James Cameron on being original with ‘Avatar’

Posted by · 6:13 pm · August 10th, 2009

James Cameron on the set of AvatarJames Cameron’s “Avatar” is ramping up as “Avatar” Day swiftly approaches.  Some think there is a conscious effort afoot to tone down expectations, while others are more and more unable to contain themselves at the industry prospects represented by the film.  All the while, a December release date inches closer.

Will it be a game changer?  Will the world be the same the next day?  Will we all remember where we were when “Avatar” was unleashed to the masses?  It’s getting that out of hand in some quarters.

Me, despite a definite sense of anticipation, I checked my expectations long ago.  The Comic-Con footage was great, but I’ve become more of a “show me” kind of guy as of late.  Burned too many times, I guess.  What hasn’t settled, however, is the reason the hair on the back of my neck stood on end when we all got our first glimpse.

“It wasn’t that the material was so new and ground-breaking, which it certainly is on some levels,” I wrote at the time.  “It was because it was so audaciously original and inventive.  I echo the sentiment of an audience member, who said before asking his question, ‘Thank you for making something that’s original, something that’s not a remake or a sequel.'”

In a recent exclusive interview with Hero Complex’s Geoff Boucher, Cameron got into those notions of originality in the face of an increasingly derivative Hollywood mindset.  Boucher also got a look at some extra footage that us Comic-Con attendees did not see, so he’s much more qualified to be grilling the helmer than most.

Here’s what Cameron had to say:

It’s simultaneously one of the great strengths and one of the potential weaknesses. We have no brand value. We have to create that brand value. “Avatar” means something to that group of fans that know this film is coming, but to the other 99% of the public it’s a nonsense word and we have to hope we can educate them. Well, I shouldn’t say a nonsense word – it doesn’t mean anything specific in terms of a brand association. And in fact there may be even a slight negative one because more people know about the Saturday morning cartoon, the anime, than about this particular film. We’ve got to create that [brand] from scratch. On the other hand, ultimately, it is probably the film’s greatest strength in the long run. We’ve had these big, money-making franchise films for a long time, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” you know, “Harry Potter,” and there’s a certain sort of comfort factor in that; you know what you’re going to get. But there’s no kind of shock of the new that’s possible with that. It’s been a while since something that took us on a journey, something that grabbed us by the lapels and dragged us out the door and took us on a journey of surprise.

The interview is the first of a two-parter.  I’m sure I’ll point to the second part when it goes live, but for now, check out the rest at Hero Complex.

→ 22 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

22 responses so far

  • 1 8-10-2009 at 6:30 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    Basically, he just described why there are so many damn sequels and remakes these days.

    I’m conflicted here. I want ‘Avatar’ to be a great film — I really do — but part of me wants it to fail because if:

    Avatar fails = 3D fails = We win

  • 2 8-10-2009 at 6:35 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think his thoughts here go to the very root of the man. He likes a challenge. He likes to work uphill. That’s a commodity.

  • 3 8-10-2009 at 6:40 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    When I mean, “I hope it fails” — I’m talkings strictly box-office numbers-wise.

    (Contrary to what you may think) I actually don’t wish failure upon a lot of movies…most of the time I don’t.

  • 4 8-10-2009 at 6:41 pm

    Chase Kahn said...

    talkings? — good god.

  • 5 8-10-2009 at 7:14 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Im really looking forward to this, whatever it turns out to be, it certainly has its heart in the right place

  • 6 8-10-2009 at 7:18 pm

    Georgie said...

    I want Avatar to succeed but I want Hollywood to step back and realize that some films should be in 3D and others shouldn’t. Up’s 3D was unnecessary and you have to hold you head in the same position the entire movie and it’s just painful.

    This summer I’ve wanted two movies to fail: Transformers 2 and Funny People. Funny People only because I really, really dislike Adam Sandler and because the marketing campaign had no idea what it was doing. I want Amelia to fail too, but only because of Hilary Swank.

  • 7 8-10-2009 at 7:31 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    I was just anticipating this a little but now I cannot f*^king wait. Damn.

  • 8 8-11-2009 at 1:59 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Off-topic I know, but re: Georgie’s comment, can someone explain to me why Hilary Swank inspires so much hate? I’m not a die-hard fan or anything (though I think her work in “Boys Don’t Cry” is the best performance to win in the Best Actress category in almost 30 years), but I don’t get it.

    As for “Avatar,” my expectations have been muted all along, so the odds of a pleasant surprise are increased, I suppose. But the people expecting some kind of religious experience are setting themselves (and worse, the film) up for disappointment. I guess the fact that Cameron waited 12 years is largely to blame.

  • 9 8-11-2009 at 7:49 am

    Bill said...

