James Cameron doesn't seem to do anything quickly. He's just now working on sequels to Avatar after talking about them for the last decade. However, it seems that the writer/director/producer's latest project, the Robert Rodriguez directed Alita: Battle Angel, has been an idea kicking around since even before Avatar became a thing. In a recent interview, Rodriguez reveals that James Cameron first presented the idea of Alita to him back when he was working on Sin City, and Cameron already had a lot more than a simple concept. According to the director...
And suddenly, he unveils this 15-minute presentation with this insane artwork, voiceover narration, story concepts … all this stuff from the manga. It wasn’t just the character design — I mean, it was the whole Alita world! I was working on Sin City at the time, trying to figure out how to bring that comic book aesthetic to a live-action movie. But this was just next-level. When the light went back up, I said to him, ‘That’s fantastic! I don’t know how the hell you’re going to pull that off, Jim, but — best of luck!’ You looked at what he was aiming for and you just thought, Man … hopefully you’ll be able to actually do some of this by the time you’re ready to shoot. Which, considering this was going to be the next picture he was going to direct…
Of course, Alita would not become the next movie James Cameron would direct, because the aforementioned Avatar would then become the film that took up all of Cameron's time. Cameron himself hasn't directed a feature film since Avatar, largely because while those sequels have taken a decade to get off the ground, they've always been a work in progress.
Yet, Alita: Battle Angel would also never be an idea that completely disappeared either. It would always be something James Cameron would want to make happen. Eventually, he would decide that in order for it to happen at all, somebody else would have to direct it, and so Cameron's friend Robert Rodriguez, who had been shown the idea all those years ago, would end up taking the chair.
Sin City was released in April of 2005 so we're looking at sometime in 2004 or early 2005 or so when this first meeting actually happened.Clearly, based on the material Robert Rodriguez tells Rolling Stone Cameron had already created, this wasn't entirely a "new" idea even then.
Rodriguez himself admits that bringing the comic book to life was going to be a tall order. It's likely at least partially for that reason that we didn't actually see the movie for 15 years. Technology needed to progress to a point where the design would work.
It seems we're there now, and so far Alita: Battle Angel is being embraced by the audience. It did better than expected at the box office over this past weekend, bringing in $36 million since Thursday, and while it likely still has a long way to go financially speaking, creatively, it looks like James Cameron was able to get exactly what he wanted on the big screen.
One can only guess what he has in store for those Avatar sequels.