A Surprising Amount Of Avatar 4 Has Already Been Shot, Because James Cameron Never Sleeps

Way back in 2006, James Cameron was working on a mysterious movie called "Project 880." In an interview with MTV, he announced that the mystery film was to be called "Avatar," and that he was hard at work on a whole sextet of feature films that were in various states of pre-production. He was to make this new "Avatar" movie, then move on to "Battle Angel," an adaptation of a manga he was fond of. Each one of these films was to spawn at least two sequels. The original idea was for Cameron to make multiple sequels back-to-back for each project. Shortly after "Avatar" was released (and immediately caused a sensation), Cameron was still talking about how a sequel was in the works. 

Years passed and there was no "Avatar" sequel. Cameron would occasionally release small pieces of information as to its status. In 2011, he said he wanted "Avatar 2" to be released in 48 frames per second, a still-evolving film format that filmmakers like Peter Jackson and Ang Lee have infamously experimented with. In 2012, he promised there was definitely going to be a third "Avatar" film and he announced that he'd be passing on "Battle Angel" in order to focus on ever more "Avatar." "Alita: Battle Angel" was eventually handed to Robert Rodriguez and came out in 2019. That same year — a full decade after "Avatar" — Cameron announced at CinemaCon that there would be now be four "Avatar" sequels. 

In 2022, audiences will finally see that first sequel. "Avatar: The Way of Water" will hit theaters on December 16. It took Axl Rose less time to make "Chinese Democracy." As good as his word, Cameron shot portions of "Avatar 3" at the same time. 

Avatar ... 4?

The original "Avatar" was a massively complicated technical undertaking. The alien world of Pandora had to be realistically animated from the ground up, and the nine-foot Na'vi aliens were rendered using then-revolutionary motion capture technology. "Avatar: The Way of Water" is set at least partially underwater, and Cameron has worked tirelessly to achieve the same Na'vi effect with submerged actors. Cameron certainly didn't make it easy for himself. Indeed, the director seems to have adopted Deadpool's catchphrase "maximum effort" as his operational axiom. Not only has he been working tirelessly on "Avatar 3," but, according to a recent interview in Variety with "Avatar" producer Jon Landau, a good portion of "Avatar 4" has already been planned out. The world has yet to see "The Way of Water," but Cameron is determined to make as many of these "Avatar" movies as he can. This, after Cameron called "Avatar 4" "a mother******."

Landau pointed out that portions of a fourth "Avatar" film needed to be made in advance for practical reasons. When one has access to a certain location or technology, it certainly makes sense that one should take advantage of it. Rather than wait any further, Landau announced that the entire first act of "Avatar 4" has been filmed, saying: 

"We've completed most of the first act of 'Avatar 4' and there were logistical reasons why we needed to do that. We've designed most of the whole movie for 'Avatar 4' but we haven't actually filmed all of it — just the first act."

"Avatar" ran 162 minutes, and "The Way of Water" will run about three hours. "The first act" likely translates to a full hour of film.

What's it about?

What will the third and fourth "Avatar" films even be about? No one can yet say, other than those involved in their production. Following a sneak preview of completed scenes from "The Way of Water," Landau did point out that many of the film's production delays were attributable to the kinds of cinematic technology available at the time. Cameron's technical vision for "The Way of Water" was so elaborate, the filmmaker needed to wait for the equipment to catch up. As Landau said:

"We could not have delivered what people saw today, five years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago. We needed the time to take it to the level that we're able to deliver to people today."

Since 2009, the first "Avatar" has been relitigated several times, and the general consensus seems to be that, while the film was a massive, massive hit, its characters, concepts, story, and iconography haven't leaked into the pop vernacular the same way, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has. /Film once called it the most popular film no one remembers. One can easily pick apart the film's clichéd and not-so-vaguely-colonialist "White man goes native" story, and point out that Jake Sully and Neytiri are bland, well, avatars. Where "Avatar" succeeds is in its technicals. The special effects are just as good as they got credit for, and, knowing Cameron, there's no reason to believe he won't alter the entire cinematic landscape with "The Way of Water." 

Movies, it seems, are about to look a lot different. Return to this article in one year and see if 48 frames per second is more commonly used by high-end blockbusters.

Cameron's ethos

If the first film was a "going native" story — some have called it "Dances with Wolves" meets "FernGully: The Last Rainforest" — the second will be about refugees. The film will find its main characters seeking solace in a distant country. Cameron is an environmentalist and a vegan and has a great deal of respect for the natural world. His ideas of living in harmony with nature made their way into "Avatar" in the form of psychic tendrils that allowed the Na'vi to mind meld with plants and animals. The metaphors were hardly subtle. When a reported asked Landau if "The Way of Water" would be similarly blunt, he countered with enthusiasm. He felt that the new "Avatar" uses the "Star Trek" gambit of hiding modern-day political issues in space alien metaphors: 

"As filmmakers, we have a responsibility to use our art form to challenge people to see things differently. And science fiction allows us the opportunity to be a metaphor for the world in which we live without preaching about it. Because if you preach, you only reach those who are already converted."

Cameron has made two movies about how machines will evolve into human-hating killers ("The Terminator" and its sequel), and now two about how communing with the natural world is the way to peace and paradise. Ironic, then, that he is so obsessed with filmmaking technology. It almost makes one want to see Cameron attempt to make a Dogme 95 film

As yet untitled, "Avatar 3" is currently scheduled for released in December of 2024, and "Avatar 4" in December of 2026. Whether or not Cameron will actually be able to make those dates, only time will tell.