state Jake can walk again. His mission is to convince the aliens on the planet to move their clan, so their land can be excavated.

James Cameron was eager to talk about the journey that finally brought his mega sci-fi saga to the screen.

Where did the idea for Avatar come from?

Avatar - Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldana
Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) and Jake (Sam Worthington) make final preparations for an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.

It didn’t come from one place, it came from every place, from a lifetime of observation, not only of nature, especially nature underwater as a diver, but of reading comic books, science fiction, fantasy, watching movies.

This is my reaction to a lifetime of being a fan of fantasy and science fiction and wanting to give that back, wanting to create a world with all these images and these ideas.

That’s what fed into it, but sitting down to a blank page and starting the story I had to come up how do we get to the planet, how do we meet the alien culture and that’s where the ideas crystallized around this concept of the avatar and linking with the avatar.

What persuaded you that this was the time to do the movie?

Avatar - Director James Cameron
James Cameron directs a scene on the set © 20th Century Fox

I wrote Avatar before making Titanic, with the thought that after Titanic I’d start the film, that the CG would be advanced during the interim and it turned out that it probably was still too far away, being able to do the kind of photo real CG facial performance stuff that I wanted to do.

In 2005 we started Avatar in earnest knowing maybe the CG technique wasn’t 100 percent there but that we could get it there in a relatively short period of time if we pushed in that direction.

One of the most important messages in the film is that we all need to see the world differently.

I always thought the internet had this amazing potential to allow us to have friends in other cultures and other countries and to really knit the world together.

Really what I’m seeing is the emerging pattern that people use the internet to find people like them and to essentially close into a self-defining bubble of reality where you find someone like you and you all agree on everything. So I think we just need to break those self-defining bubbles and reach out and see people from other perspectives. I think films are good at doing that.

There’s also a conservation message in this, was the important to you?

Avatar - Na’vi warrior
A Na’vi warrior races into battle on a Thanator, a fearsome panther-like creature native to Pandora © 20th Century Fox

Science fiction can operate on many different levels. It can operate as a cinema purely of the visual, of imagination, but historically the science fiction that I grew up on has a message, usually it was in the form of some kind of warning.

As much as I loved Star Wars, it was a moment in history where science fiction became more escapist fantasy and less a warning and less an intellectual meeting. Avatar was an attempt to merge science fiction back to its roots of having a warning.

You use the 3D sparingly in the movie.

Up until now every filmmaker who’s made a 3D film has felt it incumbent upon themselves to constantly remind you that you’re watching a 3D movie by having things come out [from the screen] kind of invading your personal space. I took the approach if I’m constantly reminding you that you’re watching a 3D movie then you’re constantly sitting there reminded that you’re in a movie theatre.

I didn’t want you to spend the whole 2 hours and 40 minutes in a movie theatre, I wanted you to go to Pandora, so we approached the 3D as if it were a window, or a portal into a reality, and that window sits some distance from you and through that you see the characters and the scenes and the world.

Is there any idea for a sequel?

When I pitched this to 20th Century Fox 4 ½ years ago I said, ‘We’re going to spend a lot of money and time and energy creating not only a process but the CG assets, all the models of every rock and tree and plant and creature, millions of dollars, so it really makes sense to think of it as the potential start of a franchise or a saga that plays out over several acts.

Each movie being an act of that saga. And I have it mapped out, but I haven’t written the scripts yet. It all depends on whether we do well with the first one. But that was certainly the intention from the beginning.