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James Cameron talks 'Avatar' sequel, the evolution of 3D, and respect for his geeks

james-cameronImage Credit: Michael Tullberg/Getty ImagesUsually a couple of decades need to pass before a classic motion picture gets brought back to the big screen for a major rerelease. So leave it to Avatar — the film that’s broken all the records — to pull it off in just eight months. On Aug. 27, the movie that’s already grossed nearly $3 billion worldwide will be returning to about a thousand 3-D screens across the country, with nine additional minutes of footage. EW sat down with James Cameron to ask him how things are going on the sequel, what he thinks about the post-Pandora explosion of 3D in Hollywood, and how he really felt about losing to his ex-wife at the Oscars earlier this year.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So what’s in the extra nine minutes?
JAMES CAMERON:
Cool stuff. All cool stuff. There’s a big rousing sequence where they’re hunting these herd animals called sturmbeests. There’s another new creature that you haven’t seen before called the stingbat. There’s a really powerful emotional scene toward the end of the film where the leader of the Na’vi is dying after a battle. There’s a bit more in the love scene with Jake and Neytiri. There’s more bioluminescent stuff in the night forest. Little bits and pieces here and there.

When scenes are added to a movie for a rerelease — especially pop culture milestones like Star Wars and Avatar — doesn’t it blur the lines of history? For instance, is this new version with the extra nine minutes now the official director’s cut of Avatar? Or is the one that made billions of dollars last year the official film?
This rerelease is a limited special edition. It’s just an experience you can have with your family at the end of the summer. The last hurrah in theaters. People can watch the original release — it still exists indefinitely on DVD and Blu-ray — or they can watch this new one. We’re going to do an even longer version that will exist only on DVD. There are people who felt that they could have spent more time in Pandora. So we’re giving them that.

Speaking of those people — Avatards, they’re called…
I think they’re called fans.

Well, there were reports that some of those fans were so upset Pandora didn’t really exist outside your movie, they fell into serious depressions after leaving the theater.
I suspect that’s hyperbole. Everybody writes in purple prose in the blogosphere. But I would hate to think that people really were getting depressed. If they really feel that they’re not getting enough of the wonders of the natural world in their life, then they should just go on a damn walk in the woods. Or go snorkeling.

Is this your William Shatner moment? Get a life?
That was really funny [on SNL], but no. I think you have to be respectful of fans, because, let’s face it, I’m a geek. If I’m geek enough to put all the detail in the machines and technology and ecosystems in my movies, then the people who value that are going to be just as geeky as me. I can’t dis them.

There’s a segment of the audience that hasn’t fallen in love with 3D. There seems to be a backlash building.
The whole 3-D market kind of overheated. Everybody got a little ahead of themselves. The studios were taking movies and just slamming them into 3D with slapdash conversions that didn’t live up to a standard of quality that would justify charging extra for the ticket. So people started feeling ripped off…. I think we’re in a period where it’s recalibrating the market. But even now, even after all that, the 3-D movies are still performing well above their 2-D versions.

You’ve promised to make all your future movies in 3D. But are all movies right for 3D? Would The Hurt Locker [which edged out Avatar for top honors at this year’s Oscars] have been better in 3-D?
It would have been better in 3D.

You think so?
Absolutely. It wouldn’t have been hugely better in 3D, but I’m talking about a future when you don’t have to put “in 3D” on the movie poster anymore, the same way that you don’t put “in color” on posters anymore. Imagine that point in time, when 3D is just a natural, innate part of viewing.

Were you surprised that The Hurt Locker beat Avatar for Best Picture and Director?
Look, I’m the one who always wins the betting pool at our little Academy Awards party, so I knew in advance that it was a slam dunk for Kathryn [Bigelow, Cameron’s ex-wife] to win director. It was David and Goliath. The Goliath had made more than a couple of billion dollars and Hurt Locker had made about what it cost to shoot, about $15 million. The Academy always likes to be the great equalizer. But I don’t begrudge her any of that. I couldn’t think of a better outcome for our two lives. I got my Oscar. She got her Oscar.

What’s this we hear about you writing a novelization of Avatar?
I hate that term. A novelization is when the merchandising department hires a hack writer for $15,000 to adapt my script. This is the novel.

But it’s the same story as the movie?
Yeah. But it’s a different art form, a different medium. It’s more inside the minds of the characters. It gets into Grace’s back-story, how she came to the planet as a young scientist. It sets up all the seeds of what will happen over the greater story arc.

About that greater arc, how far along are you on Avatar 2?
We’re in the early days right now. I’ve got tons of notes. The way I work is I write hundreds of pages of notes. It’s like writing a novel, except I don’t worry too much about the narrative. It’s all about the technology, the culture, the psychology, the character development. I’ve got to create the stage for the story to play out on, and then later I’ll connect the dots and figure out how the story works. I’ve always had a story arc in mind for the sequel, but then I took a trip to South America after Avatar came out and that has altered the story line somewhat.

What happened in South America?
I was doing a fund-raiser for these people called the Achuar. [The Achuar are an Amazonian community who want to keep oil companies from drilling near their homelands.] This fund-raiser was trying to get public attention. A bunch of Achuar were bused in to watch Avatar at an IMAX theater in 3D. These are people who had never been in a movie theater. They’re wearing feathers and paint. And they put on the glasses and watch Avatar, the first movie they’ve ever seen. And when they came out, the BBC interviewed them. This one woman, a tribal elder, says, “In this movie, they solved their problems by fighting. We are not afraid to fight, but we have decided to try to solve our problems through dialogue. So this movie needs a better message.”

Ouch.
I felt like I’d been punk’d. But it made me think.

To read our entire interview with James Cameron, which also includes discussion of his work toward a solution to the BP oil spill crisis, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now.

Originally posted August 16 2010 — 1:29 PM EDT

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