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James Cameron Talks ‘Toruk,’ ‘Avatar’ Sequels and What Hollywood Can Learn From Cirque du Soleil

There are clues about the “Avatar” sequels to be found in “Toruk,” the Cirque du SoleilAvatar” prequel that lands tonight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a four-night run. Let James Cameron tell you what to look out for.

I love some of the costumes and hairstyles, so we might create a resonance there where you actually see some of the things that you see in ‘Toruk’ come into the design of the films,” said Cameron, the “Avatar” filmmaker who’s at work on a four-movie series of follow-ups. “We’ve got most of the sequel stuff already designed, but I like this idea of weaving back and forth between the two worlds, the live world and the film world.”

The plot of “Toruk,” which is named after the giant, dragon-like creatures seen in the film, won’t tie into the movies, Cameron added — but there’s some unexpected overlap there nonetheless. “The storyline in the sequels really follows Jake and Neytiri and their children,” he said. “It’s more of a family saga about the struggle with the humans. But thematically, ‘Toruk’ manages to land very very closely to the feeling of where the sequel stories are going.”

Cameron served as a consultant on “Toruk — The First Flight,” a stadium show that opened in Montreal in November of last year and has since toured North America. (New York area audiences get their first glimpse with the Barclays run, followed by a stint in nearby Newark, N.J.) “I gave them pretty full rein to just riff on what they had seen in the ‘Avatar’ world from the first film, and what they were responding to,” the director said of the “Toruk” creative team, led by writer-directors Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon.

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Chronicling two Na’vi warriors’ quest to find a series of sacred objects, “Toruk” takes place on the planet Pandora before humans make contact — thereby neatly evading the problem of how to depict the difference in scale between humans and Na’vi, the elongated blue humanoids who are nearly twice as tall. (The cast of “Toruk” speaks Na’vi in the show.) Cameron said that during the production’s development, he mostly chimed in to make sure the project didn’t steer too far afield from his central vision for the films.

There’s a tendency sometimes to go a little beyond the spiritual mysticism in the movie into actual magic,” he explained. “They can’t have any actual magic, because it’s not a universe that allows for true magic. But it definitely exists in a kind of a mystical, spiritual realm. The films do, and the show definitely does as well. It was that kind of creative conversation.”

“Toruk” is part of an overall brand expansion for “Avatar” that also includes videogames and a theme park.  There are no Cirque follow-ups to “Toruk” currently in the works, but Cameron said he’s open to the idea, in large part because he likes the way the company works.

“I love the culture of Cirque du Soleil, how they think, how they empower and enable the artist,” Cameron said. “I wish Hollywood was more like the way Cirque runs, just in terms of the corporate mentality. Hollywood’s all about getting really creative people and then just putting the thumbscrews to them until they cry. Cirque du Soleil is exactly the opposite. They’ll say, ‘No, you’re not being crazy enough. We’ve seen stuff like that before. Do something we’ve never seen. Go nuts.'”

As for the movie sequels: They’re on target to start rolling out in Christmas 2018 — at least for now. “We haven’t moved that target yet, but we will if we need to,” he said. “The important thing for me is not when the first one comes out but the cadence of the release pattern. I want them to be released as close together as possible. If it’s an annual appointment to show up at Christmas, I want to make sure that we’re able to fulfill on that promise.”

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