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Welcome to James Cameron's alien world

Self-proclaimed perfectionist James Cameron talks about his movie Avatar, his fascination for colour blue and more in a conversation with Roshmila Bhattacharya.

entertainment Updated: Dec 14, 2009 16:16 IST
Roshmila Bhattacharya

Self-proclaimed perfectionist James Cameron takes us into his alien world.Avatar

You had planned Avatar back in 1999. In these 10 years how much of the script has changed and what remains from the first draft?

It was on my mind even before 1999. I’ve been creating spacecrafts, creatures and distant worlds in my head since a long, long time. What happens is that over a period of time, it keeps evolving — you rewrite, you make some design modifications, you try to improve the storyline.

Why was Avatar, originally titled Project 880, pushed ahead of Battle Angel that was to release first?
I had originally intended my next feature to be Battle Angel but there were some issues with the script and I thought maybe I should rather take up Avatar first.

It is said that Sigourney Weaver’s character Grace has been inspired by the ‘brilliant, approach-driven, idealistic perfectionist’ James Cameron himself. So, is Avatar semi-autobiographical?
I didn’t really think like that. Grace is trying hard to build an environment of trust between the humans and the Na’Vis but unfortunately, she keeps getting sabotaged by her own humans at the base. I had originally thought of casting a male actor for the role but later, it made more sense to opt for a woman because she is driven by her instincts and has this very maternal air about her.

Couldn't you think of another actress for Grace? And despite the flaming red hair, would you say she’s still the gritty, spiffy Ellen Ridley of The Aliens?
I think Sigourney was just perfect for Grace, nobody could play her better. She’s obviously grown as a person and as an actor since The Aliens. But she still definitely has that spark and that fire that got her going 20 years back. She’s amazing!

What was the biggest challenge dealing with a film that is 40 per cent live and 60 per cent photo-realistic CGI?
I was unfamiliar with performance-capture technology, and the performance-capture technology I had seen, I didn’t think would measure up to what we needed. So, we threw out the book and started from scratch. We built up our own system, and, because I was unfamiliar with any other system, we were building it from scratch. It was sort of custom-tailored to this film. With every step, we had to learn and solve problems. Every moment of making Avatar is memorable. This film integrates my life’s achievements!

Will Avatar trigger off a 3D revolution across the world or will the technology used limit its appeal, particularly in a country like India where special screens need to be installed?
3D is a window into a world, where the format, instead of calling attention to itself, disappears into the narrative. It gives the audience a completely satisfying cinematic experience. By the end of it, they should walk out of the theatre saying, “I didn’t see a movie, I experienced a movie.” I believe that audiences across the globe are looking forward to such experiences and 3D is the next big thing. Theatres everywhere need to be equipped for this revolution, the sooner the better.

What’s behind the fascination for the colour blue?
We spent a lot of time on the character design and skin colour was definitely an important aspect. We wanted to keep the Na’Vis as unique as possible and most of the options, Canadian pink, Australian pink and greens, had been taken. We were pretty much left with blue but it fitted well in the overall design of Pandora.

Despite attempts to be different, there are some obvious parallels with The Aliens, including the fact that the bad guys belong to an earth firm. In The Aliens it was Company, in Avatar it’s the Corporation.
No, Avatar is a completely different film and you’ll know that when you see it. The premise of the film is the fact that this group of ‘humans’ are trying to enter a different world for some reason and what happens when they do that. It’s not about good or bad guys, it’s about the clash of two very different worlds.

Floating fish, flying jellyfish, aliens with blue skin and swishy tails... Is Pandora a childhood dream or is its muse a film like Star Trek given the Spock ears?
It’s come from all the science fiction books I read when I was a kid and it just gestated over time. I was always an artiste — constantly imagining and drawing creatures, spacecrafts and characters. I guess a part of Pandora comes from all that imagination and the rest is from a whole lot of research and attention to the tiniest detail.

Sigourney Weaver has been quoted as saying that the film will “pick you up and shake you like a rag doll”. What were the reactions like at the preview?
‘Avatar Day’ proved to be a big hit. So many people came out to watch just 15 minutes of the film and left asking for more. I think it was an effective way to introduce the film to the audience. I didn’t want people to dismiss the ‘blue faces’ without understanding what the film had to offer. That’s why I wanted ‘Avatar Day’ and have a more immersive first look at the movie.

At the Academy Awards 11 years ago, you had said “I’m the king of the world.” Think you can repeat that and Titanic’s 11 Oscars at next year’s awards?
All I can say is that we’ve made something that’ll surely blow your minds, and leave you with an experience that will remain with you for a long time!

Are you prepared for comparisons to Titanic?
Avatar and Titanic are completely different stories that cannot be compared to each other in any reasonable way.

Will these 10-feet blue alien lovers bring back memories of Kate Winslet and Leonardo de Caprio?
For me, every character I create is special. I fall in love with my characters and I cast a person who I think best fits the bill, then turn the character over to the actor. The relation between Jake and Neytiri is as natural and real as the love between Rose and Jack.

You once described Titanic as your ‘$190 million chick flick’. How would you describe Avatar?
Avatar is an epic action adventure, a fantasy, but it’s also a love story. I wanted to create a familiar type of adventure in an unfamiliar environment by setting the classic tale of a newcomer to a foreign land and culture in an alien planet. The story is by design classic in its broad strokes, but we have plenty of twists and turns in store for the audience. It’s an emotional epic.

Do you play the Avatar game?
I am not big on games but my five kids are completely into gaming.

You’ve been described as “hell on wheel”, a director who makes his co-artistes miserable with his flaming temper and demands, a producer who has the studios balking with his dictatorial ways and propensity to go over budget and over-schedule, a man who married five times in his quest for the perfect woman. What’s the real James Cameron like?
You know, there was a period of time when I probably earned the reputation, and may be it made me like that. But now, I think I’ve moved on from being that kind of a person. I have matured a lot. But I’m still a perfectionist. I think all directors are.

The Dive, a forthcoming movie, is inspired by the love story of two real-life divers, Cuban-born Francisco ‘Pipin’ Ferreras and French-born Audrey Mestre. What drew you to them?
The ocean and deep seas exploration fascinates me beyond limits. I’d love to show to the world these extreme environments and the truly beautiful, mesmerising life forms that exist deep down under. The Dive will be shot in 3D, which will make it a gorgeous experience. But at its core, it’ll be a love story, a drama.