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James Cameron on releasing long-awaited Avatar sequel: ‘It’s a relief’

LONDON — Filmmaker James Cameron is taking audiences back to his visually mesmerizing world of Pandora, releasing the sequel to his 2009 epic Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time.

The stakes are high for Avatar: The Way of Water, which reportedly cost more than $350 million and comes 13 years after the original that grossed $2.9 billion worldwide, with more Avatar movies in the pipeline.

“It’s a relief. We’ve been sitting on this egg for a long time and getting it out in front of people, the response has been overwhelmingly good so far,” Mr. Cameron said in an interview.

Set more than a decade after the original where Pandora’s blue Na’vi people battled human colonists for the moon’s natural resources, The Way of Water revisits protagonists Jake Sully and Neytiri, now parents of five children.

Their peaceful life in the paradise-like jungle is interrupted by the return of the “Sky People,” the Na’vi name for humans, who are after Sully. Sully, Neytiri and their children flee to a far-flung territory, seeking refuge with the oceanic Metkayina clan. They quickly have to learn the ways of the water to survive amid the approaching threat of their enemy.

Asked if he was concerned the 13-year gap might hurt interest, Mr. Cameron said: “That was a very legitimate concern, I didn’t feel that instinctively but it was always a possibility. Then we dropped our first teaser trailer in May and it had 148 million views in 24 hours. I’m not worried about it anymore.

“What does worry me is that the market has contracted due to the double punch of streaming and the pandemic, it’s slowly coming back… so can we be profitable in a changed market? … We’ll know in a few weeks, I guess.”

The new movie, which begins its global cinema rollout from Dec. 14, reunites Mr. Cameron with his Titanic star Kate Winslet, who plays the Metkayina clan’s shamanic matriarch.

Ms. Winslet performed her underwater stunts herself and learnt to hold her breath for around several minutes as she prepared for the role.

“With Titanic, when you’re flooding sets… you just never knew if there was going to be a chair sliding past your face or someone was going to get bumped by a table or a floating cushion,” she said.

“With Avatar… everything is completely planned. The safety has to obviously be in place because you are performing underwater 20 feet down and you have to be very respectful and calm so that everything works in a clockwork manner.”

Speaking at the world premiere in London on Tuesday, actors Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana — who return as Jake Sully and Neytiri — spoke to Reuters.

“This was a labor of love spread out over a decade, so it’s great to finally be able share it,” Mr. Worthington told Reuters.

“This is a heart-wrenching story, it’s mighty, it’s very powerful, you hope that it connects (with audiences) but it’s not just the carbon copy of the first one, we’ve really expanded the world, we’ve expanded this family unit.”

Ms. Saldana said reprising her role was “emotional.”

“It was exciting, it was also very scary because obviously Jim had raised the stakes for himself, that meant that everybody was going to have a brand-new challenge to have to deal with,” she said.

Sigourney Weaver plays Kiri, Neytiri and Sully’s adopted daughter. Her biological mother is Dr. Grace Augustine, who Ms. Weaver played in the original movie.

“The whole thing was such an amazing adventure,” she said.

Four Avatar movies are planned through 2028.

“I never had any doubt that this day would come because I’d read all four of the scripts… but I think that the enormity of the task, of the world-building… creating this whole new level of detail… that was difficult,” producer Jon Landau said, adding most of the third movie had been filmed.

“We will continue to explore new locations on Pandora, we will continue to meet new and diverse clans.” — Reuters

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