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Avatar video game explores ‘breathtaking world of Pandora,’ says producer Jon Landau 

DUBAI: It is rare for a franchise to have an ethos, but Avatar has never been like other franchises. That is also part of why it has been so successful. This year, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the second film in the series, became the third highest-grossing film of all time worldwide, two spots below the 2009 original, a staggering feat when audiences are turning away from big-budget intended-blockbusters like never before. Now, a year on from that film’s release and two years ahead of the hotly anticipated next installment, the Na’vi have returned, this time for a massive open-world video game years in the making: “Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora,” which just launched in Saudi Arabia.

So, what is the secret to Avatar’s success? It is made by people who care not only about the process, but also for humanity itself. With their singular science fiction creation, director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau have built a world that serves as a potent allegory for indigenous resistance against settler colonial occupation, and the environmental catastrophes that greed inevitably creates. And no, that is not by accident.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to do, but we can’t be overt,” Landau tells Arab News. “If you’re preaching, you’re only reaching the already converted. What we want to do is be provocative. We want you to pick up this game, and walk away saying, ‘wait, what the RDA, the villains, were really doing is a lot like what was done to the American Indians. It’s a lot like what is happening in the Brazilian rainforest today, and so forth.

“Ultimately, if we can start those conversations in real life after someone has walked away from the game, then we’re truly a success,” says Landau, who started his partnership with Cameron on “Titanic,” the fourth-highest grossing film of all time.

As rare as it is to see those themes in film, they are even more rare in the world of video games. The space is still dominated by modern-war franchises such as “Call of Duty” and “Rainbow Six,” which often find the people of the Middle East, for example, used as cannon fodder. In crafting its first playable experience since the 2009 “Avatar: The Game,” Landau and Cameron needed a developer that understood the subversive elements they required, which they found in Ubisoft, which previously tackled compatible ideas in the acclaimed game “Assassin’s Creed III.”

Landau says: “We needed a partner that would embrace the ethos and themes of our world — that could bring us into new environments and stay true to our vision. We didn’t want to just tell the story of the movie; we wanted to open a new frontier, and that had to be done with the utmost care. There’s a standard that people have come to expect from Avatar.”

While the games and movies will tell “parallel stories,” Landau explains, there are many new elements developed for the games, such as a clan of traveling merchants, that are also planned to appear in future films.

“Because we worked so closely with the Ubisoft team in developing this, we have so many creatures, weapons, or clans that can naturally weave into our future stories, all based on the work we did here. There’s a strong likelihood you’ll see aspects of this in the movies,” says Landau.

For now, with the game finally on shelves, Landau is tirelessly at work on the third film, but is still anxious to see if the game also helps Avatar reach a new legion of fans, especially as gaming continues to explode in popularity in the Kingdom.

“We’re so proud of what we accomplished with this game, and can’t wait for fans in Saudi Arabia and across the globe to discover all we’ve built in the breathtaking world of Pandora,” Landau concludes.

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