Avatar star Sigourney Weaver says there’s a good reason why she and James Cameron are revisiting the moon Pandora and its nature-connected alien race the Na’vi for four more sequels, the first of which is set to be released in 2020. And it’s not just because the first Avatar made $2.7 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film in history.
James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar broke new ground in terms of visual effects and 3D storytelling, elements that helped it conquer the box office like no movie before or since. In addition to delivering immersive visuals and action-packed storytelling, the film also explored themes of environmental destruction, militarism, corporate greed and racism (though some critics complained it didn’t always take the most nuanced or original view of these particular subjects).
Speaking to EW, Weaver said that James Cameron wanted to return to Pandora to again take up the themes that were on his mind when he made the original film, particularly the issue of how human activity impacts the environment and native peoples:
“There’s a very good reason why it turned out to be four sequels. Having read all four of them, I think they’re absolutely extraordinary and worth the wait. These films are very much about the peril of this beautiful planet, and [Cameron] is continuing the same themes of greed and callousness of the corporations and plight of the indigenous people. At this point after a long and very satisfying career — I can’t believe it’s been 40 years, but anyway — I’m very excited to be able to work on these four stories. I can really, really appreciate it.”
Weaver said that returning to the world of Avatar should be relatively easy because the first film already did all the hard work of introducing the universe and its characters. In the original movie, a space mining company armed with tons of military hardware descended on the peaceful moon Pandora and went to war against its inhabitants, the mystically-inclined alien race the Na’vi. The film’s hook was the ability of human characters to interact with the natives by inhabiting Na’vi avatars, but this scheme backfired for the humans when the lead character played by Sam Worthington ended up identifying too closely with the natives, falling in love with the Na’vi woman Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, who is returning for the sequels) and ultimately joining her people’s cause.
Weaver’s character Dr. Grace Augustine got her own Na’vi avatar, leading to the odd spectacle of a blue-faced Sigourney Weaver running around the movie, and then ended up dying. Somehow or other, Augustine will be resurrected for the sequels. Outside of that, not much is known about what will actually happen in Cameron’s films, except that thematically they will be a continuation of the original. With the technology Cameron pioneered on the original Avatar becoming still more sophisticated in the intervening years, the films should be even more visually impressive than the first.
Despite Cameron’s demonstrated ability to pull off epic, technologically-advanced filmmaking better than pretty much anyone else, four Avatar sequels seems like a risky proposition. To many people the original Avatar has not aged well and it’s fair to wonder if, in a movie marketplace that has been taken over by expanded universes based on established properties, there will be any significant audience demand for not one but four more returns to Pandora.
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