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November 23rd, 2009
11:28 AM ET

'King of the world' James Cameron returns with 'Avatar'

By Jason Carroll

Say what you want about "Avatar." Here's what you need to know about James Cameron. When he decides to tell a story, he's one hundred percent committed. He proved that when we showed up to interview him about "Avatar."

Cameron told me it's a classic adventure much in the mold of "Lawrence of Arabia." That may sound odd for a science fiction tale, but that’s how Cameron describes "Avatar."

"I want to take people to another world, I want to take them out of their daily lives on a fantasy journey," Cameron said. "This is an experiential journey, it's highly immersive and you're gonna see things that you probably haven’t seen other than in your own dreams."

"Avatar" is an expensive dream, costing $237 million so far and counting. It could end up being the most expensive film ever made. Does Cameron feel the pressure? You bet. "I think pressure's good for filmmakers. It makes us think about our audiences and what the audience wants. It makes us in a sense beholden to the audience."

Don't Miss: Watch Jason's full interview with director James Cameron Video

And that is where the commitment comes in. When we met up with Cameron he was still tweaking "Avatar," (in fact, he still is by this posting) still adjusting sound and making edits to the film, which opens December 18th.

He gave us behind-the-scenes access, allowing CNN's cameras into an editing session where I watched Cameron do his thing. At one point, Cameron telling the editors how he wanted an explosion to sound. "... if you use explosions with a longer attack and decay, like a BOOOOOM kind of sound, then they all merge in to on big BOOM BOOM BOOM."

The question is, will "Avatar" be a bomb? Some bloggers who have seen the film's trailer say Cameron's giant visioned Avatar's look more like Smurfs. I asked Cameron if that made him nervous. "I think if everybody was embracing the film before the fact the film could never live up to that expectation."

Cameron, who hasn’t made a feature film in ten years, says he hopes to meet expectations with his visual masterpiece. The story takes place on the planet Pandora, a hostile planet where humans cannot survive. So they use avatars as a medium to live, fight, and mine the planet's valuable resource.

There is a love story between an avatar and one of Pandora's native beings to drive the story, and its all in 3D. But Cameron says his 3D is not like anything audiences have seen before. The technology didn't exist when Cameron started making his film so he developed 3D cameras to meet his creative needs. The film is a combination of 3D, computer-generated images, and live action. Cameron sat with me at an AVID editing facility and showed me how it was done.

"We challenged ourselves on this film to go beyond what we collectively knew. We wanted to go outside the circle of light, outside the safe ... out into the wilderness so to speak." Cameron said, "It felt, almost in a scary way, but in a fun way too."

Ultimately, Cameron hopes to prove the early critics wrong like he did with "Titanic." He says "Avatar" will be fun and appeal to someone who is eight or 80-years-old. But given the time and money spent on this artistic endeavor, his detractors are watching and waiting."

Filed under: Behind the scenes • Entertainment
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Jason

    Adam Glazer said:

    "Cameron may be a gifted cinematographer, but he certainly cannot write anything substantially concrete. Terminator was his only and most original work, but every film after that was nothing but a rehash of cliche concepts.

    'Duh, Amerika', indeed."

    I say that James Cameron is a master storyteller, and has had other original films...such as Alien. His films may have borrowed a bit from other story concepts, but so have most stories; a story can borrow and still be original. Even Titanic was original in the ways that Cameron combined destruction, romance, and various other elements at such a level that made most of the world love that film; it was not just teenage girls loving Titanic. When I was in high school back in 1997 and 1998, that was the film to see. Then it suffered a bit of a backlash, as if it was some simple chick flick. But whatever.

    I hope Avatar does very well also. Cameron at least challenges the film world, instead of dishing out the same type of films over and over again or making remakes of past successes.

    December 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm |
  2. sam

    Cameron was hoping to push the visual envelope with this one, but there's one problem. The special effects are trash. If you say the Na'vi look real, you are deluding yourself. Jar Jar Binks looked no worse, and that was 10 years ago. Groundbreaking 3D? Great, I'm sure audiences can't wait to see something that looks laughably fake in 2D popping out of the screen at them. 60 Minutes said the total cost of the movie is more like $400 million (roughly as much as "Spider-Man" made in its US run). That means "Avatar" has to be one of the biggest movies in history just to break even. With a budget like that, it's more likely to be the biggest bomb...ever.

    November 27, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  3. Jay

    I'll reserve judgement until I see it.

