James Cameron's 'Avatar' Sequels Halt Production In New Zealand

James Cameron's Avatar sequels have been a long time coming. Since the original science-fiction epic hit theaters in 2009 and went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time, expectations were high for a follow-up — should Cameron follow it up. But the years passed, and the planet of Pandora and its inhabitants slowly faded from public consciousness, despite Cameron constantly talking about how Avatar 2 was in the works.

Then, in 2017, the ball seemed to finally get rolling — cast members were returning, technology was evolving, production was beginning. Cameron would be shooting not one, but four sequels, back-to-back. But now, after that long, hard road to production, the Avatar sequels have encountered a fearsome obstacle in the coronavirus pandemic, which has fast been shutting down major Hollywood productions. 

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Cameron's Avatar sequels have halted production in New Zealand due to the country's attempts to stop the spread of the virus.

Producer Jon Landau confirmed to the New Zealand Herald that shooting has been delayed for a block of filming that was set to take place in Wellington's Stone Street Studios in April. But the Wellington-based Weta Digital will continue to work on visual effects for the films, which are reportedly budgeted at $1 billion all-together.

"We've delayed it. We had plans to come down Friday night with a group of people and start back up and we made the decision to hold off and continue working here [Los Angeles], and come down there a little bit later than we'd planned," Landau told the Herald"We're in the midst of a global crisis and this is not about the film industry. I think everybody needs to do now whatever we can do, as we say here, to flatten the [coronavirus] curve."

As of now, it's uncertain when production in New Zealand can resume, but Landau is re-assessing the production schedule "everyday, because that's how quickly things change." The producer added it was now the production's priority to get "as many minutes" of VFX work to Weta Digital to complete. It's possible, with the release for Avatar 2 so imminent, that the first sequel could at least make its scheduled release date, should VFX continue working.

The sequels to 2009's Avatar have long been delayed, whether due to cast availability or due to the lack of suitable technology for the extensive underwater sequences Cameron had planned. But shooting had been well underway since production began in 2017, with work due to be completed by the end of 2020. Avatar 2 has a release date of December 27, 2021, with the three sequels to follow in December 2023, December 2025, and December 2027.