Avatar director and stars interview

If you've been waiting for James Cameron's Avatar to appear and melt the screen at your local multiplex, there's no need to contain yourself any longer. It's here, and soon you too will be able to visit Pandora in 3D. Read our praise-drenched review , then book your cinema tickets, then check out this interview with the director and cast to get you in the mood.

Avatar takes us to a spectacular forest moon, where a reluctant marine grows to love the indigenous aliens he's been sent to transplant.

Speaking with SFX at Comic-Con in summer 2009, James Cameron and stars Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang chatted about their experience of creating this high tech sci-fi epic.

The far future, a distant planet, blue aliens, avatars fighting - how accessible are people going to find this story?
Sigourney Weaver:
I think Sam [Worthington] is there to help. The movie starts with him and he takes you through the story. There's something about him, he is absolutely unique but also Everyman, he's all of us. He's transported as an avatar, and then he finds out what's worth fighting for. For me, he's what takes us through the movie and what makes it most accessible.

James Cameron : It's the stakes. You have to understand the stakes for the people in any situation. That's why a down and dirty car chase in Terminator still carries weight when you watch it today because you care about the people... Action sequences have to be character driven, so there's a point to every one of them.

You conceived Avatar before the technology was available - is that a bold move, to think something up that you can't make for years?
Cameron
: The idea was to create something that couldn't be done at the moment it was written - that was by design. The nice thing is that the infrastructure we've created, and that others have created to support this big project, now makes it possible to do anything. So next time around I don't see us focussing on the technology, but focussing on the process pipeline, making it more manageable. I'd like to shrink four years [of development] into two years in the future. And in the meantime I saw a lot of stuff at the bottom of the ocean that influenced the designs. Like bioluminescence - not only in the deep ocean life but also diving around a coral reef. The colours, the patterns. Sometimes something will exist this big [indicates something small] that we'll make much larger!

And what were the particular challenges of working with all this CGI technology?
Zoe Saldana:
In the beginning it was my lack of knowledge about how this technology works. But then we worked on it for two years, we trained. We had extensive rehearsals with Jim. It takes a little while to get used to it but it becomes the most amazing thing once you are used to it: because you're not working in a movie where you have to pause, and go back, and do the lighting again or something. Here you can go right through a scene from the beginning to the end, again and again - and as an actor you are lucky to be able to do that.

Stephen Lang: There's a terrific irony in the whole process: because with all the technology that's involved, you're working in a bare room which is very much like a rehearsal room… it absolutely requires you to go back to the fundamentals of acting! It's almost a total exercise in imagination and flat-out pretence.

Were there any sequences that you had to cut out because your ideas were too difficult to achieve?
Cameron:
No we didn't cut anything out because we couldn't do it - but there was one scene that did take us two years to figure out how to shoot. It was the finale so I can't tell you anything about it! It involves characters in four different scales all interacting with each other, all played by live performers. It was crazy how hard it was. But at least we knew it was the finale so it was worth our effort! And it's a corker!

And did this challenge re-invigorate your love of filmmaking?
Cameron:
I think so, I think there are so many possibilities now. I've always had fun pushing the envelope. Let's get out there, let's get in front. Maybe it's my insecurity as a filmmaker that I want to have all this stuff to show people and dazzle them. But it's good, it's a win-win deal, because I get turned on by the challenge of that and the audience gets turned on by the results.

The level of expectation for Avatar has been pretty high recently...
Lang:
I keep in touch with it through my children. My kids are always going, "Dad, there's this huge buzz on this movie, when are they going to say something?" I just tell them, "Whenever Jim is ready to say something, he'll say something!"

Weaver : Teasing the press was fun! We just don't want to spoil it. We saw it for the first time the other night, in 2D. Believe me, I don't think I could have taken it in 3D! it was so exciting. Honestly I was weeping by the end of it. I was so amazed for Jim, for what he's accomplished.

What about the Avatar videogame? How was your experience of working on that?
Cameron:
: The game will be out first, which is a really interesting idea - it's sort of part of our marketing strategy but it's also important that people become familiar with our brand. Because Avatar has to compete with really big, persistent world brands. Star Wars, Star Trek and all that - we can't compete with that in terms of the history, but you've got to start somewhere.

Weaver : The game was fun. Much more satisfying than the one they tried to get me to do as Ripley - that had a lot of killing human beings and I'm not really into that. I usually try to save them! But this one is much more fun and I'll be curious to see it finished. I worked on my doll too. I never wanted a Ripley doll that's why the Ripley doll has blue eyes!

Thanks folks!

If you want back issues of our Avatar issue, with free metallic poster of Zoe Saldana's character, visit the back issues page here . Let us know what you think of Avatar when you've seen it, either in the comments thread here or on our forum .