James Cameron on Alien: Covenant and why he decided to look for Atlantis

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May 3, 2017, 11:46 AM EDT (Updated)

James Cameron has been bringing together his Oscar-winning filmmaking skills and his passion for science for years now, from incorporating envelope-pushing new technology into feature films like Avatar to producing various documentaries to doing some deep-sea exploration of his own as a submarine pilot.

Now he's back with a new documentary, Atlantis Rising, which chronicles a new search for the mythic city that digs into Bronze Age clues both above and below water.

For Cameron, the timing of the project -- which explores the history of a civilization destroyed by its own hubris -- is fortuitous for 2017, but it's also yet another chance for him to use his pull in the entertainment world to fund an expedition that might not otherwise get attention. As a fan of the Atlantis myth for most of his life, he saw an opportunity to shed light on the science behind the search while also adding some entertainment value.

"I've been getting backdoor funding for oceanography and marine science and marine forensics and archaeology for years now. I've done eight deep-ocean expeditions, and they've all been at least partially funded by film projects," Cameron said. "The films that we make are market-driven. They're based on the demand, the curiosity, and interest of the audience. It's easy to get a film funded to go to the Titanic, but how many times can you do that? So, this is a way to do some legitimate Bronze Age archaeology on a film budget, and National Geographic loves that. They love that model, because they know they're popularizing archaeology, they're popularizing ancient civilizations, and it's a business model and it works. The archaeologists like it because they get to go do digs."

Though he's making the rounds to promote Atlantis Rising, it's hard not to ask Cameron about Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott's next film in the franchise that put him on the map. While Cameron acknowledges that he made Aliens as a "fanboy" inspired by Scott's example, he's finding it hard to see anything fresh in the concept these days.

"I don't think it's worked out terribly well. I think we've moved on beyond it. It's like, okay, we've got it, we've got the whole Freudian biomechanoid meme. I've seen it in 100 horror films since. I think both of those films stand at a certain point in time, as a reference point. But is there any validity to doing another one now? I don't know. Maybe. Let's see, jury's out. Let's see what Ridley comes up with. Let me just add to that — and don't cut this part off, please — I will stand in line for any Ridley Scott movie, even a not-so-great one, because he is such an artist, he's such a filmmaker. I always learn from him. And what he does with going back to his own franchise would be fascinating."

Atlantis Rising premieres Sunday at 9/8c on National Geographic. For more from Cameron, head over to Vulture and read his full interview.