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Avatar 3, Avatar 4 Scenes Already Shot to Avoid ‘Stranger Things Effect’, James Cameron Reveals

As Avatar: The Way of Water rides waves across theaters, director James Cameron has now coined a new phrase called the “Stranger Things effect.” Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the filmmaker claimed that certain footage for Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 was shot in tandem with the second Avatar film to avoid the child actors inevitably growing up and showing signs of aging. The multi-year project had to be covered in a single production, “Otherwise you get – and I love Stranger Things – but you get the Stranger Things effect where they were still supposed to be in high school [but] they look like they’re 27,” Cameron said.

While it was easy for leads Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña to slip into their roles at any time, it never stopped the growth of the child actors. Jack Champion, who portrays Miles “Spider” Socorro, the adopted child of Jake Sully and Neytiri, was 14 when Avatar: The Way of Water began filming. “We shot with Jack when he was 14 and 15, almost up to 16. So we shot him over an 18-month period,” Cameron told EW. The actor is now an adult, he turned 18 in November. The production would continuously switch between filming scenes for The Way of Water, all of Avatar 3, and appearing as one of Avatar 4.

Avatar: The Way of Water review: James Cameron gives us the greatest ‘video game movie’ ever

Sure, performance capture could turn recurring star Sigourney Weaver into a teenage Kiri, but there are limitations to performance capture VFX. Trinity Jo-Li Bliss plays Tukt, the youngest child of Jake and Neytiri, and was cast in Avatar 2 when she was around seven years old. She is now 13. Similarly, Bailey Bass, 19, who played Tsireya of the coastal Metkayina clan, was about 12 when she auditioned for the sequel. Although not as prominent, the effects of aging are definitely noticeable in Netflix’s Stranger Things, where the male leads’ voices deepened each season. Cameron wanted to avoid that, building on the Pandoran arc as quickly as possible while leaving a few unanswered questions at the end of each entry. “You can call it sequel bait, but I’m not trying to justify a sequel,” Cameron said in the interview. “We’ve already shot the second d–n movie. I don’t have to sell it to anybody.”

Speaking to Variety earlier this year, Avatar: The Way of Water producer Jon Landau briefly touched on the filming process for the follow-ups in the franchise, noting that there were “logistical reasons” for the steps they took. And now we know why – to prevent the “Stranger Things effect”. Cameron also made bold claims about his Avatar universe, saying he was even prepared to end the franchise with a trilogy if Avatar 2 underperformed.

In its first week, Avatar: The Way of Water has now crossed $600 million (approx. Rs. 5,052 crore) at the global box office. Although its production budget has not been explicitly mentioned, Cameron suggested that the film should become “the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history, to break even.”

The notion of filming three movies back-to-back never seemed daunting to Saldaña, at least from a plot and thematic standpoint. “We did read-throughs, we discussed at length where we were, we defined the beats that separated [Avatar] 2 out of 3,” she told EW. “So from where I was standing, I’ve never felt that it was uncomfortable or anything, but it just has to do with the time we spent preparing for this. Jim makes you part of the whole process and hears you out. Any need you have, he pays great attention to that detail and tries his best to accommodate and incorporate your input.”

Avatar: The Way of Water is now playing in theaters in India, in English, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. Avatar 3 is scheduled to be released in December 2024, followed by Avatar 4 in December 2026.

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