Lights, Cameron, Action

Lights, Cameron, Action

James Cameron opens up a new world for audiences with Avatar


Originally published on on December 2009



Few movies come with expectations as high as Avatar, James Cameron’s long-awaited 3D science fiction adventure. With the global release date of December 18 looming, the director is busy in postproduction, so it’s been left to producer Jon Landau and stars Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana to promote the film around the world.

During a recent visit to Japan, they praised Cameron and assured everyone that Avatar—which cost $300 million—would be like nothing audiences have ever seen. “This movie will take audiences on an emotional journey, dealing with universal themes and characters you can relate to,” said Landau, who last collaborated with Cameron on the 1997 epic Titanic. “If you see it in 3D, you will not be seeing a movie—you will be experiencing it.”

Landau went on to describe how much the movie means to Cameron, who has been working on it for 15 years.

“James has put so much of himself into the film. It is the result of every science fiction film he has seen since he was 14. He has created a new world—he invented new cameras and film technology because he is the kind of director who wants to deliver the best to the audience.”

Avatar tells the story of humans placed inside alien skins to survive on the distant world of Pandora, a jungle-covered moon filled with bizarre life forms. Worthington plays one of those humans, a paraplegic military veteran whose genes are mixed with those of an alien creature. The avatar soon finds his loyalties tested as he fights for his own survival—and that of the indigenous people, including their princess (Saldana).

Weaver, 60, who portrays a botanist, was happy to be reunited with Cameron, with whom she worked on Aliens.

“What James does is so original and exciting,” she said. “You could see that he was having a blast after not directing a movie in 12 years… We were the old-timers on this set.”

Australian actor Worthington, 33, is certainly enjoying a big year, first with Terminator Salvation and now Avatar.

“I’m fortunate because I haven’t done anything that I am not proud of,” he said. “You get one shot to make a movie, and when it comes out, it is there for life, long after I’ll be ashes in the ground. So I want projects that I can put blood, sweat and tears into. James wants to leave on the screen what is in his heart and imagination. He demanded excellence of us and we demanded it of ourselves.”

Saldana, 31, has also had a banner year, having appeared in Star Trek in the summer.

“Just working with a prolific director like James Cameron is an honor. I couldn’t believe the world he created for Pandora,” she said.

For Avatar, Cameron used motion capture to create photo-realistic computer-generated characters. Instead of adding in the digital environment after filming the actors, the new camera allows the director to directly observe how the cast’s virtual counterparts interact with the digital world in real time.

To get his cast in the mood for Pandora’s jungle, Cameron had them spend time in the lush rainforests of Hawaii. Worthington recalls one day when he was wearing ears and a tail and little else as part of his avatar getup.

“A truck driver stopped and asked me what I was doing. I said I was making a movie. I pointed to Jim, who was holding a small camera, and told the driver, ‘That’s James Cameron. He made Titanic. It won 11 Academy Awards.’ The driver looked at me and said, ‘Boy, he’s sure gone downhill since then,’ and drove off.”

Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (