The Real Reason The Avatar Sequels Took So Long | Screen Rant
The Real Reason The Avatar Sequels Took So Long | Screen Rant
It’s been 13 years since audiences were introduced to the world of Pandora in Avatar, and the first of four sequels is finally coming out in December 2022; but why did it take James Cameron so long? A CGI-laden sci-fi epic that soon became the highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar was considered a game-changer in 2009, one that lay the foundations for the special effects-heavy franchise blockbusters of today. Quickly after that flush of success – with a whopping $2.788bn in the bank – Cameron and Fox announced two sequels, which is hardly surprising given Cameron had been talking about plans to make the film a franchise if the first one was successful enough all the way back in 2006. That sequel number soon expanded to four, but filming on the projects themselves was slow to happen. Shooting days were set, then delayed repeatedly. Now, however, the first of the four Avatar sequels finally has an upcoming release date.
Originally scheduled for 2014 and 2015, Avatar 2 and Avatar 3’s release dates were then changed to December 2020 and 2021 before being delayed once again to December 2022 and December 2024, respectively. These dates, finally, do seem to be accurate, as Avatar: The Way of Water now has a trailer and a confirmed release date of December 16, 2022. Plot details are still rather scarce, but Avatar 2 will feature Jake and Ney’tiri’s family and explore different regions of Pandora, with a special focus on a location that exists underwater. Avatar 4 and Avatar 5 are currently scheduled for theatrical release in December 2026 and December 2028, respectively.
After 13 years, the Avatar sequels all the way up to Avatar 5 are finally coming, but they’re incredibly late in the game. At over a decade between films, that’s a longer time period than between Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Many feel like the movie’s franchise possibilities – and its position as a cultural landmark – have already passed. So why did Avatar 2 and the remaining sequels take so long?
Avatar 2‘s long-anticipated trailer offers several key pieces of information about the sequel, including its release date of December 16, 2022. It’s been no secret that James Cameron’s sequel would make heavy use of pioneering underwater filming technology, and it’s now confirmed that Avatar: The Way of Water will introduce a new Na’vi tribe, the Metkayina, who live around and in Pandora’s ocean. Avatar 2‘s trailer reveals that Jake and Ney’tiri’s tribe, the Omaticaya, may be in conflict with their aquatic neighbors, and also confirms that humans have not left Pandora. Not only will Jake probably have to wage war on humans again, but he and Ney’tiri have also adopted a human child, Miles, who goes by “Spider.” This will surely be a key piece of the story, as Avatar 2‘s tagline “This family is our fortress,” emphasizes the central role that Jake and Ney’tiri’s family play in the sequel, and probably beyond.
The question of whether audiences even want more Avatar movies at this point has been a prominent one over the years, but specifically on the industry level, the sheer length of time it’s taken to get Avatar 2 released is striking. This is a business that lives or dies on chasing the popular thing of the day, and audiences can be notoriously fickle. Creatives can risk rushing out a product to meet that fleeting demand and making a bad movie, or they can take their time and miss the buzz altogether. These are issues that Fox may have worried about when it came to their Avatar hopes, and with a studio change and lifespan extension via theme parks, that’s only become more pointed with time.
Yet James Cameron has always managed to soar over the shop talk of mere studios and executives. As one of the few directors in the industry who can essentially do whatever he wants, he decided to take his time with the many Avatar sequels and not be rushed by distributor demands or what is considered the cool thing of the day. Audiences are used to getting several films and TV shows a year from their favorite franchise, so Cameron being so deliberately slow with his makes it something of an anomaly in Hollywood.
Of course, that’s always been the case. Whether it was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, or Titanic, or the original Avatar, Cameron’s passion projects have always been treated as suspect by Hollywood – expensive follies destined to bomb. And each time, he’s proven that wrong, delivering revered crowd-pleasers that rank as some of the biggest movies ever and muscle into serious awards discussion. To bet against Avatar 2 under any circumstances (remember that the first movie also took well over a decade to come together, hence Avatar 2 and 3 being filmed back-to-back) is foolish.
Plainly, the major reason behind the 13-year wait for the Avatar sequels is their long pre-production state, a result of Cameron’s commitment to the special effects that set Avatar apart from other films of its time to begin with. A noted perfectionist, he made no qualms about taking his time and waiting for the technology to catch up to his vision. In 2011, Cameron had talked about wanting to film the Avatar sequels in a higher frame rate, something that didn’t become mainstream in cinema until Peter Jackson made The Hobbit trilogy (and quickly disappeared after). By 2016, he was talking up the possibility of shooting the film in a non-glasses form of 3D, although he later admitted that the technology wasn’t there yet.
Nowadays, the kind of effects that seemed unique in 2009 are regular features of blockbuster cinema, but that only inspired Cameron to go further, even if it meant waiting for several more years. In this case, the director’s area of choice was water. Underwater settings have always fascinated Cameron – The Abyss and Titanic show it explicitly, backed up by his real-life deep-sea adventures – and since the very early days of the Avatar sequels that’s where he stated Avatar 2 would be set. Underwater effects have always been tricky to replicate in any form – even shooting in-camera has its limitations – let alone with motion-capture, leading to major updates needed. But Cameron has finally worked out Avatar 2‘s underwater filming technology, as breathtaking footage from the trailer clearly shows.
The delay wasn’t just for Avatar 2. Over the years of that film’s development, it became intertwined with more and more movies, to the point where Cameron has a clear plan all the way up to Avatar 5 in 2028 (delayed from 2025). That’s another key reason; that intricate planning for the franchise included Cameron wanting to have the scripts for all four parts finished and ready for shooting before production began.
The true game plan is still unclear, but based on comments made by Cameron in an interview with Vanity Fair, each Avatar sequel is intrinsically linked to the others:
“The scripts took four years. You can call that a delay, but it’s not really a delay because from the time we pushed the button to really go make the movies [until now], we’re clicking along perfectly. We’re doing very well because of all the time that we had to develop the system and the pipeline and all that. We weren’t wasting time, we were putting it into tech development and design. So when all the scripts were approved, everything was designed. Every character, every creature, every setting.”
It’s surprisingly common for big franchises to enter back-to-back shooting schedules without completed scripts in a bid to get the movies out as fast as possible. The second and third movies in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series were filmed back-to-back and much was made about the fact that the screenwriters were often finishing the script mere days before scenes were filmed. Given how muddled and incomplete the storytelling in those films felt, it’s no wonder that Cameron wasn’t willing to be rushed on the basic writing level until he got the story and development to the point where he felt it was authentic to what he was trying to convey. His films also require a level of intense forward planning that has to be shown at the script stage before filming can evenbegin.
The fates of Avatar 4 and 5 still rest on the success of parts 2 and 3, with Cameron admitting they simply won’t happen if they don’t justify their own existence at the box office (though the script for Avatar 5 has reportedly been completed). The director, however, is optimistic that the delays won’t harm the success of the franchise. In that Vanity Fair interview, he compared the time scale of Avatar 2 to his work on both Aliens and Terminator 2. Those movies were commercially successful and game-changing sequels to major properties, and they arrived several years after the original films. Times have changed since the 1980s – competition is fiercer, expectations are higher, and audience numbers at cinemas are dwindling – but, if film history has proven nothing else, it’s that it’s a futile endeavor to bet against James Cameron.
More: Avatar 2: Humanity Has Died Out On Earth – Theory Explained
Avatar 2 releases in December of 2022, 13 years after the original. Why did it take James Cameron so long to follow up his landmark sci-fi epic?
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