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The Real Reason The Avatar Sequels Are Taking So Long

Water Scenes in Avatar

James Cameron Needed To Get Underwater CGI Right

Plainly, the major reason for such a long wait for the Avatar sequels is their long pre-production state, a result of Cameron's commitment to the special effects.

A noted perfectionist, he's made no qualms about taking his time and waiting for the technology to catch up to his vision. In 2011, Cameron had talked about wanting to film the Avatar sequels in a higher frame rate, something that didn't become mainstream in film until Peter Jackson made The Hobbit trilogy (and quickly disappeared after). By 2016, he was talking up the possibility of shooting the film in a non-glasses form of 3D, although he later admitted that the technology wasn't there yet.

Nowadays, the kind of effects that seemed so unique in 2009 are regular features of blockbuster cinema, but that only inspires Cameron to go further than everyone else. If worlds like Pandora are now the norm in film, he must go one step further, and if he has to wait a few more years to make it happen, so be it. In this case, the director's chosen area of choice is water. Underwater settings have always fascinated Cameron - The Abyss and Titanic show it explicitly, backed up by his real-life deep-sea adventures - and since the very early days of the Avatar sequels that's where he's stated Avatar 2 (at least) will be set. Of course, underwater effects has always been tricky to replicate in any form - even shooting in-camera has its limitations - let alone with motion-capture, leading to major updates needed. Recently, however, Cameron says he's "cracked the code" on Avatar's underwater sequences, suggesting why production has now moved ahead.

Related: How Avatar is Adjusting to the Modern Blockbuster Landscape

Writing Four Avatar Sequels Extended Development

Avatar, Zoe Saldana

But the delay isn't just for Avatar 2. Over the years of that film's development, it's become intertwined with more and more movies, to the point where Cameron has a clear plan all the way up to Avatar 5 in 2025. That's another key reason; that intricate planning for the franchise included Cameron wanting to have the scripts for all four parts finished and ready for shooting before production began.

What the true gameplan is unclear, but based on comments made by Cameron in an interview with Vanity Fair, each Avatar sequel is intrinsically linked to the others:

"The scripts took four years. You can call that a delay, but it’s not really a delay because from the time we pushed the button to really go make the movies [until now,] we’re clicking along perfectly. We’re doing very well because of all the time that we had to develop the system and the pipeline and all that. We weren’t wasting time, we were putting it into tech development and design. So when all the scripts were approved, everything was designed. Every character, every creature, every setting."

It’s surprisingly common for big franchises to enter back-to-back shooting schedules without completed scripts in a bid to get the movies out as fast as possible. The second and third movies in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series were filmed back-to-back and much was made about the fact that the screenwriters were often finishing the script mere days before scenes were filmed. Given how muddled and incomplete the storytelling on those films felt, it’s no wonder that Cameron isn’t willing to be rushed on the basic writing level. His films also require a level of intense forward planning that has to be shown on the script stage.

Related: Things We Want To See In The Avatar Sequels

The fate of Avatar 4 and 5 still rest of the success of parts 2 and 3, with Cameron admitting they simply won't happen if they don't justify their own existence at the box office. The director, however, is optimistic that the delays won't harm the success of the franchise. In that Vanity Fair interview, he compared the time scale to his work on both Aliens and Terminator 2. Those movies were commercially successful and game-changing sequels to major properties, and they arrived several years after the original films. Times have changed since the 1980s - competition is fiercer, expectations are higher, and audience numbers at cinemas are dwindling - but, if film history has proven nothing else, it's that it's a futile endeavor to bet against James Cameron.

Next: Why James Cameron Decided to Return to the Terminator Franchise

Key Release Dates
  • Avatar 3 (2023) release date: Dec 22, 2023
  • Avatar 4 (2025) release date: Dec 19, 2025
  • Avatar 5 (2027) release date: Dec 17, 2027
  • Avatar 2 (2021) release date: Dec 17, 2021
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