James Cameron is opening up about the 3-hour runtime of the highly anticipated "Avatar: The Way of Water," which hit theaters on Friday. The director told Entertainment Weekly that he felt "morally obligated" to not change the length of the film when Disney acquired 21st Century Fox, the studio where the film was originally pitched.
"Avatar: The Way of the Water" is the sequel to 2009's "Avatar," still the highest grossing movie of all time at $2.9 billion. It clocked in at 162 minutes, or nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes. Cameron cited technical restraints and storytelling challenges as the reasons for the long lapse between the films. But keeping the originally intended length of the second film was something he felt strongly about.
"I think there was a lot of tension around length,” Cameron told EW. "And because it's a complicated linear narrative, which is the worst scenario for trying to shorten, you've got a complex story servicing a lot of characters, and it's like dominos falling: This has to happen for that to happen. You're not following a bunch of parallel plot lines in a way that you could take a lot out."
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Cameron said it was like solving a puzzle to decide what to take out and what to leave in.
"The hardest thing when you’re trying to shorten a film is to hold onto the things that don’t advance the plot, that are beautiful or scary or suspenseful for their own sake," he said. "Things came out, and then if I felt the pacing was off, we put things back in."
Cameron and his team have been working on the "Avatar" sequel for over a decade. It was originally slated for 2014 but was delayed as Cameron waited for technology to catch up to his vision of how to capture underwater scenes on film.
"Avatar 2" was initially pitched to 21st Century Fox but when the studio was acquired by Disney in 2019, Cameron said he felt "morally obligated" not to change the length of his vision.
"Equally important with length is pace — and the order of information and the engagement factor," he said. "As long as people are engaged, you’re good to go."
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