Return Of The ‘King’: James Cameron To Spend Two Years With Aliens

Long-in-development sci-fi project 'Avatar' targeting summer 2009 release date.

After James Cameron’s infamous Oscar speech in 1998, many thought he considered himself an avatar. Now comes the announcement that the legendary director is embarking on a movie named “Avatar,” a long-in-development science-fiction epic set on the fictional planet of Pandora.

In a December interview with England’s The Independent, Cameron described the film as “a futuristic tale set on a planet 200 years hence … an old-fashioned jungle adventure with an environmental conscience … [that] aspires to a mythic level of storytelling.”

The Monday announcement came roughly 10 years after Cameron directed “Titanic,” shattered box-office records, won three Oscars and, quoting the film’s main character, Jack, proclaimed himself “King of the World.”

The re-coronation ceremony will have to wait another few years, however: “Avatar,” which Cameron revealed was actually written before “Titanic,” will be in production for at least 28 months, with a target release date of summer 2009. The long delay is due almost entirely to the ambitious special effects Cameron hopes will fully realize his fictional and fantastical alien creatures.

“I’ll be done, in terms of a cut of the picture, by probably November of this year,” Cameron told Ain’t It Cool News. “And then the rest of the time after that is just going to be me working with the effects guys day in and day out to get the visual caliber up to the highest level.”

Working with Weta Digital, the effects juggernaut behind “Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong,” Cameron will utilize state-of-the-art performance-capture technology for a majority of his shots, including those with humanoid characters.

“Ideally, the audience won’t know where one ends and the next starts,” Cameron, referring to the blend between live-action and animation, told the Los Angeles Times.

Since “Titanic” was released in 1997, Cameron has directed two deep-sea documentaries: “Ghosts of the Abyss” and “Aliens of the Deep.” Both films relied on 3-D technologies, refined versions of which Cameron will use in “Avatar.”

Cameron revealed to MTV News last summer that the film had been going by a number of different names, including “Project 880″ (see ” ‘Titanic’ Mastermind James Cameron’s King-Size Comeback: Two Sci-Fi Trilogies” ). The title “Avatar” is a reference to the Hindu belief of a god appearing on Earth in physical form. A plot synopsis released for a casting call last summer referenced “the Na’vi, a humanoid race with their own language and culture” who find themselves at odds with visitors from Earth. It’s believed that the aliens will be able to manifest themselves in a variety of bodies, including human ones.

For the lead character Jake — “a paraplegic war veteran brought to Pandora,” according to the plot synopsis — Cameron has tapped relatively unknown Australian actor Sam Worthington, a performer the director insisted to AICN that “men will respond to [and] … see why people would follow him.”

“Ultimately he becomes this messianic leader who leads [the Na'vi] into battle, in the old-school Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard way,” Cameron told the Web site. “Where a guy kinda wanders into a situation in another culture, then rises through the ranks … disillusioned or broken in some sort of way. Sam hits all those beats beautifully. He’s just a really good actor.”

Cameron has also cast Zoe Saldana, perhaps best known for her work in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” as Jake’s Na’vi love interest.

With production set to step into high gear on “Avatar,” Cameron’s long-anticipated “Battle Angel,” a competing project about a future cyborg civilization, has been temporarily put on hold.

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