Everything is Connected
♦ In this week’s Montreal Gazette, James Cameron explains why the creation of a Cirque du Soleil show inspired by his film Avatar is a natural.
In fact, he feels Toruk — The First Flight, which has its world première Monday night at the Bell Centre, is a natural part of the ongoing creative process in the Avatar franchise.The Canadian filmmaker is deep into work on three sequels to the 2009 blockbuster set on the faraway moon Pandora, and he says it’s even possible that Toruk will have some artistic influence on the upcoming movies.“I think there are some nice ideas that were developed by the artists on Toruk,” Cameron said in an interview at a downtown hotel Monday morning. “I tell my artists, ‘Hey, make sure we’re not ignoring what they’ve done.’ Why wouldn’t it be a creative feedback loop? They fed on our designs. There are a few things I liked in the costume design. So it’s nice for me to see how other people interpret the Na’vi world and the world of Pandora.”The first Avatar sequel is scheduled to hit theatres at Christmas 2017, with the following films opening in 2018 and 2019. All three will be shot simultaneously.“Christmas of ’17 is the target,” Cameron confirmed. “At least, that’s what we’ve announced. But I don’t consider that to be as important as the fact that when we get all three films done, we drop them a year apart. I call it a meta-narrative that runs across the three movies. Each film stands alone, but it also tells one much larger story.
“We have design more or less finished, which is an enormous task. It’s been about a two-year task. (We’ve finished) all the creatures and the landscapes, and the new worlds within the world of Pandora that you see. The writing is ongoing, but almost finished. Technical development is done. Stages are done. Infrastructure. So we’re really poised to start after the first of the year.”
The links between Cirque du Soleil and Avatar actually stretch back to before the first movie was completed. While working on Avatar, Cameron invited Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre to come down and visit him and his colleagues. Cameron told Lamarre how he had been influenced by the Cirque while developing the Na’vi characters for the film. They even hired a former Cirque performer to advise the actors on how to move with the grace of the troupe’s artists.
“It’s a closing loop now,” said Cameron. “I was inspired by the Cirque du Soleil shows, with their celebration of human physicality, with their made-up culture, their made-up languages, that sense of a wondrous transport to a different world. It was very much in my mind when I was creating Avatar.
“I got to know the Cirque guys when I was finishing the film and we started talking about other projects, which led to making a 3D film together, called Worlds Away. Then they came to me and said, ‘We want to adapt Avatar to a show.’ They weren’t sure at that time if it was an arena show or a tent show. And I said, ‘This is perfect. We absolutely should work together.’ So now they’ve closed the loop.”
Toruk is written and directed by seasoned Montreal multimedia creators Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, and the Cirque team came up with the novel idea of setting the show 3,000 years before the events of the film. So humans have not yet arrived on Pandora. Instead, the show tells the story of the giant predator Toruk, who rules the skies of Pandora, and three Na’vi teens who set out to save the moon.
“(Cirque founder) Guy Laliberté is very clear,” he said. “He says, ‘I don’t like Hollywood. I don’t like how they think. I don’t like those guys. But I like you guys, and I like what you created with that movie.’
“For me, it was a no-brainer. I’d already worked with them on Worlds Away, and I’ve always loved what they do. I learned to appreciate their creative culture, which is very much not the way Hollywood works, and I actually think we in the Hollywood community could learn an awful lot from how the Cirque operates, in the way it celebrates the artist and gives them free rein.
“For them, it was a huge leap of faith. They’re doing something very experimental and very risky — which is, they’re applying narrative to something that before was very free-form and kind of surreal and whimsical at times. Now they were applying the rigour of actually telling a story, and that meant instead of having a series of specialist vignettes, they now had to create a troupe of actor/performers. They’d never done that before, and so not only did they need to be good acrobats, they had to act, do dialogue, do scenes. There’s a narrative storyteller. This is all new stuff for them.
“So they’re starting to play by the rules of the stage show, like a play, and yet they still had to hold on to what was definitively Cirque in the minds of their fans.”