In the not-so-distant past - before James Cameron's Avatar shattered box office records and displaced his own Titanic to become the all-time money-making champion - Cameron had plans to make Battle Angel, based on the beloved Japanese manga series. Unfortunately, momentum on that project has stalled for a decade as Cameron has focused his energy on the Avatar trilogy.
Despite numerous promises that the movie will happen, fans have understandably had their doubts. However, during the technology forum TAG DF in Mexico City, Cameron shared a talk with Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón and offered up a surprising timeline for his next three projects - he plans to tackle Battle Angel in 2017 after Avatar 2 and 3 have been finished.
Cameron dropped the comments in the midst of a discussion about, among other things, the role of technology in films and the collaborative nature of filmmaking versus the myth of the auteur - interesting words coming from the famously demanding director (watch the video above).
For those unfamiliar with Battle Angel, Cameron's version is supposedly based on a sci-fi anime adaptation of a nine-volume manga called Battle Angel Alita. The manga follows an amnesiac female cyborg who becomes a bounty hunter after certain suppressed memories begin to surface. Here is one of the more detailed (if semi-official) synopses:
When Doc Ido, a talented cyberphysician, finds Alita’s head in a junk heap, she has lost all memory of her past life. But when he reconstructs her, she discovers her body still instinctively remembers the Panzer Kunst, the most powerful cyborg fighting technique ever known. In the postapocalyptic world of the Scrapyard, as the secrets of Alita’s past unfold, each day is a struggle for survival.
The truncated timeline of the Avatar sequels appears to confirm that Cameron is working on both films concurrently, leading us to the assumption that he'd begin "development" on Battle Angel while Avatar 3 is in post-production. This raises the question of what's to become of his possible third sequel/prequel, Avatar 4. Given that producer Jon Landau has bluntly stated that there will be no third sequel, fans shouldn't get their hopes up for some kind of visit to Pandora prior to the human invasion.
One of the more interesting things Cameron alluded to in the interview above was his intention to focus on characters and story - two aspects of the original Avatar that were pretty justifiably criticized at the time (Dances With Wolves meets FernGully could be a concise summary of the plot). Now that Cameron seems to have the technology necessary to tell his ever-ambitious stories, let's hope he follows through and manages to marry his deeply immersive visuals with a more mature and compelling storyline.
Avatar is arguably responsible for the premium ticket 3D blockbuster trend, and while Cameron has in the past been a vocal proponent of the technology and format, the director's criticism of shoving almost every major tent-pole release through 3D conversion might be heartening for some moviegoers (such as yours truly) who have never really been sold on the extra dimension. Cameron suggested that movies like Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel:
“[S]hould not necessarily be in 3D. If you spend $150 million on visual effects, the film is already going to [look] spectacular [and] perfect.”
This leads to the question of whether or not Cameron really believes that adding the Z-axis to the experience lends itself to "perfection." But what he really seems to be getting at is urging studios and filmmakers to question whether or not a substandard product is worth the added cost of post-production conversion. (If the studios are convinced they can make more money, then the answer will always be "yes," of course.)
Despite their flaws, James Cameron's films have proven to be massively successful and have become cultural touchstones. He is indeed one of our precious few real innovators in the film world, and while Avatar was entertaining, it was also derivative and perhaps not as memorable as some initially believed. His approach to Battle Angel, however, is something to truly look forward to, as a chance to take his trans-human themes into far darker territory.
Avatar 2 is due in theaters sometime in 2015.
Expect Avatar 3 in 2016, with Battle Angel to begin development in 2017.