In a wide-ranging interview, the director sheds some light on the long gap between the first Avatar film and its several planned sequels, as well as offering some insight into his return to the Terminator franchise.
First, on Avatar, it appears he's spent most of the long gap between the first and second film writing:
It was highly optimistic that we could start quickly until scripts are written. If there's no scripts, there's nothing, right? The scripts took four years. You can call that a delay, but it's not really a delay because from the time we pushed the button to really go make the movies [until now,] we're clicking along perfectly. We're doing very well because of all the time that we had to develop the system and the pipeline and all that. We weren't wasting time, we were putting it into tech development and design. So when all the scripts were approved, everything was designed. Every character, every creature, every setting. In a funny way it was to the benefit of the film because the design team had more time to work. . . .
He also said that further Avatar sequels are beholden to the whims of the filmgoer. "Let's face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don't make enough money, there's not going to be a 4 and a 5," he said. This is a breath of fresh air in franchise talk — in the past couple of years, a lot of classic films have had revival talks only to have those then squashed by poor performance and bad filmmaking. (It's already happened to Terminator at least once.) Nice to see that Cameron is being realistic.
As for his return to that killer-robot sci-fi franchise that made Cameron's name, he said it was the right time:
I just feel like the world we live in now is going to be very much defined by our co-evolution with our technology. While technology and innovation have this vast promise for our survival, it's also an enormous threat, especially when it comes to strong [artificial intelligence] being coupled with weaponised robotics, and that's all coming. It's just a question of who gets there first, it's gonna be the next big arms race, it's gonna be like the next race to get the bomb . . . And when you couple that with the kind of wired world that we live in, where we've basically given away our privacy and every single person walking around that's got a smartphone is essentially a belled cat — a walking sensor platform that can be monitored from afar — it's like we're really on the cusp of an Orwellian Armageddon of inconceivable proportions. Therefore, I thought, hey, let's make a movie about that. So it's going to be a very cheerful and upbeat kind of film.
Though he admits that this return, too, is subject to change based on reception. "It's the first of three, the story is mapped out over a three-film arc, but again, if we don't make any money there isn't gonna be a two and a three."
The whole interview, which has a great anecdote about the time Cameron almost hit Harvey Weinstein with an Oscar, is worth a read here. And, frankly, I'm not sure which world I'd prefer: one where both films fail and those franchises definitively end, or one where we get decent-to-good Avatar and Terminator movies forever. Better than bad movies forever, I suppose. Presently, the new Terminator film is slated for 2019.