James Cameron Speaks Out On Re-Releasing ‘Avatar’ In Theatres and the Current State of 3D

Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana) in Twentieth Century Fox's AVATAR. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

No, this is not a dream. Avatar: The Way of the Water is coming out in theatres later this year, with its second [completed] sequel set to release in 2024. And as production on the franchise’s fourth film has officially begun, director James Cameron had time to remaster the original movie that started it all, which re-releases in theatres on September 23. The movie will be available in all formats (including IMAX 3D) and was remastered “in 4K, in high-dynamic range and some 48-frame-per-second sections in the film.”

During a virtual press conference celebrating the re-release of the movie, moderated by producer Jon Landau, alongside stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, and Stephen Lang, Cameron went on to say that the restoration for its re-release ultimately made the movie better:

“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, blu-ray or however they saw it, they still haven’t really seen the movie the way we intended it to be seen. And we just watched the film recently when we finished the whole remastering process, and it kinda blew us away. That’s hard to say with any degree of humility, but we were really impressed with how the movie looked. Just the physical experience of the film. And we’re just really excited to share that with people that have never seen it in a movie theater.”

Cameron also believes that the integration of 3D in Avatar had the most substantial influence on modern blockbusters:

“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.”

There’s an ongoing debate on whether or not COVID has killed the appetite for 3D or if the format, in general, is “over” (even if it made a resurgence this year with films like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva), but Cameron belives that “it’s really not over. It’s just been accepted. It’s just now part of the choices that you face when you go to a theater 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 color. When color first came out, it was a big deal. People used to go see movies because they were in color. 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. In terms of long-term cultural impact, well, I guess we’ll find out if people show up for Avatar 2.”

Actress Sigourney Weaver also believes that the 3D was an integral part of the film’s success, and the reason why the movie still holds up today as one of the greatest achievements in modern filmmaking:

“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.”

Weaver also had memories of shooting Grace Augustine’s Avatar scene for the first time and working with Cameron to get the scene right:

“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 tomeverything, 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, recalled one of his favorite moments making the movie was working with Cameron to make what seemed impossible on paper while reading the script possible:

“When I first read it, it’s things like floating mountains. There are things like Thanators. There are things when I have no idea what this man’s talking about, least of all, how we’re going 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.” And you just dove in.

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.”

Worthington also recalled the time when Cameron talked to him about performance capture:

“He described it once to me as it’s the next level of makeup. And I was always a bit worried that the subtlety that you could act wouldn’t really translate. But I remember, seeing Sigourney blue and Zoe blue, and myself blue. And it was us. Every pore, every detail. Whatever got translated from the Volume of our performance through all the computers, it kept that essence. It was the truth. And that was the promise that he made me, and that’s what came out. That detail of our acting wouldn’t be overshadowed. It was just there. And that’s the essence that I saw. I’m lucky ’cause when Michelle was flying in the helicopter and she says, “You should see the look on your face,” that’s what I look like. That photo, that picture in the helicopter is also how I looked when I saw it for the first time. That’s it.”

Michelle Rodriguez also had some strong words on working with James Cameron, stating that she never thought 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. Because I feel like it’s not done enough. And for it to be as impactful as it was says a lot. It’s almost like throwing water on a desert. And it’s like, oh, you wonder where the box office came from. But that’s why. It’s like, you’re saying something just beautiful, and showing love and respect for something beautiful that isn’t shown love and respect often. And there’s a drought out there, and he added water to it. I’m proud to be a part of that.”

On getting cast as Neytiri, Zoe Saldaña remembers the moment though a funny story:

“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.”

She also talked about getting to work with someone she always wanted to work with before. Throughout his filmography, Cameron has created a slew of strong female characters with Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the Terminator movies, and Ellen Ripley (Weaver) in Aliens to name a few. The thought of working with someone of that stature excited Saldaña:

“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.

But every time I would come into this big, sterile, gray Volume that was freezing all the time, and I’m wearing like a onesie, there he was with a camera chasing me around. And I got to play. My imagination was never as infinite as when I was there. And the last time I remember that was when I was a child. So it really repurposed me in terms of, like, being super-proud about what I do. And I felt like if I take it this serious, if I put all these tools, I can be a part of something truly magnificent and contribute something really significant. And then the reception of it just far exceeded all of our expectations. And it was a very magical journey for me.”

In playing Colonel Miles Quaritch, Stephen Lang was surprised at how much fans had embraced his character since the movie came out:

“I think to an extent it has surprised me. But when I think about it, you think of the reasons behind it. Maybe it becomes somewhat less surprising. 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’s a lot of positive qualities to the man. He happens to have a little problem fitting in with this planet.”

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. Good. Okay. Thank 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.”

Avatar returns to theatres for a two-week limited engagement on September 23. Tickets are on sale now.


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Written by Maxance Vincent

Maxance Vincent is a freelance film and TV critic, and a recent graduate of a BFA in Film Studies at the Université de Montréal. He is currently finishing a specialization in Video Game Studies, focusing on the psychological effects regarding the critical discourse on violent video games.

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