ANAHEIM, California — Nearly 10 years ago, he appointed himself the King of the World. Now, after a decade of unrealistic expectations, false starts and geek-fueled rumors, James Cameron is finally ready to reclaim his crown.
"My summer vacation is over," a determined Cameron said this week, signaling an end to his nine-year absence from directing major motion pictures. "It's time to go back to work."
Making a rare public appearance to attend the Disneyland premiere of friend Gore Verbinski's blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," the "Titanic" director looked back on the Leonardo DiCaprio classic that might just be the most high-pressure undertaking ever assumed by a director — until now.
"He's done two films back-to-back," Cameron said of Verbinski, in awe of the simultaneous production of the second and third "Pirates" films. "I have some plans in the future that may work the same way."
The 51-year-old mastermind behind classics like "Aliens" and the first two "Terminator" films added that while he doesn't think Verbinski's double-blockbuster-duty is the gutsiest move in filmmaking history (the box-office success of "Chest" seems all but guaranteed), he does view it as a strategy that should inspire other would-be trilogy filmmakers. "The ballsiest play in history was the 'Lord of the Rings' films, where they shot all three films at the same time," Cameron enthused. "They were betting on success, just blindly: 'Are people going to go see these?' They didn't know. They bet the farm and they won.
"But I think the more logical way to do it is like ['Pirates']," he continued. "When you have a hit film, you want to make two sequels to it. You make them back-to-back, shoot them at the same time, and then do all the special effects; release one, then release the other."
With that in mind, Cameron is finally pulling back the curtain on two would-be trilogies that might define sci-fi filmmaking for the next decade and beyond. "I have two franchises, if you will, or films that play out over an arc of a number of films that I am going to be making," he revealed. "[I won't make them] back-to-back, but one after another. They, in turn, might spawn back-to-back sequels. It all depends on how the first one does."
The first of these films is a long-rumored love story to be set against the backdrop of a planet-hopping future — and has been known by several names. " 'Project 880,' we'll probably release it as 'Avatar,' " he said, mentioning two such aliases. "We haven't locked in on the title yet, but this is what we are calling it. [There will be] possible sequels if it does well; if it tanks, no."
"We're going to do 'Avatar' first, and we're in active pre-production on it right now," he added. "I'm directing it; I'm directing all these films.
"And with 'Battle Angel,' also, we'll do the same thing," Cameron said of his second project, a sci-fi thriller about a female cyborg in the 26th century. " 'Battle Angel' is actually designed as a three-film cycle. So the logic there is to make one and, if it hits, boom-boom on the other two."
"If you want to know more about 'Battle Angel,' you can get the graphic novels," the director said of his source material. "There's a series of 10 graphic novels, the original 10, by a Japanese artist named [Yukito] Kishiro."
The tech-minded Cameron added that although he watched with great interest as "Sin City" filmmaker Robert Rodriguez reinvented the graphic-novel movie with his green-screen breakthroughs, "Angel" won't be such a slave to the colored page. "It'll be a cinematic style; it won't be a moving graphic novel," he revealed. "I think what Robert did with 'Sin City' was a spectacular visual experiment; I think it worked brilliantly, but that's not what I'm going for. It's more of a cinematic, photo-real feel."
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Both the "Avatar" and "Battle Angel" series, he added, will begin with self-contained debut movies along the lines of the original "Star Wars" trilogy. "The films have to play as individual films, but they have a greater story arc that goes over the three-film cycle," he insisted, saying he isn't a big fan of "The Matrix Reloaded"-like cliffhangers between chapters. "I think that's how it works the best. I don't think you want to just run people off the cliff after the second film."
Adding that "we haven't cast anyone yet" for either movie, Cameron said both projects are proceeding full-steam-ahead, and that his self-imposed sabbatical has yielded technological breakthroughs that will pay off soon on the big screen. "We did seven deep-ocean expeditions in the last five years. We developed a lot of new technology that we'll use on the movies, and I think it will make the movies better." The filmmaker added that he can't wait to climb back into the director's chair — whether it be twice or six times.
"It's fun, I enjoy it, and I've missed it."
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