James Cameron: If you haven’t watched Avatar in theatres, you haven’t watched Avatar
The director, along with actors Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington, talks about the global re-release of his sci-fi spectacular
James Cameron’s epic science fiction eco-parable Avatar (2009) is re-releasing in theatres on September 23. The impetus is obvious: the first sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water, opens globally in December. It makes sense that viewers would want to reacquaint themselves with the world of Pandora on the big screen before plunging into its oceanic depths. It’s not the kind of opportunity you’d like to miss on its own terms. Cameron, however, supplies a more immediate reason to book that 4K HDR IMAX seat. “It’s been over 12 years since the release, so basically if you’re under 22 or 23 years of age, it’s very unlikely that you’ve seen the film in a movie theatre.” Which basically means that... “you haven’t seen the film.”
Cameron is talking during a virtual global presser hosted by Jon Landau, his producer and friend since Titanic (1999). On Zoom, Cameron, now 68, looks as calm and focused as ever, if also a tad preoccupied. He and his team only recently wrapped up the restoration process of Avatar. It kind of blew them all away, he shares with a glint. “It’s hard to say this with any degree of humility, but we are really impressed with how the movie looks. Just the physical experience of the film… we’re really excited to share it with people."
In Avatar, paraplegic ex-marine Jake (Sam Worthington) replaces his deceased twin on a space mission to Pandora. “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” grunts Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), head of security detail, when the troops arrive. Jake’s role, we quickly learn, is in the upstart science department, neurologically piloting tall, blue-skinned humanoids sent in to infiltrate the native Na’vi. Jake escapes Thanators, falls in love, links up with a giant dragon-like bird and mobilizes an epic indigenous mass movement against the greedy earthlings.
“The first time I read the script, it had things like floating mountains and carnivorous alien cats,” recalls Sam Worthington, still giddy from the rush and adventure of it all. In the end, Sam, like everyone else involved, just went along with his director’s vision—standard protocol on any Cameron film.
“That’s how we did it,” Sam chuckles, recalling his time inside ‘the volume’, an expansive studio floor Cameron outfitted with infrared cameras to mo-cap his actors. "It was Jim every day saying, “Look, I’m gonna create something that will translate to floating mountains… and I need you to jump off it.”
Sigourney Weaver, no stranger to capricious yet fascinating ‘alien’ environments, looks back with pride that Cameron called on her to play a scientist in Avatar. She played Dr Grace Augustine, the tough, wise (and very chain-smoking) lead of the Avatar programme. Late in the film, she takes a fatal gunshot wound from Quaritch. "I need to get samples,” she purrs in Jake’s arms, looking up at the mystical and bioluminescent ‘Tree of Souls’ into which she’ll ultimately pass.
“Well, you know, Jim is a scientist, and that may be his first love,” Sigourney says. “He gave my character this whole new universe of a new flora and fauna, taking it so seriously. Even things that seemed impossible had incredible science behind it. He wasn’t dumbing things down for the mass audience. In fact, he was lifting ‘em up.”