    There’s an opinion out there that Hilary Swank’s 2-for-2 record with the academy over-rewards a somewhat thin career. She’s already been to the podium as much as Meryl Streep and has accomplished far less. Also, her win in 2004 looked a part of an overwhelming Million Dollar Baby wave rather than aknowledgement of individual artistic acheivement. And, as mean as it sounds, it doesn’t help that she’s such an ugly, toothy looking person.

  • 10 8-11-2009 at 9:31 am

    Georgie said...

    Wow, Bill hit it right on the nose. It’s mainly that if she wins for Amelia she’ll have more Oscars than Meryl Streep and a myriad other actresses who are far more talented than her.

  • 11 8-11-2009 at 11:28 am

    Speaking English said...

    Oh, wow, so let’s hate on the actress because of an award she received. That totally makes sense. Cause, you know, Hilary Swank STOLE someone else’s Oscar. She did it on purpose, too. What an evil little bitch.

    If you don’t like the fact that she’s two-for-two at the Oscars and may receive another one, give flack to the Academy that’s awarding her, not the woman herself. She’s done nothing wrong.

  • 12 8-11-2009 at 11:59 am

    Steven Kar said...

    “This summer I’ve wanted two movies to fail: Transformers 2 and Funny People.”
    Me too, and I’m going to add to this list: Land of the Lost, G.I. Joe, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Ugly Truth, and Inglorious Bastards.

    And, after I watched the following, I wished that they had flopped as well: Public Enemies, Taking of Pelham, Wolverine, Terminator, and Angels & Demons.

  • 13 8-11-2009 at 12:05 pm

    Georgie said...

    Alright, it’s the Academy’s fault then. Can I at least dislike her for doing P.S., I Love You?

  • 14 8-11-2009 at 12:07 pm

    Steven Kar said...

    My expectations are not high or low or muted or checked, simply because I don’t quite know what to expect.

    All I ask for is for the story to be good, like JC’s previous work. I think he’s a good storyteller and knows a thing or two about structure, even if his dialogue is laugable at times.

    The other thing is for the special effects to be good. Jurassic Park was on TV the other day and the CGI from 1993 still looked good by today’s standards. Since Avatar is a CGI-heavy picture, and is very much reliant on CGI, it had better be good. Maybe I’ll know something is CGI when I look at it, but if it’s well done CGI, I’ll be satisfied. I keep bringing up Davey Jones from Pirates 2 as an example. I knew he was CGI all along, but he was convincing CGI. The same goes for the T-1000 (which is considered child’s play by today’s standards, yet he still works every time I see that movie), and King Kong.

  • 15 8-11-2009 at 3:45 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’m happy to say that of the 36 films I’ve seen so far in 2009, only three come from pre-existing source material. I’ll continue to make my preference on this topic known through my wallet.

  • 16 8-11-2009 at 4:35 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m with English here. So she got lucky with the Academy. More power to her. (I wouldn’t have given her the 2004 award either — from the nominees, that’s the one gong I would have handed Kate Winslet — but that doesn’t mean she isn’t very, very good in “Million Dollar Baby.”)

    And Georgie, I don’t dislike her for doing “PS I Love You” any more than I dislike Meryl Streep for doing “Mamma Mia” … but to each his own.

  • 17 8-11-2009 at 5:17 pm

    Bill said...

    We can blame the Academy for the two awards. But judging by her next film, Amelia, she’s chasing the third.

    Amelia (judging by the promotional material) is the kind of film that exists merely to win Oscars. A period biopic. Not even an unconventional or provocative biopic like Capote or Last King of Scotland. Rather, a standard issue, hero-worshiping biopic. There is very little original value here. Even less public or creative interest in the source material. It’s just an unabashed greedy grasp at “more Oscar” by a still unestablished Hilary Swank. I can understand why so many people want to see it go up in flames.

  • 18 8-11-2009 at 8:55 pm

    boostancroo said...

    Avatar (2009) movie have been out standing and most of the movie fans are too likely to see this movie because it has come up with mind blowing adventure how ever I have seen this movie trailer to day and it was a good movie review coming alone with the trailer I think it was a good thing for movie fans of Avatar (2009) to find a trailer easily


  • 19 8-12-2009 at 11:54 am

    A.J said...

    Avatar: The Last Airbender never aired on saturday mornings, it always aired at night…

    The more I think about Cameron’s remark about Avatar: The Last Airbender being a saturday morning cartoon the more I resent him. “Saturday morning cartoon” carries such negative connotations. Well not negative but more dismissive. Like it’s not worth anyones time that’s over the age of 10. Sozin’s Comet (the series finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender) was easily one of the ten best movies last year theatrical or not.

  • 20 8-12-2009 at 12:05 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Resent him? You’re reading way too much into the comment, A.J.

  • 21 8-12-2009 at 2:59 pm

    A.J said...

    yes, yes I am