A few months ago, we first got word that James Cameron's long-awaited return to Pandora had been pushed back to 2015 at the earliest. Originally, Avatar 2 was scheduled for a December 2014 release with Avatar 3 to follow one year later but, following the 2015 timeframe update, fans started to wonder if Cameron was struggling to bring necessary sequel elements together - which would mean further delays might still be on the horizon.
However, a new report suggests that the director is still on-target for a 2015 release - given that he's eying a late 2013 start date for back to back Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 filming.
The update comes from a recent conversation with New Zealand press (via The Film Stage), where Cameron offered a clearer picture of the Avatar sequel process - asserting that he wants the stories to be locked down by February 2013, so that shooting can begin later in the year. That is, assuming he can focus and avoid his "beautiful" New Zealand surroundings:
"Unfortunately it's too damn distracting because it's so beautiful [...] I want to get these scripts nailed down, I don't want to be writing the movie in post production [...] We kind of did that on the first picture, I ended up cutting out a lot of scenes and so on and I don't want to do that again."
Cameron does not clarify whether Avatar 4 (an Avatar prequel) is included in the scripts that need to be nailed down. At one point, it was expected that the director was merely focusing on the back to back sequels but, now that the filmmaker is looking to post-Avatar series projects, with The Informationist, it's possible that he's attempting to hammer out all three scripts before stepping behind a camera (even if there are no set plans for Avatar 4). Of course, it's also possible that Cameron's Avatar prequel comments weren't actually intended to drum-up speculation about further installments and were, instead, an attempt by the filmmaker to position Avatar 3 as a satisfying (and finite) cap to the series.
Cameron's interest in 48fps is another element of the pre-production run-up that could have factored into the delay. In that same conversation with the New Zealand press, the director indicated that he's got a watchful eye on Peter Jackson's Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - to see if audiences react positively to 48fps viewing. While 48fps might sound like a no-brainer in our HD megapixel culture, many filmmakers believe photo-realistic visuals actually detract from the moviegoing experience, and test audience response to the format itself (not Jackson's Hobbit film) has been somewhat mixed.
However, Cameron does see value in the format - considering it the next evolution of the 3D trend he helped pioneer:
"If there is acceptance of 48, then that will pave the way for Avatar [sequels] to take advantage of it [...] We charged out ahead on 3D with Avatar, now Peter's doing it with the Hobbit. It takes that kind of bold move to make change."
It'll be interesting to see how general audiences respond to the 48fps visuals in The Hobbit but it's hard to imagine that Cameron will merely go the direction of popular opinion - since he never balked from criticism of his push for immersive 3D.
As a result, unless Cameron isn't pleased with the final 48fps Hobbit experience or doesn't feel like it's the right fit for Pandora, it's likely that we will see Avatar 2 and 3 in the "lifelike" format.
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Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 do not have set release dates.