Q&A: James Cameron & ‘Avatar’ Cast on the Film’s Remastered Version Release

Avatar's re-release will give new viewers the opportunity to experience the epic sci-fi adventure, and for existing fans to revisit the breathtaking world of Pandora!

A few months ahead of its much-awaited sequel, James Cameron’s Avatar, also known as the highest-grossing movie of all time, is heading back to cinemas this September, now in its remastered version!

A film meant to be seen on the big screen, Avatar‘s re-release will give new viewers the opportunity to experience the epic sci-fi adventure, and for existing fans to revisit the breathtaking world of Pandora! This comes just in time for the release of Avatar: The Way of Water in December, the first of four sequels spawned by Cameron’s film.

Before its global re-release, we got to join the virtual press conference for the film, where director James Cameron and actors Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, and Stephen Lang answered some questions from the press, regarding the movie that made cinema history.

Below are the highlights of the press conference:

Director James Cameron, why did you want to bring Avatar back to the big screen, and how will audiences be able to experience it now?

It’s been 12 years since the release, and so basically if you’re kind of under 22 or 23 years of age, it’s very, very unlikely that you’ve seen the film in a movie theater. Which in a way kinda means you haven’t seen the film. I mean, we authored the film for the big screen, for the giant screen, in 3D. And now we’ve remastered it in 4K, in high dynamic range and some 48-frame-per-second sections in the film.

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It’s looking better than it ever looked, even back in its initial release. And there are so many people out there, a whole new kinda generation of film fans coming up. Even if they like the movie on streaming or, you know, Blu-ray or however they saw it, they still haven’t really seen the movie the way we intended it to be seen. And we just watched the film recently when we finished the whole remastering process, and it kinda blew us away.

And you know, that’s hard to say with any degree of humility, but I mean, we were really impressed with how the movie looked. Just the physical experience of the film. And we’re just really excited to share that with people that have never seen it in a movie theater.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

Why do you think the film was so incredibly popular with audiences back when it was released, and why do you think those same things will resonate today for an audience?

Well, I think any film is only as good as the people in it, and you see in front of you five individuals who brought their heart and souls to that film.

Sometimes in very different ways. I mean, Zoe’s challenges were different from Michelle’s challenges, and [Lang’s] challenges, and so on. But I think people respond to people. But in this particular case with Avatar, they’re responding to people sometimes that are 10 feet tall, like Sam’s characters, Zoe’s characters. Technically Zoe, I think you’re nine foot two as Neytiri.

You’re also in a world, and you’re these otherworldly characters. Some of you played these otherworldly characters with, you know, big eyes and cattails and all that sort of thing. So I think it took us out of our day-to-day problems. It took us out of our day-to-day political discourse and the chaos and disorderliness of real life. And it took us to a place where, yes, there’s conflict. There are all sorts of important things going on. But it’s all through a lens of fantasy or science fiction.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.

And so, from whatever culture you’re in, whether you’re in China or Japan, Europe, North America, it didn’t matter. People saw some universality of their lives in these characters through this lens of science fiction. And then I think it was the physical execution, the finish of the film that I think in the first few minutes, people just gave up trying to figure out how it was done because we mixed so many techniques it took us years to develop.

And so they just kinda surrendered to a sense of immersion in a world and in a fantasy, and you’re willing to go on a fantasy if you can relate to the main characters. And I think, you know, Sam’s character took us on that journey. That’s Sam taking us on that journey. And Sigourney’s character kinda set the frame for it, made it all seem somehow rational. And Lang’s character made it all seem rational in a very different way from a very different perspective. I think people found universals of human experience that they could relate to.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.

Sigourney Weaver, on that first day, how thoroughly did you know what your character was gonna look like, and how did that impact how you played the character?

I think it was the early days when I shot Grace’s first avatar. So I hadn’t quite drilled in her, in fact, her earthly being yet. And so a lot of it is just, you know, with Jim, you step off the cliff, you know that the best people in the world are in charge of every department, and you can trust that the process will never let you down. So that, even though I didn’t have the answers to everything, my challenge that day, on that first day, was to invent my avatar self who is so much taller, freer. Not a smoker. You know, a person in touch with the natural world in a way that Dr. Grace Augustine could never be because she’s a human.

She’s an earthling. This is not her planet. So, I mean, there’s just no end to the fun you have in terms of challenges that keep coming at you in a Cameron film. You never go, “My job is done.” That never happens. You just go, “Oh my God, that wave is over.” Now I understand this wave is coming at me. All this new stuff to think about.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.

Michelle Rodriguez, what is the one scene that is your favorite to watch and that you’re excited to see remastered because you know it will look amazing?

