Hollywood Mythmaker Buys a Real-Life Pandora
‘Avatar’ Director James Cameron Builds in New Zealand
THERE is no Pandora. But Pounui Ridge, roughly 20 miles from this Wairarapa Valley wine town, comes close.
There is the 3-D Imax-scale view for instance. Toward the south is the open Pacific, stretching 2,000 miles, straight to Antarctica. The choppy waters of Cook Strait lie to the west, with the jagged mountains of New Zealand’s South Island rising in snowcapped splendor in the distance.Pandora, James Cameron’s mythical “Avatar” planet, overflows with odd wildlife, and so does Pounui. Consider the eels. After living in a freshwater lake here, they slither to the sea and spawn near the faraway island of Tonga. In a life cycle rooted in Miocene times, their elvers — leaf-shaped offspring — ride the currents back to Lake Pounui.
And when the next eels arrive, oddly enough, they may spot Mr. Cameron. “I’m anxious to throw on a scuba tank and get down there,” he said by phone the other day.This year, shortly before his solo trip to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, Mr. Cameron, the filmmaker-adventurer, spent an estimated $16 million to buy 2,500 acres of farmland around Lake Pounui (pronounced po-NEW-ee). Now he expects to absorb its magic while creating some of his own in a pair of sequels that will build on the story of Pandora and on an ecological mythos that helped make “Avatar,” released by 20th Century Fox in 2009, the biggest-selling film of all time.
Mr. Cameron’s purchase of the Lake Pounui property has also coincided with escalating fears here about a land grab by wealthy foreigners. Recently, for instance, New Zealanders had a conniption over the sale of 16 dairy farms to a Chinese company. (A court fight over the deal continues.) Mr. Cameron’s arrival added fuel to the media fire. “Hordes are bound to follow from Hollywood,” Stephen Oliver wrote in The Waikato Times on April 2, poking fun at the outcry by envisioning pristine hillsides “festooned with trophy homes” in an “obscene showcase of bad taste.”
Some of Mr. Cameron’s new neighbors seem to have an open mind. But most worry about his ability to inhabit this paradise without becoming the kind of disrupter he pilloried in “Avatar.” Will the millions he plunked down for the property increase everyone’s taxes? What about continued access to Lake Pounui for the eel researchers at Victoria University of Wellington? Mr. Cameron has already closed a little hall on his land that had been used for wedding receptions, thus severing the public from what locals now refer to as “his lake.”
There is also the question of what Mr. Cameron farms. To obtain governmental approval to buy the land, he had to agree to keep at least part of it as a working farm. But the current operation — built mostly around cows — poses a problem for Mr. Cameron, who said his wife, Suzy Amis, had pushed him and their children toward a plant-based diet. “So we’re looking for something more crop based,” Mr. Cameron explained. “I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”