It’s been 13 years since the original Avatar first left audiences awestruck with its groundbreaking CGI visuals. Its sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, is slated to finally release in December, and the film’s director, James Cameron, has given some insight into why it took so long to return to Pandora.
In an interview with the Times UK, Cameron revealed that prior to the conception of Way of Water, he had written a complete screenplay for Avatar 2 over the course of a year. Unfortunately, we will never know what story Cameron concocted, as he discarded the screenplay because of his lack of satisfaction with it.
“When I sat down with my writers to start Avatar 2, I said we cannot do the next one until we understand why the first one did so well,” he said. “We must crack the code of what the hell happened.”
“All films work on different levels. The first is surface, which is character, problem and resolution. The second is thematic. What is the movie trying to say? But Avatar also works on a third level, the subconscious. I wrote an entire script for the sequel, read it and realised that it did not get to level three. Boom. Start over. That took a year.”
When he appeared on “The Marianne Williamson Podcast” last year, Cameron gave listeners a deeper look into the woes that plagued the creation of Avatar 2. He said he clashed with his writers, and even threatened to fire them from the project because of their focus on creating new stories, instead of working on understanding what made the original film so successful.
“When I sat down to write the sequels, I knew there were going to be three at the time and eventually it turned into four, I put together a group of writers and said, ‘I don’t want to hear anybody’s new ideas or anyone’s pitches until we have spent some time figuring out what worked on the first film, what connected, and why it worked,’” he said.
“They kept wanting to talk about the new stories. I said, ‘We aren’t doing that yet.’ Eventually I had to threaten to fire them all because they were doing what writers do, which is to try and create new stories. I said, ‘We need to understand what the connection was and protect it, protect that ember and that flame.’”
It makes sense that Cameron is so particular in the screenwriting process for the sequel: the original film was a box office juggernaut, standing tall as the highest grossing film of all time with a titanic $2.85 billion in earnings.
Cameron doesn’t just have to live up to the financial success of the first film, but its creative impact. Avatar re-introduced 3D cinema to the mainstream, and its use of revolutionary CGI techniques and motion-capture technologies transformed the movie industry, paving the way for the visual spectacles of Marvel and other such companies.
When Cameron started working on Avatar in 2005, it was an experimental experience: he told the Times UK that he and the team were walking into the unknown, and he was unsure if they’d even succeed.
“We knew that every day we were going to be working in uncharted territory,” he said. “It was three years before I saw one shot of the final film and I sat in my edit room staring at it for an hour.
“I just realised, ‘We f***ing did this.’ It was the first time I could relax. To the extent that I ever relax.”
After what feels like an eternity of waiting, The Way of Water is almost here. December is fast approaching, and only then can we know if Cameron will surf the waves of success, or drown in disappointment.
Regardless of what happens, Cameron has another three films planned: Avatar: The Seed Bearer in 2023, Avatar: The Tulkun Rider in 2025, and Avatar: The Quest for Eywa in 2027, as well as a video game, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, created by Ubisoft Entertainment, and expected for a 2023 release.
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