James Cameron on returning to Avatar
The Oscar-winning director talks about his plans for revisiting Pandora—and not just on film
With Avatar?s splashy DVD release now just two days away (April 22nd), we asked James Cameron why the disc is hitting stores without any extras (a loaded edition with six minutes of new scenes will come out before Christmas), what?s up with the sequel, and the what?s the deal with all this 3-D business. Here?s what he had to say.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Avatar DVD that?s coming out this week is a pretty stripped-down disc. There aren?t a lot of extras?
JAMES CAMERON: There?s zero extras! There?s so few extras that you put it in, you push play, and the movie starts. There are no trailers, there?s no bulls— at the beginning that you have to endlessly go through. I have a deal with the studio and it goes like this: Any movie I make that makes over a billion dollars goes out without a bunch of crap trailers for your other movies.
That seems fair. But I think a lot of people look forward to extras…
I appreciate that. But so much of Avatar—two-thirds of the film—is CG. And a lot of the material we cut out of the movie [before its release in theaters] are CG scenes. So we?ve identified six minutes of those scenes and gotten Fox to agree to pay the money to finish those scenes. But that takes some time. It?s not something you can do right away. And I don?t think people wanted to wait until Christmas for their Avatar DVDs. The other thing for me is philosophical as a filmmaker: Avatar is the highest-grossing film in history, it got nine Academy Award nominations, why would I want to f— with that? Why would I want to change that? I want to drive a stake in the ground and I want to say, This is the movie we released and you can now own it. And then after that, with the fun new DVD and Blu-ray technology, you can do a brand new experience and add scenes back and to do supplemental stuff and we will bombard you with extras!
When will that be?
Probably November. But right now, today, if people want them some Avatar, they can get it. And I think they will. And then in August, we?re going to take those six minutes of deleted scenes and finish them up to a level of photo-reality equal to the rest of the film and re-release the film theatrically. Then we?ll get creative with the DVD technology in November.
So much of seeing Avatar in theaters was about the spectacle and the 3-D. Aren?t people going to lose some of that experience watching the DVD in their living rooms?
Don?t know. I?ve seen the film on DVD. My kids have watched it on DVD probably 10 times. I finally had to pry it out of their hands because they?re six and nine and they were learning too many bad words. They certainly don?t mind watching it on DVD. And I think the Blu-ray, watching it on a good size monitor, is a stunning experience visually. And let?s not forget that Avatar is a cool story with great characters and beautiful design and none of that is negatively affected by being in 2-D. Will the more-loaded DVD that comes out in November have a 3-D element to it?
Not at this point. We haven?t announced when we?ll be releasing it on 3-D DVD. Our feeling is there just aren?t enough players out there. We don?t want it to come out and be a fart in the frying pan.
You mentioned these six minutes of new scenes. Are you one of these guys like George Lucas who likes to go back and tinker with their old films?
I?m not into revision. I think every film should be exactly as it was executed in the moment. We?re not changing the rest of the film, we?re just dropping these scenes in. I actually don?t believe?like when George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It?s a revision of history. That bothers me. I certainly wouldn?t go back and do that to any of my films. A film I made in 1984, it?s what it is. It?s a creature of its time. But with these new scenes we?re adding, I think people certainly had an appetite for more Avatar than we gave them. Nobody complained about it being too long. The scenes we?re putting back are righteous scenes, they?re not Jake sitting around talking about his childhood.
What do you think about movies that are shot in 3-D like yours and Alice in Wonderland versus movies that are later adapted into 3-D like Clash of the Titans?
Here?s the issue: I draw a distinct line in the sand between films where you have no choice—Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, James Bond movies, Terminator 2—I would love to see all those films in 3-D and the only way to do that short of having a time machine, is to convert them. Now, on the other hand, if you?ve got a movie that?s coming out in seven weeks and you wake up one day with a wind bubble saying, I want to turn it into 3-D, that?s probably a bad idea. Clash of the Titans, even though it made some money, has set off this controversy that we?re going to piss in the soup of this growing 3-D market. If you want to charge a premium ticket price you have to give people a premium experience. So I?m against slapdash conversion. And I?m against anyone who?s making a major tentpole movie whether it?s a new Spider-Man film or a new Pirates of the Caribbean film and they want to release it in 3-D but they don?t want to take the time and the energy to shoot it in 3-D. Again, they?re charging the audience for something that they?re not delivering. But I think there is a role for conversion and we?re going to convert Titanic and we might do one or two of my other films when the costs come down.
If you could go back and shoot any of your other films in 3-D, which would you choose?
Well, I?d do ?em all in 3-D. When I started working with the 3-D camera systems back in 2001, I said I?m not making another movie until I can shoot it and release it in 3-D. And that was part of the reason for the long gap between films because I was waiting for the exhibition community to get off the dime and get the screens in. I mean, Titanic in 3-D? That?s going to be great.
Will there be another long gap between Avatar and your next film?
No, back then I was doing a lot of deep-ocean exploration and I was building technology that we now have. So all of the impediments for another Avatar film don?t exist anymore.
So that?s the next film for you, then? An Avatar sequel?
We?ve got some other film projects as well, but in any case they?re going to be in 3-D and they?re going to utilize these technologies.
Okay, so I?ll ask you again: do you want to announce what your next film is?
Will it be Battle Angel, the film you were developing alongside Avatar?
It?s still a contender and I have a few other projects as well. I just need to sit down and think about it. We will absolutely do another Avatar film and it won?t be a 10-year gap. That, I can guarantee.
How long do you think it?s going to be before we can replicate the 3-D experience we had in theaters with Avatar in our living rooms?
We sort of have it right now. The technology exists. The sets are on sale. You can buy a 3-D Blu-ray DVD player. We haven?t done the 3-D remastering of Avatar for DVD yet and we don?t know when we?re going to release it yet, but I would imagine it would be some time next year.
Did any other directors give you feedback on Avatar when it came out?
I remember Michael Mann was very inspired. He’s got a film that he’s doing on a fantasy subject and he wants to shoot it in 3-D. And Steven Spielberg was really almost emotional about his response to the film. He was one of the first people I showed it to. I showed him part of it and he said, “ The second you show yourself the movie from end to end, I want to be there! I’ll cut my vacation short and come back!” Ridley Scott came in and I showed him a half-hour of it and he got excited and wanted to go off and do a science fiction film?again! Where they all were when the DGA Award came around, I don’t know! [Laughs]
Is there any chance that this wave of 3-D is a passing fad like it was in the ’50s and ’80s?
No, it’s here to stay. You can completely discount the ’80s because there were only a few titles and it was sporadic. It never really caught on. The first wave started in 1951 with Bwana Devil and it lasted 18 months. And there were 25 3-D films in 18 months and then that was it. And all of the problems caught up. The problems with exhibition, the problems with photography and eye strain, the tendency of projectionists to get it out of sync. That’s not what’s happening here. This started six years ago and has steadily built over time. There’s been enormous validation from the audience around the world. And Avatar made an enormous amount of money—75 percent of which came from 3-D screens. This isn’t going to go away. The audience gets it, the audience has spoken.