TORONTO — James Cameron is on the line from southern California, taking a rare break from work on his four upcoming "Avatar" sequels, which he's shooting concurrently.
The three-time Oscar-winning "Titanic" writer-director says he's "charging full-tilt into production" on the followups to his 2009 smash "Avatar."
But he's also carved out time to make and promote the TV documentary "Atlantis Rising," because he's deeply passionate about the subject matter.
Debuting Sunday on Discovery in Canada, the special sees Cameron teaming up with Emmy-winning, Israeli-Canadian filmmaker/journalist Simcha Jacobovici to search for archeological evidence of the fabled lost city of Atlantis and its civilization.
"Stepping way back on it and looking at Atlantis as an enduring myth that intrigues us, to me it's a lot like Titanic," says Cameron, who was born in Kapuskasing, Ont., and grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont.
"Titanic is a story about hubris — it's a story of humans who thought they could dominate nature, that they were all-powerful, that their technology would save them and protect them and so on — and it turned out to be a bubble of delusion, if you will. And when they hit that iceberg they got pulled up short.
"Well, the Atlanteans perished in some catastrophic way and in the Greek mindset, that would have meant that they challenged the gods, they defied the gods, they got too big for their britches, basically."
The filmmaker behind such hits as "The Terminator," "Terminator 2" and "Aliens" sees parallels between the story of Atlantis and the world today.
"Are people fascinated by these kind of apocalyptic stories because they see us heading for the same kind of precipice?" he says. "I certainly do, with climate change. I look at the challenges that are in front of us and I see us going the wrong direction.
"At a point when we should be linking hands internationally as a global community to solve these kind of existential threats, we're not. We're isolating and we're breaking apart these international communities and I see us going the wrong direction," he continues.
"So maybe we should pay attention to Atlantis and Titanic and the fall of the Roman Empire and these great stories from our past. Because does history repeat itself? If it doesn't repeat exactly, it certainly rhymes with what happened in the past."
"Atlantis Rising" marks the third collaboration between Cameron and Jacobovici, after the docs "The Exodus Decoded" and "The Lost Tomb of Jesus."
Using Greek philosopher Plato's description of Atlantis as a treasure map, Jacobovici heads out with a team of experts and cutting-edge technology across the Mediterranean to look for clues on land and underwater.
Cameron didn't go on the expedition because of pre-production on "Avatar," so instead he's seen in his studio video chatting with Jacobovici.
Cameras capture Cameron and his "Avatar" crew testing improvements in their software and their virtual reality production process.
"I was having expedition envy the entire time," says Cameron, who's also a passionate deep-sea explorer.
Jacobovici and his team did discover some evidence suggesting Atlantis was more than a myth.
"Have we found Atlantis? I'm the skeptic, between myself and Simcha Jacobovici," says Cameron. "He's the enthusiastic, hard-charging field reporter and I'm the crusty but benign editor.
"That's the role that we've taken on here. I used to be the guy out there in the subs and on the ship and all that, but with my day job doing 'Avatar' movies, I can't, so he has to be the roving reporter."
Cameron says he's an explorer-in-residence at National Geographic and would be happy to do more field research on the subject matter.
"Archaeology is typically very poorly funded these days," says Cameron. "There was more funding back in the heyday of unearthing Egyptian tombs and so on at the beginning of the last century, but these days it's a trickle compared to what it used to be.
"So I think, 'All right, we're filmmakers, we can shed some light and bring some resources to this poorly funded area of the sciences and find out more.'"
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press