February 14, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

Eleven Oscars for 1997’s Titanic made him king of the world. So what’s filmmaker James Cameron been up to lately? Directing underwater documentaries in IMAX 3-D. Ghosts of the Abyss bowed in 2003, and now comes Aliens of the Deep, an ocean-floor survey with creatures so weird they could be from outer space. Here’s what Cameron had to say about hydrothermal wonders and the future of movies.

What’s the coolest thing you saw down deep?
All of it. You literally see planetary crust forming. It feels like looking through a window in time to 3 billion years ago.

How do you account for your Jacques Cousteau career detour?
I loved diving before I loved filmmaking. I wanted to take a couple of years and build a documentary company that could do these activities even when I was off making my next movie.

Which is?
We’re in early preproduction on Battle Angel, an adaptation of a Japanese graphic-novel series. We’re going to be using the same 3-D technology we’ve been developing for the documentary [IMAX] films, but the idea is to get it off the IMAX platform and into multiplexes.

So are you going to become the king of the 3-D world?
I’m not gonna try to hog this or be proprietary, because I want other filmmakers making stereo [image] product. There’s gonna be an avalanche of this stuff as soon as people realize how great it can be. With digital capture and digital display, we can get over all of the hurdles that have caused eyestrain and bad experiences in the past.

You’re talking about changing technology — upgrading theater projectors and so on. Won’t that cost too much?
We’re going to be competing with digital piracy, and the film industry is not a high-margin business. We spend $8 billion a year to make $9 billion. You chip away at that 10 percent margin with peer-to-peer piracy, like what happened with the music industry, and you’re out of business. So how are we going to work against that? Give people an experience they can only have in theaters.

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