[Update: James Cameron’s next project will be the back-to-back production of Avatar 2 & 3.]

Although Avatar sequels are inevitable, James Cameron has eluded to the possibility of making another film before he begins working on Avatar 2. The Dive and Battle Angel were mentioned as contenders for his next gig, but it looks like the innovative filmmaker may have switched his focus to something else entirely.

According to Deadline, Cameron might direct a 3D Cleopatra biopic based on Stacy Schiff’s book Cleopatra: A Life. Producer Scott Rudin acquired the rights and set the project up at Sony back in June. Angelina Jolie emerged as an early choice for the titular role and is currently still attached.

Sony Co-Chair Amy Pascal is particularly enthusiastic about the film and describes Cleopatra as her Gone with the Wind. She’s also excited to build a potentially long-lasting and lucrative relationship with Jolie:

“She’s a real star and she can open a movie by herself. She knows she was born to play this part.”

Pascal recognizes the logistical and financial risks of mounting a project as ambitious as Cleopatra, but she’s already fast-tracked the film and is hoping for a 2011 start date. Evidently, Brian Helgeland’s recently delivered script was what really kicked her efforts into overdrive. Pascal claims it’s “a brilliant script deserving of epic treatment.”

Cameron certainly knows a thing or two about epic treatment and even though no deals have been signed, Deadline refers to his talks with Sony as “serious.” While this news seemingly comes out of nowhere, it isn’t difficult to see Cameron’s attraction to the source material.

His attention to detail, visual panache, and penchant for strong female leads suggest that Cameron might actually be an ideal choice for Cleopatra. Still, as terrific as Helgeland’s script might be, it would be rare for Cameron to helm a film he didn’t have a hand in writing (or rewriting in this case).

Skeptics will be quick to point out that the last Cleopatra movie to hit screens back in 1963 nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox. However, it wasn’t a box office bomb – the cost of production simply spun wildly out of control making the possibility of turning a profit impossible.

The bigger issue faced by a new Cleopatra film would be just how iconic Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of the Egyptian queen has become. Not to mention Richard Burton’s Mark Antony.

Yet, Jolie is determined to take an entirely different approach to the character and downplay the perception of Cleopatra as a sex-symbol:

“She was misunderstood and her life story was written wrongly. I always thought her life was very glamorous. Then I read her story and found a different side to her – that she was a mother, leader and an intellect who spoke five languages! Her upbringing also reflected her relationship with Rome – all that is much more interesting than what she was summed up to be.”

A Cameron/Jolie team-up would definitely garner some attention and I’m all for Jolie taking on a role that doesn’t turn her into a cartoon or a caricature. As solid as she may be in fluff like Wanted and The Tourist, it’s nice to remind audiences every once in a while that she’s really a pretty talented actress. To be honest, though – I was rooting for Battle Angel as Cameron’s next project.

How does Sony’s take on the subject matter sound to you, and is James Cameron a good fit for Cleopatra?

Source: Deadline.