The Academy Award winner revealed that during the 13-year gap between 2009’s history-making “Avatar” and this year’s sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water” premiering December 16, he scrapped an entire script.
“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. We must crack the code of what the hell happened,” Cameron told The Times UK about navigating a follow-up to the massive blockbuster sci-fi fantasy film starring Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington.
Cameron shared his three categories that a film must succeed in: “Well, all films work on different levels. The first is surface, which is character, problem and resolution,” the “Titanic” director said. “The second is thematic. What is the movie trying to say? But ‘Avatar’ also works on a third level, the subconscious.”
The “subconscious” component, according to Cameron, is why audiences returned to theaters to see “Avatar” more than once, leading the film to gross $2 billion. Now, fans can relive that experience thanks to the original movie being re-released September 23 with a new 4K high dynamic range restoration. But, as Cameron learned, that trifecta of “Avatar” magic was hard to capture again.
“I wrote an entire script for the sequel, read it and realized that it did not get to level three,” he said. “Boom. Start over. That took a year.”
Cameron added, “Well, I was also off doing deep-ocean exploration for a while. I’m a filmmaker so I can pay for my expeditions. I’d much prefer to be out exploring and seeing things nobody imagined existed for real, rather than making them up. But I’m good at making them up too. So I do that as well.”
Cameron previously told The New York Times that he purposefully waited to even approach the concept of a sequel to “Avatar.”
“I think I could have made a sequel two years later and have it bomb because people didn’t relate to the characters or the direction of the film,” Cameron said. “My personal experience goes like this: I made a sequel called ‘Aliens,’ seven years after the first movie. It was very well received. I made a sequel called ‘Terminator 2,’ seven years after the first movie. It did an order of magnitude of more, in revenue, than the first film.”
But due to the pandemic, “Avatar: The Way of Water” was pushed back to a 2022 release date, almost double the amount of time for a typical Cameron sequel seven years after the first film.
“I was a little concerned that I had stretched the tether too far, in our fast-paced, modern world, with ‘Avatar 2’ coming in 12 years later,” Cameron said. “Right until we dropped the teaser trailer, and we got 148 million views in 24 hours. There’s that scarce seen but wondered at principle, which is, ‘Wow, we haven’t seen that in a long time, but I remember how cool it was back then.’ Does that play in our favor? I don’t know. I guess we’re going to find out.”