Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The 'Avatar' sequel: An instant guide

James Cameron is taking his cameras underwater — to the deepest, most treacherous spot in the ocean — for the sci-fi follow-up. Why make things easy?

The first Avatar set records as both the most expensive movie ever (with estimated production costs as high as $310 million) and the most profitable (becoming the first film to gross over $2 billion worldwide). If you thought James Cameron would hold back when it comes to making a sequel, you'd be wrong. (Watch a report about the "Avatar" sequel.) Here, a quick guide:

The sequel will be set underwater, right?
Yes. Cameron told the Los Angeles Times in April that Avatar 2 would be focusing on the ocean worlds of Pandora, the fictional planet introduced in the first film. Cameron promises the sequel will be "rich and diverse and crazy and imaginative."

How challenging is it to make an underwater film?
It would be a lot easier if Cameron were creating his world from scratch in a special-effects studio. Instead, he wants to take cameras to one of the least hospitable regions on earth — the Mariana Trench, almost seven miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Why would he tackle such a location?
For the challenge and also, some say, for a potential $10 million prize that the X Prize Foundation is expected to offer would-be explorers who can successfully descend to the Mariana Trench — something only two people have ever done before. The director wants to film at 36,000 ft. — a depth at which no existing submarine can withstand the enormous pressures. Even the strongest military submersible can only descend to 3,000 ft.

How will he get down there, then?
He'll build his own submarine, of course. Cameron has hired a team of Australian engineers to conceive and construct an underwater vessel that can not only handle the fierce conditions but also function as an underwater 3D studio.

What will Cameron be filming at the bottom of the ocean floor?
3D footage that would be incorporated into the Avatar sequel. For "a very basic idea of what Cameron might encounter," suggests Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic, take a look at this simulated video from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If Cameron is expecting the bright blues and greens of Pandora, says Michael Hanlon at The Daily Mail, he won't find them in "this inky world of greys and browns."

How much underwater filming experience does Cameron have?
A considerable amount. Cameron is something of a deep sea maven, having filmed two documentaries on the mysteries of the ocean — Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) and Aliens of the Deep (2005) — and memorably incorporated footage of the sunken Titanic into his Oscar-winning blockbuster of the same name. He already owns several submarines.

Should the Avatar actors be worried?
They're not expected to join Cameron in the Mariana Trench, but Cameron has a history of allegedly tormenting actors underwater. During the filming of 1989's The Abyss, he put those playing deep sea divers through such strenuous paces that one (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) reportedly had a nervous breakdown. After the six month, 70 hour-a-week shoot was finished, Cameron had limited sympathy for his stars. "For every hour they spent trying to figure out what magazine to read, we spent an hour at the bottom of the tank breathing compressed air,'' he told The New York Times.

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