James Cameron on ‘Avatar’: ‘It’s my most personal film’

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Los Angeles Times reporter John Horn is one of the top journalists covering Hollywood and he recently sat down with five directors --- James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino, Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman -- and conducted a fascinating round table discussion. You can find video snippets of it at our sister blog 24 Frames -- but here are two intriguing excerpts from ‘Avatar’ writer and director Cameron, who may be the king of the world (again) on Oscar night.

Cameron on a beloved scene that just didn’t make the cut...


It was an epiphanal scene for me when I was writing the script, and when I wrote it, I actually kind of welled up myself. It’s a scene at the end where the warrior that Jake has had to prove himself to, Tsu’tey, the guy that’s ... keeping him out of the clan and the whole Na’vi experience, is dying after the battle ... Jake goes to him and he hands him the baton of leadership and says, “You have to lead the people,” as he’s dying. Very, very powerful, emotional scene and again, the rhythm — it just messed with the rhythm of the ending. It just felt like there was one dramatic beat too many...

It had to come out completely, and that was the one scene that we finished all the way through the [special effects] Weta process because nobody could imagine the scene not being in the movie. Nobody. All the effects people came to me and said, “I can’t believe you’re cutting Tsu’tey’s death.” They were all invested in the scene. So, I actually had it out and I put it back in ... Then it got right down to the end where the final decision had to be made and I said, ‘No, it’s coming out.’

Cameron on the fact that ‘Avatar’ is a truly personal film...

It’s hard to visualize “Avatar” maybe from the outside as a personal film, but to me in a funny way from my perspective, it’s my most personal film because it so accurately reflects my childhood — as a kid who was both an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy and comic books and constantly conjuring all these images in my head before there were VCRs and I could just watch any movie any time I wanted ...

There was very little imagery out there at the time. You had to make it up yourself, and as an artist I was always drawing all these things, so all the stuff in “Avatar” was stuff I had been drawing for years as a teenager ... And then as a scuba diver sort of discovering the endless bounty of nature’s imagination underwater, which is really, ultimately, almost unfathomable. So “Avatar” is all of that, all sort of distilled down into one movie. The story was written 15 years ago, and certainly there was a strong environmental consciousness then ... but it’s obviously on our minds a lot more now as this sense of a coming day of reckoning ... that we really have to deal with this.

-- John Horn



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ILLUSTRATION : Top, Cameron goes native, by Kevin Lingenfelser / For Hero Complex. Bottom, Neytiri of ‘Avatar’ receiving an Oscar, Alex Gross / For The Times