Fresh from facing off with 6,500 fans in Comic-Con’s cavernous Hall H, director James Cameron launches into orbit with THR’s Borys Kit and Steven Zeitchik to talk about “Avatar,” his first studio feature since “Titanic.”
Cameron: I think it’s Pad 39 for the Apollo moon mission.
It’s the launchpad. We’re firing this big Saturn 5 rocket into the zeitgeist and if you have the fans behind you, if you have that support, it makes huge difference.
And they are going to go online and talk about it. I’m sure they already are. And it will spread laterally through a broader fan base to all these fantasy and science fiction fans.
THR: Does that make you nervous?
Cameron: Not really. And I don’t mean that to sound like hubris, like we knew this was going to slam-dunk or anything like that. It’s more like, I make movies for the geek in myself. I like this film. It’s the shit. I really enjoy watching it. So I knew that people like that, that enjoy fantasy and science fiction, the stuff that I grew up with, and all the new stuff out there, I knew they were going to dig it.
I also knew they’d be very critical. Like there’s been a lot of discussion about the Na’vi (the aliens in the film) design, why isn’t it more alien, things like that. I think when they see the full film, the emotional range of the story, they’ll get why the decisions were made.
Because the first person I hired was Wayne Barlowe. And Wayne Barlowe designs the trippiest aliens out there. But we had to rein back, because it’s also a love story. So there were narrative considerations.
THR: Are you afraid of people comparing it to “Aliens” because you do take on this otherworldly universe?
Cameron: We riff against it. Sigourney (Weaver) plays a character that is very different from Ripley (her character in “Aliens”). She is not a warrior at all. She’s very different in demeanor and in her narrative purpose. We had fun with that. In a lot of ways, it’s the anti-“Aliens.”
We use the term Aliens twice. Once in (alien language) Na’vi, “Faketuan,” and once spoken in English towards the end of the film. Both times, they are talking about us.
THR: Is that because you feel this could be happening here? You’ve mentioned this is a parable.
Cameron: Really what this film ultimately does is hold a mirror to our own blighted history, where we have a culturally advanced civilization supplanting more “primitive” civilizations. Some of these civilizations and cultures have a lot more wisdom than we’ve shown. We just have bigger guns. We have ships that can cross oceans, we have horses and armor. And this country we’re in now was taken from its indigenous owners. And it’s kind of owning up to our own human history.
Science fiction is for humans by humans. We’re not trying to predict what will really happen when we go to an alien planet. We’re trying to make some comment about our lives that we’re leading right now.
THR: This is an original movie and it's very different from the prequels and the sequels and the remakes that we see these days. You could have gone and made an “Aliens 5” but you decided to make this. How hard was that?
Cameron: It’s a very difficult proposal, in our modern marketing world, to make a big picture, the kind of picture I like to make where you have resources to build cool sets and do cool effects. To bring that kind of horsepower to bear without having the assured success associated with a franchise, it’s very difficult to do.
THR: Fox is taking a big leap of faith financially. Does that put pressure on you?
Cameron: It puts pressure on us about the marketing because we have to create the equivalent value of an existing brand without there being an existing brand. We have to make our own brand.
Look, I remember the first time what it was like (when) I saw the trailer for "Star Wars." I was there. And I was not alone on opening night. There were a lot of people who had camped out around the block for two days for opening night. So when people see stuff they like, they recognize it from their own dreams.
Because really that’s what it is. It’s recognition of something that no one has ever shown you before but is important to you at some level. When they see something they recognize as being something new and fresh and must-see, you don’t need a brand. You’ve created it in that moment synaptically.
That’s why we spent so much time on the design. We knew that every creature, every plant, everything in this movie had to fascinate. I don’t know if we always succeeded but I think we got enough fascinating stuff in it.