By Chris Nashawaty
August 11, 2009 at 07:24 PM EDT

How do you follow up a little movie like Titanic? Most directors would probably grab their knees, curl into a fetal ball, and rock back and forth babbling “I’m the king of the world.” But James Cameron is no ordinary director. Granted, it’s been 12 years since Jack and Rose made goo-goo eyes on the Lido Deck, but  Cameron hasn’t forgotten how to crank up the hype machine. Last month, he unveiled 25 minutes of footage of his latest film, the $200 million-and-change 3-D sci-fi epic Avatar at Comic Con — 25 minutes that left the unwashed masses slack-jawed, drooling, and giddy. And now, as he enters stage two of his drum-beating PR campaign, he’s taken a strangely humble, Joe-Sixpack approach for a film that anyone in their right mind would argue is the blockbuster to beat this winter simply based on the auteur’s track record  (The Terminator, Aliens, etc).

For example, when asked if he was anxious about trying to capture the same Titanic lightning in a bottle with Avatar, Cameron told EW: “I don’t feel competitive with Titanic. Not that I feel Titanic was a fluke. But this isn’t Titanic. Titanic was one of those of those moments when all of the tumblers in the combination lock happened to just line up perfectly. In all cultures in the world, everyone just happened to like that movie! But I can’t run my career trying to reverse-engineer the combination to that lock. If you try to make a movie for everybody, what is that? I have to make a movie for myself and assume that my tastes are so banal and commonplace that someone else will like what I like. I didn’t attend university to study film aesthetics. My film class was a drive-in in Orange County with a six-pack of beer. That’s how I absorb movies, and that’s where I’m stuck as a movie fan.”

Also, when it comes to influences on Avatar, Cameron leans more towards Star Wars than the “slow” 2001:

“Nothing comes out of thin air. I probably read 80 percent of the oeuvre of science fiction when I was in high school. It wasn’t until Star Wars…or 2001, which as brilliant as it was, I found to be slow. When I saw Star Wars, I finally saw onscreen the images I had in my head. It had for me a familiarity. And I thought if this is popular, and people love this, and this is what’s been in my head for years, I should be making movies!”

PHOTO CREDIT: Jesse Grant/