Why Avatar Director James Cameron Believes 3D Is 'Not Over'

For the past several years, James Cameron's 2009 film "Avatar" has been a heated point of discussion in terms of cultural relevance. After its release (and subsequent re-releases), the film became the highest-grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation), praised for its visuals and world-building.

"Avatar" provided advances in filmmaking technology that became norms in the blockbuster landscape. One such focal point is the film's use of 3D technology, which was still something of a novelty for contemporary audiences at the time. "Avatar' used the technology to bring a whole new level of immersion to viewers as they experienced the world of Pandora. Of course, James Cameron is far from done with "Avatar," with several sequels lined up. The first, "Avatar: The Way of Water," is set to (finally) be released this December, 13 years after the original. 

However, the announcement of multiple sequels has led to conversations about "Avatar" and its lasting impact, with some wondering if audiences have moved on.

If you were to ask James Cameron about the original film's lasting impact, it's the way "Avatar" uses the 3D format that he believes to be the film's most significant contribution to how blockbusters are released today.

An award-winning format

/Film attended a roundtable interview to celebrate the re-release and remastered version of "Avatar" in theaters, and Cameron was asked about what he perceived as the film's most substantial influence on modern blockbusters. Cameron believed it was the 3D format:

"I would say that the 3D was generally embraced for a period of time. 'Avatar' won the best cinematography with a 3D digital camera. No digital camera had ever won the best cinematography Oscar before. Then two out of the three subsequent years, the same cameras were used by the cinematographers that won the Oscar. So you got 3 out of 4 years where the Academy embraced digital cinematography. And all 3 of those films were in 3D."

"Avatar" and its use of 3D did prove to have at least a temporary impact on cinematography going forward. Several films that used 3D following "Avatar" gave the format a distinct purpose that complimented their style and enhanced their thematic messages. From Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" to Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," the 3D versions of these films felt necessary for the theatrical experience rather than an add-on to inflate box office intake.

3D is now 'accepted' and 'part of the zeitgeist'

But the 3D format has lost its allure over recent years, with seemingly every major blockbuster attaching it as an additional format for audiences, frequently without thinking about how it could enhance the storytelling of those projects. The distinct purpose 3D had in films like Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" has now become a rarity, with the small trickle of modern 3D movies more or less looking the same. According to Cameron, that's just another example of the impact "Avatar" had on blockbusters. According to him, 3D isn't a trend that's fading into irrelevancy:

"3D appears to most people to sort of be 'over.' But it's really not over. It's just been accepted. It's just now a part of your choices when you go to the theater to see a big blockbuster movie ... I liken it to color. When color films first came out, it was a big deal. People would go to see movies because they were in color. I think around the time of 'Avatar,' people used to go to see movies because they were in 3D ... I think it had an impact on how films were presented that's now just sort of accepted and part of the zeitgeist and how it's done."

How "Avatar: The Way of Water" utilizes 3D technology remains to be seen, but if Cameron has anything to say about it, the format's place in theaters as another option to view big movies isn't going anywhere anytime soon.