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James Cameron wants everyone to see 'Avatar 2' in theaters

Spider and Director James Cameron behind the senses of the 20th century studio's Avatar: The Way of Water.
Mark Fellman
Spider and Director James Cameron behind the senses of the 20th century studio's Avatar: The Way of Water.

Updated January 16, 2023 at 3:58 PM ET

The 2009 film Avatar took moviegoers on an immersive expedition into the alien-filled world of Pandora. This science fiction epic captivated viewers and left fans wondering what was next for the blue creatures.

On December 16th 2022, the world of cinema received its answer.

Avatar: The Way of Water has recreated the experience of escaping and being visually enamored by its alien inhabitants, making them feel more human. As the title suggests, the Way of Water reignites the same sense of wonder and imagination in viewers as the original Avatar film did, by reintroducing them to more oceanic scenes.

But recreating such allure may be easier said than done with sequels. Director James Cameron explains: "Audiences need to feel like they're being taken on a new journey. The trick is to find ways to make it pleasantly surprising."

He also says if you watch The Way of Water on a phone, you're only watching it halfway.

In a conversation with Morning Edition's A Martínez, Cameron spoke about his plans for future Avatar films, creating characters people will care about and making deals with art.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview highlights

On upcoming Avatar sequels and what exactly makes a good sequel

The shooting scripts are all written. We've already fully captured and fully photographed movie three. So, it's essentially in post-production.

We've done the first act of Movie four, and all we have to do is, you know, kind of add water, so to speak.

The audience want some degree of familiarity. They want to be grounded in that which they liked from the first film. And some sequels change too much. The trick is to find ways to make it pleasantly surprising, unexpected. You know, I feel like I was able to do that with a completely unexpected direction.

On giving unwavering attention to cinematic art

If you watch Way of Water at home on a reasonably large flat screen TV with a decent sound system and you sit close enough and that way across the room, you're going to have a good experience.

I think when you start looking at something on a phone, you're sort of missing the point. Going to a movie theater is less about the size of the screen and the perfection of the sound system. And it's more about a decision to not multitask.

I think that's the critical part that people are missing. You're making a deal between yourself and a piece of art to give it your full attention. And you don't when you're at home. People don't cry as much when they watch a movie at home as they will in a movie theater. You don't have the depth of emotion.

On balancing technology with nature and characters

You know, artistically, I certainly am fully capable of geeking out and going down the rabbit hole of the tech, but I don't think that manifests in the finished film itself. I mean, if you look at the finished film, The Way of Water, it's actually celebrating quite a simple lifestyle that's very close to nature.

The movie is succeeding, not based on its technology. In fact, I've kind of even embargoed talking about the behind the scenes tech on the film, because I think that people care about the characters.

It's like, why do we jump through all these hoops of performance capture and the things that we need to do to bring these characters to life? And the answer is because we couldn't do it any other way. These characters, as you see them, could not be done with makeup. So, you're not going to get that big-eyed, open, empathetic kind of feeling with makeup.

On the theme of civilizations using technology to do bad things

Well, look, it's just me analyzing through a science fiction lens and even through a historical lens with Titanic, it's very similar thematically is how technology changes us, how it fails us, how we use it cleverly.

You know, I see technology as a double-edged sword that, you know, threatens our destruction, but also is going to be part of our deliverance if we could figure out the right balance. It's all about balance.

The audio version of this interview was edited by Barry Gordermer. The digital story was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David West Jr.