Between The Angel And The Avatar
It might seem now like Cameron leapt straight from getting the technology sorted beneath the ocean to dusting off the Avatar scriptment and seeing if it could still work as a film.
In truth, while he did do that, he wasn't just working on Avatar. Nope, he had also purchased the rights to Manga series Battle Angel Alita.
A few years ago, Cameron had decided to develop both projects side by side, shadowing Avatar in the code title Project 880 and dropping hints about Battle Angel.
Both films would employ similar technology, and the development of each would feed the other. Keeping his cards close to his chest (what's new?) Cameron began to drop hints that the Manga adaptation would be next. "We didn't have the new camera system at that time. We'll use it on the feature, which we're in pre-production for right now," he told IGN in 2004.
"It's called Battle Angel and it's a big science fiction film. The differences are very minor, mostly in terms of usability. The viewer won't see any difference, though."
Now, of course, we all know which of his two possible projects he ended up shoving to the forefront (Battle Angel is still being talked about by Cameron and longtime producer Jon Landau as his next likely project).
But back in 2006, he would tell Ain't It Cool News that the mysterious Project 880 was indeed "a retooled version of Avatar." Admitting that he was annoyed that the scriptment had made its way on to the 'net, Cameron insisted that the final product would be quite different, like adapting a novel.
And given that at least one version of the original scriptment was over 80 pages - which expanded into an actual script would provide fodder for three films, let alone one - it's no surprise that a lot has been cut out (sequels, anyone?)
"I had to rework to make it possible," recalls Cameron. "My treatment was so expansive and novelistic that it needed to be necked down just to make it something that could be done on the screen.
"This film is done on an epic scale, but it's done within the parameters of a Hollywood movie. What I found is that instead a script I had written the outline of a novel, and it was just too much story, too much back story, too many secondary characters.
"It was essentially the longest script, in terms of the amount of time it took me to get a workable draft. The first time I tried, it ended up being more than 200 pages, so I had to go back and throw out big chunks, a lot of ideas went out. But I have to say the essence of all the big ideas stayed and I felt pretty good about that."
The whittled down story finds Jake Sully, a crippled marine, shipping out to the strange alien world of Pandora, where he'd discover the Na'vi, find love with one of them and end up going against his own race to protect them.
Eventually, Avatar would overtake Battle Angel in Cameron's mind as the project that could reach the screen first - though he hasn't stopped development on the Manga piece.
So he had the tools and the concept. But now he needed the cast…