avatar universe

In his legendary book Adventures in the Screen Trade, screenwriter William Goldman wrote of the film industry: “Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and if you’re lucky, an educated one.” And he’s right. Making predictions about the movie biz is like trying to predict the weather. However, there does seem to be one hard and fast rule: never bet against James Cameron. No matter your opinion on his movies, the man’s track record has never faltered. He says he’ll do something crazy, and then he does it and then it makes everyone a whole lotta money.

So when Cameron chats about expanding the Avatar universe in a new interview, I pay close attention. Not because I love Avatar (although I do like it just fine), but because Cameron’s insane plans and ambitious projects have this habit of actually, you know, working.

Technically, this excellent Vulture interview with Cameron is built around the Cirque du Soleil show Toruk: The First Flight, which is set on Pandora centuries or more before the events of the first Avatar movie. The whole thing is an excellent read (Cameron is a very smart man) and his comments on how the world continues to reflect the characters and story beats of his 2009 blockbuster is thoughtful stuff:

It’s always a reflection of our world. It wouldn’t have any relevance if it wasn’t a refraction through a lens of fantasy or science fiction of the things that are going on in our world, whether it’s the struggle if you look at this Standing Rock confrontation between Native Americans and the authorities that’s going on right now, that’s just an example of the kind of things that Avatar is about, metaphorically. It’s going on throughout Central and South America. Indigenous people confronting big hydroelectric dam projects or confront oil companies, that sort of thing. It’s the world we live in. It’s also about our relationship with technology and how we’re a much more urbanized society then we used to be. We’re far, far down through the looking glass of our own technology now, and I think part of us is yearning for that reconnection to nature, and that’s what the Avatar films will remind us of.

And while Cameron had limited involvement in Toruk aside from the power to veto certain elements, he also discusses how the show came into being the practical decisions that led to it being a prequel:

What shook out was the idea of a prequel, because we were wrestling with the scale issue. The Na’vi are ten feet tall, so if you’re going to do a post-human-contact story then if everybody is human-scaled and all the Na’vi are human-scaled, then your human characters are three feet tall! So we talked a lot about projections and various kind of optical illusion things, and eventually they came back with the idea of, Well let’s just set it in the deep past. Let’s go back to the very first Toruk Makto, the first rider of the Toruk. Zoe Saldana’s character talked about that, that it’s only happened a few times there and in Na’vi history.

Of course, a Cirque du Soleil show is just a tip of the iceberg for Cameron, who hasn’t been shy about discussing future Avatar sequels. And while his plan to make four sequels and shoot them simultaneously sounds like it emerged from the thoughts of a crazy person, I have no doubt in my mind that Cameron will make this happen. If it doesn’t happen, it will only be because he was crushed by an experimental camera he was building or something.

Those sequels are only the core of a much larger plan. Naturally, he’s also planning to inject Avatar into every possible corner of the pop culture landscape: “We’ll use every possible medium we can. I mean, obviously, the films are the cornerstone of it, but we’ll be in graphic novels, novels, everything. Every possible way we can give you a portal into the world of Pandora and that universe, we will.”

He doesn’t even mention the ambitious theme park land under construction at the Animal Kingdom park at Walt Disney World or the new mobile game. However, there does appear to be one line he’s not ready to cross: television. Reiterating his thoughts from Comic-Con, Cameron says that the Avatar world is too expensive for the small screen. Right now, Avatar 2 is set to arrive in 2018, followed by Avatar 3 in 2020, Avatar 4 in 2022, and Avatar 5 in 2023. Those dates may change (remember when the first sequel was set for 2014?), but they will existence. James Cameron will make them exist.

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