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How China’s $140 Million ‘Avatar’ Knockoff Turned Into a Legendary Fiasco

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On the set of "Empires of the Deep" (Gilles Sabrie)
On the set of ‘Empires of the Deep’ (Gilles Sabrie)

“The script called for an epic battle. In the movie’s third act, the forces of the Eight Faery Kingdoms defend their aquatic empires from annihilation by the evil Demon Mage and his spectral legions. Five hundred extras would play the opposing armies.

But in January 2010, when Jonathan Lawrence, the director of Empires of the Deep, showed up for the shoot, in Qinyu, a resort town in coastal China, he saw only about 20 extras, mostly ornery Russians complaining that they hadn’t been paid in weeks. How would he turn 20 people into 500? On top of that, their costumes—swamp green rubber suits decorated with scales, octopus suckers, and shells—looked like poorly made Halloween getups. Some of them had fins glued to their heads.”

After six years and $140 million dollars, the Chinese answer to Avatar—part of a plan to make a blockbuster in China with worldwide fandom—still hasn’t been released. The only evidence of Empire of the Deep‘s existence is a trailer for the film (see below) and the stories of those involved in its production. Mitch Moxley gathered these accounts and compiled them into a tale for you to enjoy. Read it here.