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13 Years After ‘Avatar’, James Cameron And Cast Still Believe In 3D Films, And Talk Film’s 4K Re-release

It is the biggest movie in the world but 13 years after its release, filmmaker James Cameron carries no expectations that modern audiences would have seen his 2009 epic adventure Avatar, which is why the 69-year-old has spent time not only in directing a sequel, but also revisiting the original and remastering the 3D film into 4K.

But if the sci-fi movie, which starred Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver, and became the first film to gross more than US$2 billion in cinema history, was so popular, wouldn’t it have been subsequently seen on television, home video or even streaming services? Yes, but it wouldn’t have been presented the way the hit filmmaker, of Terminator and Titanic fame intended.

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“It’s been 12 years since the release, and so basically if you’re kind of under 22 or 23 years of age, it’s very, very unlikely that you’ve seen the film in a movie theatre, which in a way kinda means you haven’t seen the film,” explained Cameron at a press conference that Geek Culture attended, to discuss the film’s upcoming re-release ahead of the release of the upcoming squeal, Avatar: The Way of Water. He was joined by actors Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang, who reminisced about the film’s enduring legacy, their favourite memory from over a decade ago, what it was like working with the acclaimed director. 

“I mean, we authored the film for the big screen, for the giant screen, in 3D. And now we’ve remastered it in 4K, in high dynamic range and some 48-frame-per-second sections in the film. It’s looking better than it ever looked, even back in its initial release. And there’s so many people out there, a whole new generation of film fans coming up. Even if they like the movie on streaming or, you know, Blu-ray or however they saw it, they still haven’t really seen the movie the way we intended it to be seen.”

Now that Avatar has been remastered, Cameron believes the re-release, which allowed him to revisit Pandora and watch the Na’vi up across a giant screen as it was intended, looks better than before, “We just watched the film recently when we finished the whole remastering process, and it kinda blew us away.”

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For younger viewers, it also means finally entering a new world that is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time, though one difference after a decade is that current audiences will never get to experience the movie in stereoscopic 3D, which was popular at the time the movie was made. Which is unfortunate, because Cameron still believes in the format, even if Hollywood seems to have discarded it, for now.

Not only was Avatar a critical and commercial success, it also won over Hollywood and picked up numerous awards, including multiple Academy awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, as well as Golden Globe Awards for Best Director and Best Motion Picture amongst many others, transforming the sci-fi fantasy flick into one that  changed and influenced modern blockbusters, and Cameron believes 3D played a large role in it.

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“Avatar won best cinematography with a 3D digital camera. No digital camera had ever won the Best Cinematography Oscar before. And then, two out of the three subsequent years, the same cameras were used by the cinematographers that won the Oscars. So you’ve got three out of four years where digital cinematography was embraced by the Academy. And all three, all three of those films, three out of four, Oscar winners for four years, were in 3D,” said Cameron.

“It’s just been accepted. It’s just now part of the choices that you face when you go to a theatre to see a big blockbuster movie. So you could choose to see it in 2D, choose to see it in 3D, generally speaking, these days. I liken it to colour. When colour first came out, it was a big deal. People used to go see movies because they were in colour. I think around the time of Avatar, people went to see movies because they were in 3D. Nobody’s gonna go see a movie today because it’s in 3D. It’s all the other factors by which we choose a film. So I think it had an impact on the way films were presented that’s now just sort of accepted and part of the zeitgeist and how it’s done.” 

These days, fans would rather flock to watch blockbusters in IMAX cinemas, supported by the best audio systems, and that’s what the 4K remaster is for. 

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Actress Sigourney Weaver, who played Dr. Grace Augustine, also believes that 3D was an integral part of the film’s success. The 72-year-old actress claims that the reason why the movie still holds up today as one of the greatest achievements in modern filmmaking is because of its use of 3D.

“What really moved me was using the 3D, such effective 3D so that you feel like you’re in the room with Jake when he’s having to make some decisions. That you’re in the place with Neytiri when she’s moving through the forest. It took all the barriers away between me and the world in the emotional scenes with humans, and in the world of Pandora. And I found that I had much less objectivity.”

The actress later went on to share memories of shooting her scenes for the first time and what it was like working with Cameron.

“With Jim, you step off the cliff, you know that the best people in the world are in charge of every department, and you can trust that the process will never let you down. So that I had, even though I didn’t have the answers to everything, my challenge that day on that first day was to invent my Avatar self who is so much taller, freer. Not a smoker. A person in touch with the natural world in a way that Dr. Grace Augustine could never be because she’s a human. She’s an earthling. This is not her planet. There’s just no end to the fun you have in terms of challenges that keep coming at you in a Cameron film. You never go, “My job is done.” That never happens. You just go, “Oh my God, that wave is over. Now I understand this wave is coming at me. All this new stuff to think about.”

