Cameron unveiled a new opening scene Tuesday for an extended cut of his sci-fi blockbuster due out Nov. 16 on DVD and Blu-ray disc, the sequence offering a glimpse of life on crowded, polluted 22nd century Earth, where city dwellers are bombarded by digital ads and wear masks for protection from the foul air.
The sequence Cameron showed reporters depicts the dreary existence of his hero, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), before he's invited to join the Avatar program on the distant moon Pandora.
An ex-Marine now in a wheelchair, Jake lives in a tiny, seedy room and hangs around boozing it up at a bar, where he starts a fight - but for a good cause. Jake takes on a guy who had been slapping a woman around.
Cameron said he decided to cut that opening from last year's theatrical release despite how "great that sequence of scenes is for his character, and showing how even though he's paralyzed, he's not a victim. He's still a warrior. He's a stubborn, scrappy, brawling guy, but also one with a conscience and a sense of justice."
But Cameron said audiences eventually would find that out about Jake once he gets into action among the native Na'vi on Pandora. He said he dropped the opening on Earth to step up the pacing and land viewers more quickly on Pandora, where Jake falls for Na'vi warrior Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).
"The guiding principle for me was the movie doesn't really start until we meet Neytiri," Cameron said. "It's about their relationship and where that relationship takes him. So every minute that we delayed meeting her we looked at with extra scrutiny."
But for this latest video release, Cameron and producer Jon Landau wanted to offer something fresh.
"We didn't want to start the movie with something people had seen before," Landau said. "Right when people start to watch it, they know they're getting something new, and it's a whole new opening."
The extended home-video cut runs 16 minutes longer than the original theatrical version of "Avatar," the biggest modern blockbuster with $2.8 billion at the box office worldwide.
The three-disc DVD and Blu-ray release also includes the theatrical version and another extended cut, running eight minutes longer than the original, that was released in theaters in August.
The set also packs 45 minutes of deleted scenes, a feature-length documentary about "Avatar" and 17 short segments examining the technology, music, stunts and other elements of the film.