I would have to say the tribal ceremony at the Tree of Life, when they’re trying to bring back Sigourney’s character to life. There’s something really powerful about that moment, and it resonates with me in such a deep way. Because it seems so beautiful, natural, ancient, and spiritual, you know? I felt like I was on Earth looking at the ceremony while on some sort of hallucinogenic [Laughs]. But yeah. That’s my favorite scene.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.

Zoe Saldaña, in what ways did the movie and its experience change you as an actor?

I mean, we can see all the opportunities that being a part of Avatar gave me. And I was able to sort of build a career and a lifestyle and still support my family, which for artists, it’s a very important thing. I think that as an artist that loves, in a very unconditional way, storytelling. It really instilled in me that discipline to dig deeper to create a backstory for a character. Because the character, in order for you to understand where your character is, you need to know where your characters come from. And that is something that I practice that I don’t have, you know, a training in acting. But I do feel that being a part of Avatar was my Juilliard. It was my NYU course where I really got to play with people that were genuinely wishing me to succeed. And it was an environment that was very playground-like. And therefore, I was very free.

And I got to try so many things. And I remember Jim saying so many times, like, “There’s no such thing as a mistake. You try it, and if we don’t like it, at least we tried it.” And I also would hear him say to other people. “If I’m coming at you because of something snit working, and you come at me with some bullsh*t story, you better just tell me, ‘I don’t know what happened, Sir.” [Laughs] And I remember that. I remember going, “Don’t ever have
everything to say. When you don’t know, you just don’t know, and let’s keep finding it.”

So that’s definitely something that I’m practicing in my career. And now as a mother, I get to pass some of those teachings to my kids. I don’t know if they’re assimilating it, but I’m gonna keep trying. [Laughs].

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.

Stephen Lang, movie fans have really embraced your character, Quaritch, since the movie came out. Did that surprise you?

I think to an extent it has surprised me. But when I think about it, think of the reasons behind it, maybe it becomes somewhat less surprising. I think that in playing Quaritch, we know his function in the script. We know he’s the bad guy, and I think as an actor, that’s not particularly helpful for you. What really is helpful for me is to find the qualities that have brought him to this position of leadership that he is at when we meet him, which is to say he is a very capable commander.

And he inspires loyalty. He leads by example. I think that his courage is probably unquestioned. And so what I’m saying is that there’s a lot of positive qualities to the man. He happens to have a little problem, you know [laughs] fitting in with this planet, maybe. But also, we, as a people, and I’m talking about Americans right now specifically, we’re a very aggressive and mission-oriented people.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.

You know, a number of times, I’ve had people come up to me kind of in a sotto voce way say, “You know, I really am behind Quaritch. I’m on his team.” And I always feel like, “Really? I don’t want to know you.” [Laughs] So, anyway, I think it’s the positive qualities –and there are many– that people respond to leaders, no matter what their moral stance may be. I think that we see a lot of evidence of that in our recent political climate in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.

Sam, why do you think that audiences are still so emotionally attached to Avatar?

Look, I think this was a story about a young guy that went to another planet and he was looking for something. Looking to belong. And he found it in another culture that he didn’t really know anything about.

And I think, personally, I think that sense of belonging permeates with all of us. We’re all kind of looking for our own little clan, our own clique, our own group of people that can comfort us and give us confidence, and that we can learn from. And, you know, I think that there’s something in that that’s very interesting. And I don’t think that was a theme that was, say, hammered out. I just think that that was a subconscious feeling that maybe we all received globally when we watched the movie, this sense of wanting to belong.

For James Cameron, what makes you proud to have been part of this film?

Looking back with the perspective of now 12 years later, I guess I’m proudest in a general sense of the team. And I want to break that down. There’s the beauty that was created by the artists, the designers, the set builders. The people that sort of built out that world in all its detail and all the creatures in it, and every blade of grass, and the beauty that they were able to create, even when that beauty was scary.

Like the Viperwolves and the Thanator, I still think of them as beautiful and part of the majesty of nature. But there’s also the human beauty, so that was created by this cast that’s sitting here right now. Just this amazing ability to play, to create, to become people, and to do it in different forms…

I just look back on everybody’s work and just so grateful to have had an opportunity to work with these amazing people. And I think that’s why I promptly went out and wrote another and another and another Avatar [Laughs]. I just wanted to continue with this family which is such a great, great experience.

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox. © 2009 Twentieth Century Fox.


Avatar‘s remastered version is coming to Philippine cinemas this September 21. Its sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water arrives in theaters this December.

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