Actor Sam Worthington, who plays Jake Sully, also chimed in to share his favourite memories of making the movie. The actor remembered reading the script for the first time and thinking how it was impossible to translate on screen, but working with Cameron was so much fun, he couldn’t care less if it ended up in the movie or not. 

“Well, when I first read it, it’s things like floating mountains. There’s things like Thanators.  There’s things about when I have no idea what this man’s talking about. And least of all, how  we’re gonna do this. And then my biggest memory is when you’re in that Volume, there’s this sense of play. Because that’s what it is. And that’s how we did this thing. It was Jim every day saying, ‘Look, I’m gonna build something and create something that will translate to be the floating mountain, and I need you to jump off it and I’m gonna have guys coming at you, attacking you, and they’re gonna symbolize, later on, Viperwolves,’” said Worthington. 

“To me, that was part of the fun. I was like a five-year-old kid in a big play pit, and how the boss was saying, “Get to it,” and that was the job. And you kept pinching yourself because I didn’t really think this was ever gonna come out or be a movie. I just thought it was like a bunch of fun, and I was allowed to experience it.”

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Playing Jake Sully’s partner Neytiri in Avatar is Zoe Saldana. Neytiri te Tskaha Mo’at’ite, the deuteragonist and lead heroine of the movie and the Na’vi princess of the Omaticaya clan. She is the second-born daughter of Eytukan and Mo’at and the younger sister of Sylwanin. Recalling the time she learnt she got the role, Saldana can’t help but let out a little laugh. 

“I can’t forget getting that phone call from Jim saying, “I want you to play Neytiri.” I was changing my niece’s dirty diaper at that time, and I’m telling you, I’ve never enjoyed a dirty diaper that I enjoyed changing that when I was on the phone,” shared Saldana. 

“I was getting to work with my idol. Like, the creator of Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley. And then it was like, ‘Oh, I got to get to work. She has an arrow and she knows martial arts and she does this and she climbs trees, etc.’ That kind of excitement of wanting to go to school, and then not knowing where all this was gonna fall into place.

Saldana wasn’t the only one who fangirled over working with Cameron. Actress Michelle Rodriguez, who plays a pilot in the Avatar movie, had nothing but good words to say about Cameron. The Fast and Furious alumni is proud to be part of Cameron’s film, something she describes as a celebration of life. 

“I don’t think that anybody has ever taken the time, the effort, the care, put so much love behind or has literally put so much mind and attention to something that isn’t valued as much by society, around the world, or by storytelling in general. I feel like Jim’s decision to tell this story is a decision also to show love and respect for life. And I feel like that’s rare. And I’m proudest of just being a part of that,” shared Rodriguez. 

“And for it to be as impactful as it was, says a lot. It’s almost like throwing water on a desert. There’s a drought out there, and he added water to it, so. I’m proud to be a part of that.” 

Out of all the cast, actor Stephen Lang is excited to hear what new audiences think of his Colonel Miles Quaritch. In fact, Lang was surprised at how much fans had embraced his character. 

“I think to an extent it has surprised me. I think that in playing Quaritch, we know his function in the script. We know he’s the bad guy. As an actor, that’s not particularly helpful for you. What really is helpful for me is to find the qualities that have brought him to this position of leadership that he is at when we meet him, which is to say he is a very capable commander. And he inspires loyalty. He leads by example. I think that his courage is probably unquestioned and so what I’m saying is that there are a lot of positive qualities to the man. He happens to have a little problem fitting in with this planet,” explained Lang, who like Weaver, saw their characters die in the first movie, are somehow returning for the sequel. 

He also talked about numerous fan interactions he had regarding Quaritch, “A number of times, I’ve had people come up to me kind of in a sotto voce way say, ‘You know, I really am behind Quaritch. I’m on his team.’ And I always feel like, ‘Really? I don’t want to know you. But I think it’s the positive qualities that people, and there are many, respond to leaders, no matter what their moral stance may be. I think that we see a lot of evidence of that in our recent political climate in the United States.”

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End of the day, Cameron believes that if it is not the 3D tech, the brilliant cast or even the long-standing legacy that brings viewers back to the theatres to catch Avatar once more – the shared human desire to be immersed in a beautiful fantasy world is enticing enough. 

“From whatever culture you’re in, whether you’re in China or Japan, Europe, North America, it didn’t matter. People saw some universality of their lives and these characters through this lens of science fiction. They just kinda surrendered to a sense of immersion in a world and in a fantasy, and you’re willing to go on a fantasy if you can relate to the main characters. I think people found universals of human experience that they could relate to,” said Cameron.

“I think society at large anywhere in the world is suffering from nature deficit disorder of some kind, to some degree. And I think that movie puts us back into that childlike wonder about nature. About nature’s grandeur and complexity and beauty.”

Fans can catch Avatar again when it returns to theatres from 23 September.


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