The road to Pandora was never a short one. After announcing “Avatar” formally in the summer of 2005 (then known as “Project 880“), though publicly talking about its arrival as far back as the early aughts, James Cameron‘s ambitious 3D sci-fi fantasy picture finally landed in theaters at the end of 2009 (an 80-page treatment was written in 1994). It was the film’s second “final” release date after initially being expected in May of 2009, and it was Cameron’s first feature-length directorial effort in over a decade. But the prolonged gestation did not stop the juggernaut of a picture, that is still the highest grossing film of all time domestically and globally ($2.78 billion: $600 million higher than the runner-up, Cameron’s “Titanic“).
And so while two “Avatar” sequels were announced in the fall of 2010, “Avatar 2” coming with a December 2014 date, it appears that Cameron is content to keep moving at his measured pace. The first inkling that the planned schedule was veering off course was earlier this year when “Avatar” producer Jon Landau admitted “Avatar 2” would likely not make its tentatively planned 2014 release date.
And in a lengthy feature profile in the New York Times, Cameron told the newspaper’s reporters that the film “will not be ready until 2015 or later.” And in reading the article, it feels potentially dubious that they’ll even make a 2015 date. Cameron is still evidently working on both screenplays and then has to plot a full-scale move to New Zealand where he and his family expect to live for at least a year and a half, while the filmmaker shoots his sequels (the NYT piece centers on the Pounui Ridge acreage of land that Cameron has already purchased in New Zealand’s Wairarapa Valley and how his emigration has possibly already upset the social eco-system without having even started full construction yet).
Perhaps one of the major elements of the sequel “delays,” if you can even consider them as such, are the logistics beyond the film’s already massive scale. According to Cameron, the “Avatar” sequels will almost certainly be shot in Peter Jackson’s Wellington production studio, about 15 minutes by helicopter from Cameron’s Pounui locale (parts of the original “Avatar” were also shot there in addition to VFX work). Visual effects will be completed at Jackson’s nearby and heralded Weta Digital visual effects compound, but motion-capture work on the two sequels will still be done on soundstages in California. Exacerbating its difficulties is the fact that “Avatar 2” is said to be mostly set under the oceans of Pandora (will the director try and shoot with 3D cameras and actors in motion-capture suits under water?).
Meanwhile, while Cameron himself teased the possibility of a fourth “Avatar” in speaking with the Times, the reporters state that talk was “premature,” but that Cameron “hasn’t ruled it out” either. And those are all the “Avatar” updates Cameron gives. But be sure to read the entire Times‘ article, if only for the interesting contrast between the directing styles of Peter Jackson and Mr. “King Of The World” Cameron. “You have to understand that we don’t have much experience outside of Peter, who is soft-spoken and gentle,” one senior prop technician said, who asked for anonymity because he hopes to get a job on the “Avatar” sequels. “Jim Cameron sometimes shouted at us, and our instinct was to take it personally.”