James Cameron is one of the most gifted filmmakers alive today. Yes, I mean it, and yes, I stand by even his worst lines of dialogue and hokiest messages. Nobody films action scenes like Cameron, nobody combines mythic-simple narratives with stunning special effects and locations, and nobody understands like he does how movies are the modern-day fables that audiences everywhere, of every age, can latch on to and enjoy.
Unfortunately, James Cameron is also involved with a lot of other things that don't require his services as a filmmaker, from executing the deepest solo deep-sea dive in history to traveling to China to encourage that country to open up to more co-productions with the United States and give more American films a shot at screening in that enormous moviegoing market. While in China, Cameron spoke with The New York Times and admitted what we fans of his movies often fear: with so much else on his plate, he's committing even less to making films that aren't called Avatar:
I’ve divided my time over the last 16 years over deep ocean exploration and filmmaking. I’ve made two movies in 16 years, and I’ve done eight expeditions. Last year I basically completely disbanded my production company’s development arm. So I’m not interested in developing anything. I’m in the “Avatar” business. Period. That’s it. I’m making “Avatar 2,” “Avatar 3,” maybe “Avatar 4,” and I’m not going to produce other people’s movies for them. I’m not interested in taking scripts. And that all sounds I suppose a little bit restricted, but the point is I think within the “Avatar” landscape I can say everything I need to say that I think needs to be said, in terms of the state of the world and what I think we need to be doing about it. And doing it in an entertaining way. And anything I can’t say in that area, I want to say through documentaries, which I’m continuing. I’ve done five documentaries in the last 10 years, and I’ll hopefully do a lot more. In fact, I’m doing one right now, which is on this, the Deep Sea Challenge project that we just completed the first expedition. So that’ll be a film that’ll get made this year and come out first quarter of next year.
So if you're more interested in James Cameron the filmmaker, not James Cameron the deep sea diver, you might be out of luck. Of course, the promise of more documentaries about his deep sea dives is intriguing, as it's some kind of film work from Cameron-- though not the kind that makes him better than most directors out there. And much as Avatar has begun to feel a little dated and silly in its fierce environmental message, it's still a good movie, and sequels have plenty of potential to surprise us. Speaking of the Avatar sequels, Cameron went on to give a slightly more concrete update on their progress:
We’ve spent the last year and a half on software development and pipeline development. The virtual production methodology was extremely prototypical on the first film. As then, no one had ever done it before and we didn’t even know for two and half years into it and $100 million into it if it was going to work. So we just wanted to make our lives a whole lot easier so that we can spend a little more of our brainpower on creativity. It was a very, very uphill battle on the first film. So we’ve been mostly working on the tool set, the production pipeline, setting up the new stages in Los Angeles, setting up the new visual effects pipeline in New Zealand, that sort of thing. And, by the way, writing. We haven’t gotten to the design stage yet. That’ll be the next.
That's the way Cameron works-- groundbreaking technology first, story somewhere in there, and years later the movie gets made. The thing I wonder is, with Avatar receding in the distance, how long can Cameron really keep making sequels before the moviegoers just say "Enough." True, he's a guy who's never made a movie that wasn't a hit, and if there's a single director you can count on to deliver a blockbuster, it's him. But it's not hard to imagine moviegoers eventually wearing out on Avatar movies. If that happens, will Cameron open himself up to other stories again? Or have we really lost the guy who made the impossible happen with TItanic and Terminator, committed forever to the planet of Pandora?