    November 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm |
  4. Akhil

    I doubt how well this project would end, apart from the sci fi and visual effects, i hope this movie would have a strong story line and performance or else it would end up as just another money making sci -fi flick(TRANSFORMERSQUE), no where close to TITANIC.
    Looking forward for it.
    And James if you are listening please come up with Terminator 3 so we can avoid all the cheap rip offs! 🙂

    November 25, 2009 at 11:43 am |
  5. Umaguma

    This seems like it will be pretty entertaining. Its not going to be one of his best works but so what. He has had this idea for decades and its only been recently that technology has caught up to be able to do it. This is his celebration of that. Terminator? Good for its time but I was really miffed when they terminated Sarah Connor Chronicles ( I know not created by Cameron) . Terrible decision based on the garbage our citizens prefer. Brian Austin Green did an absolutely amazing job as did Summer Glau. Bladerunner and Titanic were great pieces. I'm looking forward to Avatar and if it bombs it will be that much sooner the blue ray disc will be available.

    November 25, 2009 at 9:21 am |
  6. Craig

    Jim Cameron is constantly pushing the envelope. He has a passion for filmmaking unlike any of his contemporaries. When the dust settles, Avatar will have reduced all previous box office champions to so much space debris!

    November 25, 2009 at 9:06 am |
  7. William Blight

    Whenever I see films that look like video games (and games I wouldn't
    buy), my desire to see those films is markedly contained. But then unemployed people – the only growth industry in America – would rather see something relevant to their experience. Let's call that Movie: The Colossal Catastrophic Collapse – And there's no charge to see this epic because its a free audience-participation experience. Yes, see your job disappear as Wall Street CEO fat cats wallow in their ill-gotten gains. See a government too corrupt to function. Watch people die as their diseases go untreated. No wait, let's go see the blue smurfs at the 20 dollar a ticket theater. Hey, your days are numbered.

    November 24, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  8. Daniel

    @ Adam Glazer

    "Terminator was his only and most original work, but every film after that was nothing but a rehash of cliche concepts."

    Sad commentary seeing as, after the release of Terminator, Harlan Ellison sued Cameron and won an undisclosed settlement over Cameron's "liberal borrowing" of ideas from two of Ellison's short stories.

    November 24, 2009 at 5:45 pm |
  9. jonboy

    Kudos to Jason Carroll. What a wonderful job interviewing JC.

    November 24, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  10. Steve

    I heard the same criticism's of Cameron's Titanic before it came out. The critics were predicting a bomb before the movie even premiered. No matter what you think of the movie, by any measure Titanic was a huge success.

    Cameron's a gifted filmmaker known for his attention to detail – I expect Avatar will be another huge success.

    November 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm |
  11. Captain Obvious

    I haven't been this jazzed to see a movie since the first Star Wars. Certainly this conflict is one for our times: between duty to country and doing what is morally right.

    November 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm |
  12. Tim

    Bladerunner and District 9 were cutting edge sci fi films. This is just another hyped up video game. Watch once and throw away.

    November 24, 2009 at 11:01 am |
  13. alienHunter

    I saw the previews and was immediately struck by the feeling of being there. That was completely new to my experience.

    November 24, 2009 at 9:07 am |
  14. Adam Glazer


    "Cameron is a master...Avatar will be the biggest project in Sci Fi history period...mark my words, you heard it here first!"

    This is typical of the "Duh, Amerika" demographics. Avatar is NOT the biggest project in Sci Fi history. There's always something far greater than Avatar. Cameron may be a gifted cinematographer, but he certainly cannot write anything substantially concrete. Terminator was his only and most original work, but every film after that was nothing but a rehash of cliche concepts.

    'Duh, Amerika", indeed.

    November 24, 2009 at 9:03 am |
  15. Dragun

    You know the reason things are cliched is because it has all been taken from our own history. Why did we displace the American Indians? Land, Gold and Silver, and fur trade. I think Cameron will do a masterful job of telling this tale...cliched or no. The effects look superb and i will be taking my whole family to see it.

    November 24, 2009 at 8:51 am |
  16. ronvan

    I am 65, have watched the trailers, and cannot wait for Avatar! The Technology / special effects in todays movies just continue to amaze me and just think, they are getting better & better. And NO don't worry about 2012!

    November 24, 2009 at 8:34 am |
  17. django

    Cameron is a master...Avatar will be the biggest project in Sci Fi history period...mark my words, you heard it here first!

    November 23, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  18. guy

    I WANT!

    November 23, 2009 at 3:59 pm |
  19. Remy

    I cannot take this film seriously.

    The evil corporate-controlled marines fighting on an alien planet for resources? Cliched.

    A peaceful native population that is in tune with nature? Also cliched.

    An outsider "goes native" and helps defeat his former comrades? More cliches.

    I'm not going to see a movie that is essentially "spaces marines" fighting against pseudo-Native American space smurfs.

    November 23, 2009 at 3:32 pm |
  20. Tommy

    The previews looked great, cant wait to see it – nicely done from what I saw – technology being used to entertain, gotta love it – good stroy telling too

    November 23, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  21. jona

    yawn.. Abyss II I hope this turkey has an ending

    November 23, 2009 at 12:42 pm |