In 1997, James Cameron of Terminator and Aliens fame was crowned the King of the World after releasing his romantic blockbuster Titanic. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Romeo & Juliet-type characters aboard the ill-fated cruise ship, Cameron’s blend of melodrama and big-budget special effects won over the hearts of audiences, grossing over $1.8 billion at the box office and winning 11 awards at the Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing for Cameron.
With such big numbers, it seemed almost impossible for the esteemed director to ever top Titanic, and perhaps Cameron realized that considering he chose not to make another feature-length movie for the next 10 years, occupying himself instead with documentaries and the TV show Dark Angel. However, in April 2007 Cameron began production for what would be his next masterpiece: Avatar.
Featuring then-newcomer Sam Worthington and established actress Zoe Saldana, Avatar told a story much akin to many other revisionist colonial flicks about a paraplegic marine who ends up adopting the alien culture of the Na’vi, which humans have come into contact with on their space-faring voyages. Tackling themes of environmentalism, imperialism, and war, most people ended up seeing the movie for one major reason: the visual effects. Cameron’s pioneering use of motion-capture created a cinematic experience equivalent to seeing the original Star Wars back in 1977.
The appeal came in two parts: the world of Pandora and the 3D projection. Pandora was not just another fancy-looking foreign world: audiences had seen plenty of those beforehand in an innumerable number of prior sci-fi/fantasy films. Instead, Pandora was an Earth-like planet, featuring a biome, ecosystem, fauna, and native culture that Cameron spent months creating. On top of that, Cameron filmed the whole piece with 3D cameras, in comparison to most post-Avatar blockbusters that are converted into the pricey format during post-production. By doing this, Cameron was able to capture everything in pristine detail and subsequently throw audiences into the area the characters were exploring. Whether it was the bioluminescent fauna or the roaring waterfalls, fans were given a range of colorful sights to witness, garnering repeat viewings in the process.
All of this ended up creating a must-see event, driving moviegoers everywhere to Cameron’s return to the big screen. The result was over $2.7 billion in worldwide intake, making Avatar the highest-grossing movie of all time; a feat that has yet to be topped as of April 2017.
Since its release in 2009, fans have been clamoring for a sequel, which Cameron deliberately pushed back per his cluttered schedule and technological scope, wanting the film to be displayed in autostereoscopy and a higher frame rate. In April 2016, Cameron gave an unofficial release date of Christmas 2018. Unfortunately, in March 2017, Cameron announced that they would not be able to hit that year, once again putting everyone in the shadows.
Now, we have yet another release, this time posted on the Avatar Facebook page alongside a photo of the large crew: December 18, 2020. And it’s not just that — three more sequels are set after that, on December 17, 2021, December 20, 2024, and December 19, 2025, respectively. In other words, not only will people have to wait another three and a half years for Avatar 2, but they will also have to hope that Cameron can sustain their attention for an additional five years following that.
Avatar may have done great business, but skeptics have noted that it was something of a fluke given its marketing of being the first major motion picture to be displayed in 3D. The story, which even noted critic Roger Ebert lambasted, lacked the depth that Cameron’s previous ventures into the sci-fi genre like Terminator 2 and The Abyss had.
If Cameron can truly put forth something revolutionary again, he may be able to reignite the passionate following that made his first Avatar a gigantic hit.
[Featured Image by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images]