“Empires Of The Deep”. China’s Unreleased Avatar Knockoff.


James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic Avatar was and currently is one of the biggest movies of all time. Currently sitting at nearly $3 Billion worldwide with its recent sequel passing $2 Billion with at least two more sequels on the way. The Avatar series has become another major powerhouse franchise for Disney.

And you know what they say about something popular, there’s always someone looking to cash in. And that’s what Chinese real estate mogul turned movie producer Jon Jiang wanted to do. Influenced by Hollywood directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson he developed a screenplay called “Mermaid Island” before renaming it to Empires of the Deep.

The film’s official synopsis reads:

The eight mermaid kingdoms have reigned as the protectors of the oceans since the creation of Earth, but the current peace comes under threat from the re-emergence of the Demon Mage and his legions. After his village is caught up in the conflict, a Greek hero named Atlas sets out with his friend Trajin to rescue Atlas’s father and bring back the holy Temple of Poseidon, which has been stolen by an army of mermen knights.

Jiang initially hired Randall Frakes (a friend of James Cameron) to develop the screenplay. Irvin Kurshner was originally approached to direct but could not reach an agreement over the script. Catwoman director Pitof was also approached but left over disagreements with the script. Jonathan Lawrence eventually became the film’s director.

The film was a co-production with the United States  production company E-Magine to try and reach international markets despite many restrictions and censorship from the Chinese government. The film is also said to have had a $130 Million but sources close to the project claim that it was actually a lot less.

Butting heads caused Lawrence to leave the project and was soon replaced by Michael French. French also left and Scott Miller was brought on to finish filming despite disagreeing with the script. 

Despite the film initially having a 2011 release date, which later became 2013, the film has never seen a full public release in either North America or in its home country of China. Jiang has since said that the reason the film never released was due to the expensive budget and extensive issues regarding special effects. In 2016 Jiang tried to raise money via crowdfunding to finish the film but was unsuccessful. 

While it was definitely something to try and cash in on the Avatar craze it is a shame that we never got to see the full product as many of the costumes and prosthetics look spectacular. It’s like a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Aquaman. But even if it did release it is highly unlikely it would have taken the crown from Avatar. Even from the trailer it felt like something you could get on the Sci-fi channel.

What do you think? Would you have liked to see this now seemingly lost and unfinished movie that was inspired by Avatar? Let us know your thoughts below. 

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