With its brave new world of special effects and epic storytelling, James Cameron's Avatar is well on its way to sinking the box office records Titanic left in its wake. In only four weeks, Avatar has raked in nearly $1.5 billion, making it the second-highest-grossing movie in history behind Cameron's own Titanic.
Set in the future on a moon named Pandora, Avatar tells the story of man's attempts to trick an indigenous population into letting humans mine a precious resource. Every second of this nearly three-hour epic story was born in Cameron's imagination. With a team of 3,000 people and 10,000 computers, Cameron pushed the limits of filmmaking and helped invent new 3D technology to bring his fantasy world to life. Four and a half years later, Cameron's vision became a reality on the big screen.
Avatar also prompted Oprah and Stedman to do something they haven't tried since the 1990s—go to the movies! "We haven't been out to a movie since Dances with Wolves. That is the honest to the goodness truth," she says. "All I can say after seeing this movie [is] 'wowie kazowie.' I have never seen anything like that movie."
Cameron says he's on cloud nine about the way the world has embraced Avatar. "It seems to be reaching people in every country in all kinds of different language groups. I guess because the film's so visual, and maybe the message means something to everybody everywhere," he says. "They have huge environmental problems in China, but they've totally embraced this film there."
In many ways, Cameron says Avatar is unlike any film he's ever made. "Normally, I can't watch my own movies because I know every detail of them. But I so love stuff like, say, the flying sequences because I didn't do the final photography. It was done by the visual effects guys," he says. "When I see those shots, I can marvel at them like everybody else does."
One of the film's main messages is the connection between man and the environment. "I've always loved nature. Even as a kid, I was always tromping around in the woods behind my house collecting frogs and stuff," he says. "When I became a scuba diver, I really realized how great nature's imagination is. This film was an attempt to kind of bottle that."
To bring this lush world to life, Cameron hired a botanist to create, design and name every single plant. Since making the film, Cameron says his appreciation for nature has only grown. "I look at trees differently now. I'll look at a tree and say, 'Wow, that's a beautiful tree.' I would never have said that before," he says.
Cameron also wanted to show the importance of our connections with one another. "We had to have a common tongue, and we had to have a common accent," he says. "[Actress] Zoe Saldana said it was actually harder to do the accent and to act through the accent than to learn the language."
Cameron credits some of the movie's success to the universality of its messages. "You can overplay how important a movie is in the zeitgeist," he says. "But I do think [this makes an impact] with the environmental message and the idea that we are all kind of connected as human beings to each other."
With the painstaking work he put into Avatar, it's no surprise Cameron has a reputation of being a perfectionist. "I think of myself as a lot mellower than I used to be, but I don't think there's anybody that would work with me that would think of me as mellow," he says. "I show up in the morning, I'm excited, I'm ready to charge in, jump in, and I like to get that energy in the cast and in the rest of the team and then just go for 16, 18 hours."
In fact, Cameron only took a handful of days off in the four and a half years it took to make Avatar. "I took a half day off for the swine flu," he says. "I went in the next day even with a fever and just kept going."
When he takes time for himself, Cameron says he likes to ride dirt bikes or scuba dive. Above all, though, he loves to spend time at home. "Fun for me is hanging out with the kids. Playing Lego," he says. "My daughter's kind of a junior scientist, so we like to do little science projects together. You know, just being with the family."
Avatar fans have one burning question on their minds: Will there be a sequel? "Our threshold was always if we made money, we'd make a sequel," he says. "So I think we might have to make a sequel."
And we may be seeing a familiar face in the next film—Cameron and his special effects wizards have already created an alien avatar of Oprah! "Very nice," Oprah says. "That's what I love. The Avatar diet plan."