Avatar sequels' scripts to be ready in weeks
LIKE the deep-sea craft James Cameron used to dive 11km down into the Pacific Ocean, the long-awaited screenplays for his three sequels to Avatar will soon pop to the surface, probably within weeks.
Cameron, an avid adventurer as well as one of Hollywood's most successful directors, has been working for much of the last several years on the Avatar screenplays, when he was not indulging in his other passion - exploring the deepest parts of the ocean.
For those who share Cameron's movie-making adventures - particularly executives at 20th Century Fox, which released Avatar to about US$2.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales almost five years ago - delivery of finished scripts will signal the beginning of perhaps their grandest enterprise.
Fox, as well as Cameron and his cohorts at Lightstorm Entertainment, his production company, are expecting the three successive Avatar films - set for release in three consecutive Decembers beginning in 2016 - to transform their companies and possibly once again to set a new standard for large-scale, multimedia entertainment.
Billions of dollars are riding on the effort. The effects-heavy sequels will be expensive: Cameron has vaguely said their combined production cost would be less than US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion), though the movies cannot be budgeted until they are written.
But in Cameron, the project is being led by a director who helped to redefine his industry with The Terminator, Titanic and the immersive, 3D science-fiction spectacle Avatar itself.
"Jim (Cameron) first and foremost in life is an explorer, and it's what he does in his movies," said Jon Landau, Cameron's business partner. Speaking by telephone recently, Mr Landau described what he said had been a years-long effort to conceptualise an entire Avatar universe that would be realised over 20 years or more in various media, some of which have yet to be invented.
"We decided to build out the breadth of our world - whether or not it's in one of the films - now," he said.
"This is not about any one medium," Mr Landau added, referring to the elaborate ideas being developed by Cameron, along with a team of four screenwriters, and by a novelist, Steven Gould.
Gould, known especially for the science-fiction book Jumper, is weaving those ideas into novels that are meant to read as if they had inspired, rather than were spun off from, Avatar.
As the films roll out, Jim Gianopulos, Fox's chief executive, said that Fox expected that a growing string of ancillary businesses would be helped along by an unusually robust online operation that is being built.
"Jim always finds the edge of the envelope and goes flying past it," he said.
Technologically, said Mr Landau, the new films would step beyond the first, though he stopped short of promising radical changes to the 3D and performance-capture techniques that gave a startlingly immersive feel to those who viewed Avatar.
In Fox, executives speculated that Cameron would somehow exploit virtual reality systems of the kind that Oculus VR, now owned by Facebook, has been developing. An Oculus spokesman declined to say whether Cameron had sampled its technology.
Mr Gianopulos confirmed that Fox and the film-makers were closely examining the potential of virtual reality techniques, but a crucial question, he said, is whether they are used within a film or in some corollary medium.
As for plot lines, Mr Landau said that he expected all the films to follow the principal characters, played by Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana - one human, one not - who were central to the first film.
"It's the story of their life together," he said.
Asked whether one of the movies, as occasionally hinted at on fan-oriented websites and elsewhere, would take place mostly underwater, Mr Landau said that might be expecting too much, even from the submersible Cameron.
"It's hard to have a dialogue scene underwater," he said.