James Cameron spent at least one year of the 13-year gap between 2009's Avatar and 2022's Avatar: The Way of Water writing an entire script he ultimately threw away. The Terminator and Titanic filmmaker — who returns to the world of Pandora and the home of the Na'vi in the first of four planned sequels — reveals he "started over" on Avatar 2, at long last set to release in theaters December 16. In an interview with The Times UK, Cameron explained the lengthy wait was because he wasn't satisfied with the script (and because he was "off doing deep-ocean exploration for a while.")
"When I sat down with my writers to start Avatar 2, I said we cannot do the next one until we understand why the first one did so well. We must crack the code of what the hell happened," Cameron said, noting that "all films work on different levels."
"The first is surface, which is character, problem and resolution. The second is thematic. What is the movie trying to say? But Avatar also works on a third level, the subconscious," Cameron explained. "I wrote an entire script for the sequel, read it and realized that it did not get to level three. Boom. Start over. That took a year."
In a previous interview with The Marianne Williamson Podcast, Cameron said he believed that it was that third level — the desire of the audience to be transported to the world of Pandora — that propelled Avatar to become the most successful film in history.
"There was a tertiary level as well…it was a dreamlike sense of a yearning to be there, to be in that space, to be in a place that is safe and where you wanted to be," Cameron said. "Whether that was flying, that sense of freedom and exhilaration, or whether it's being in the forest where you can smell the earth. It was a sensory thing that communicated on such a deep level. That was the spirituality of the first film."
While presenting the first 3D footage of Avatar: The Way of Water during Disney's CinemCon presentation earlier this year, Cameron said he spent more than a decade perfecting what would be a "must-see experience at the cinema."
"With the first Avatar, we set out to push the limits of the big screen. With the new Avatar films, we're pushing those limits even further," Cameron said, "with 3D, with High Dynamic Range, with high frame rate, higher resolution, and a much greater reality in our visual effects."
Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.
Directed by James Cameron and produced by Cameron and Jon Landau, the film stars Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement and Kate Winslet. Avatar: The Way of Water opens only in theaters on December 14 internationally and December 16 in the U.S.