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Sequel news: Avatar & Master and Commander 2 updates


Welcome to your essential roundup of the week's sequel news. Here's what's been making the headlines.

Avatar 2 and 3 will feature underwater sequences

James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster Avatar marked his return to the big screen after a 12-year hiatus. It subsequently became (and remains) the highest-grossing movie of all time with $2 billion in the bank.

Now Avatar 2, 3, 4 and 5 are in the works with all four movies being shot back to back. The wider story will focus on the offspring of couple Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), in the process introducing us to a younger generation of Pandora's Na'vi population.

Given Avatar's extraordinary success it's perhaps strange that the sequels would have taken so long to arrive (although that movie had itself been in the planning stages since 1999), but Titanic director Cameron says there's a very good reason for this. It involves a combination of the groundbreaking motion capture photography that earmarked the original movie and some newfangled underwater environments (featuring primarily in the second and third films).

"We’re doing it," he tells Collider. "It’s never been done before and it’s very tricky because our motion capture system, like most motion capture systems, is what they call optical base, meaning that it uses markers that are photographed with hundreds of cameras."

Avatar's photo-realistic CGI effects, whereby the facial features of the actors were adopted into their Na'vi CGI 'avatars', marked exactly the sort of visual effects breakthrough for which the director is famous. Nevertheless Cameron has been candid about the challenges faced by the production this time round.

"The problem with water is not the underwater part, but the interface between the air and the water, which forms a moving mirror," he explains. "That moving mirror reflects all the dots and markers, and it creates a bunch of false markers. It’s a little bit like a fighter plane dumping a bunch of chaff to confuse the radar system of a missile. It creates thousands of false targets, so we’ve had to figure out how to get around that problem, which we did." 

Cameron continues: "Basically, whenever you add water to any problem, it just gets ten times harder. So, we’ve thrown a lot of horsepower, innovation, imagination and new technology at the problem, and it’s taken us about a year and a half now to work out how we’re going to do it."

In fact shooting conditions have proved so difficult Cameron admits the first breakthrough occurred only recently. By the sounds of it the famously tough director who almost caused Ed Harris to drown on the set of The Abyss has put his teenage stars (all playing younger members of the Na'vi) through their paces.

"We’ve done a tremendous amount of testing, and we did it successfully, for the first time, just last Tuesday [November 14th]," he comments. "We actually played an entire scene underwater with our young cast. We’ve got six teenagers and one seven-year-old, and they’re all playing a scene underwater. We’ve been training them for six months now, with how to hold their breath, and they’re all up in the two to four minute range. They’re all perfectly capable of acting underwater, very calmly while holding their breath. We’re not doing any of this on scuba. And we’re getting really good data, beautiful character motion and great facial performance capture. We’ve basically cracked the code."

Alongside Worthington and Saldana the Avatar sequels see Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver both returning with a significant new face in the form of Titanic star Kate Winslet (more on whom below). The movies will be released on 18th December 2020, 17th December 2021, 20th December 2024 and 19th December 2025.

More details on Kate Winslet's Avatar role

Given she was famously intimidated by the demanding Cameron on the set of Titanic, no-one expected Kate to work with the filmmaker again. (She says she found filming an "ordeal" and that Cameron "had a temper like you wouldn't believe"). Nevertheless miracles do happen and the Oscar-winner will soon be joining the Avatar universe.

No images have been revealed of her character but by the sounds of it Kate is extensively involved in the movie's aforementioned underwater sequences. Surely she had enough of that during the shooting of Titanic? Apparently not – in fact it sounds like Kate was more than willing to take the plunge herself.

"The one thing she did do is demand that she do all her own water work," Cameron tells Vanity Fair. "I said, 'All right, that’s fine, we’ll have to teach you how to free dive.' The other actors are up to three- and four-minute breath holds."

The filmmaker is full of praise for the actress whom he helped steer to an Oscar nomination back in 1997: "She’s very excited about it. She blazed through for a couple of days of rehearsals and saw the world that we had created, and how we do the work, and she’s very excited."

Russell Crowe hints at Master and Commander sequel

One of the greatest movies to never get a follow-up, 2003's rousingly spectacular Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World marked a successful big screen transition for Patrick O'Brien's seafaring novels. The 19th century-set tale introduced us to Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his close friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), as their ship the HMS Surprise engaged in Napoleonic warfare with a far larger French vessel.

Directed with atmosphere and salty realism by Dead Poets Society filmmaker Peter Weir the movie was met with critical acclaim and two Oscars but failed to recoup the box office returns expected. A sequel therefore looked like a distant possibility – that is until Crowe himself dropped the following tweet hinting that a new movie may be in the works from 20th Century Fox.

If true, this is fantastic news – the role of the conflicted yet noble Jack remains one of Crowe's finest roles, and this is a nautical world we'd gladly become submerged in once again. Let us know your thoughts @Cineworld.

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