During Walt Disney Studios’ CinemaCon presentation Wednesday morning, Avatar producer Jon Landau presented the forthcoming teaser trailer for the long-awaited first (of many) sequels to the 2009 blockbuster, entitled Avatar: The Way Of Water. Ahead of the clip, Landau discussed writer-director James Cameron’s strategy in rolling out the films while Cameron remained back in Wellington, New Zealand, where he’s overseeing completion of the film in time for its opening day on December 16, 2022.
Landau started by announcing the forthcoming re-release of the original Avatar, a decision that’s as shrewd as it probably is necessary; there are literal teenagers who weren’t born when the first film came out, so it makes sense to re-acquaint moviegoers with Pandora, or at least refresh their memories. But in his prepared statements, Landau leaned heavily on the timelessness of Cameron’s storytelling. “One of the strengths of Jim Cameron’s scripts are always the universal and relatable themes that he weaves into them,” he said. “And there’s no more relatable theme down at the center of each of our four sequels than the Sully family, Jake and Neytiri’s family.”
Given the repeated shifts of structure and the addition of sequels, Landau smartly emphasized the standalone nature of the films, as well as their interconnectivity—an approach that also gives the filmmakers an out if Cameron’s gamble doesn’t pay off and the studio (or audiences) decide that they don’t want any more Avatar movies before he complete the story cycle. “Each sequel will play out as a standalone movie. Each story will come to its own conclusion, and each movie will deliver audiences fulfilling emotional resolutions in each and every film,” he said. “However, when you look at that as a whole, the journey across all four movies will create an even larger, connected, epic saga.”
Landau then introduced a pre-recorded statement from Cameron himself. He opened by empathizing with exhibitors—an expected sentiment, since CinemaCon’s focus is on the theatrical experience—before pivoting into the technical achievements, and requirements, that will be involved in showcasing The Way Of Water in theaters. “Jon and I are here to work with you—we’re your partners,” Cameron said. “And the best way we can do that is by delivering content that is a must-see experience at the center.”
“With the first Avatar, we set out to push the limits of the big screen,” he reminded. “With the new Avatar films, we’re pushing those limits even farther with 3D, with high dynamic range, with high frame rate, higher resolution, and a much greater reality in our visual effects.” Despite his aptitude for employing cutting-edge technology, Cameron insisted that his effort was paired seamlessly with solid storytelling and great performances. “While I’m making a movie, it’s working with the actors that I find the most rewarding,” he admitted. “And it’s been an amazing adventure to explore Pandora again with our friends Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Stephen Lang, not to mention our new cast members Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, and this incredible group of extremely talented teenagers, all of whom quickly distinguished themselves in their roles. We wanted our return to Pandora to be something really special.”
“Every shot was designed for the biggest screen, the highest resolution, and the most immersive 3D available. We set out once again to push the limits of what cinema can do. And I think we pulled it off. I hope we pulled it off. I hope when you see the film in December that you’ll agree.”
Dolby provided 3D glasses to showcase the film’s dimensionalized storytelling, and whether or not you find 3D to be an enjoyable or necessary addition to the cinematic experience, it’s clear that technology has improved substantially both in the recording and the projection of those images. The clip didn’t offer a lot in the way of story, mostly revisiting the landscapes (and airscapes and seascapes…) of Pandora, with Worthington’s character Jake Sully and Saldana’s Neytiri at its center. Goal scenes involving flying, and even underwater, offered glimpses of Cameron’s “Volume”-based filmmaking in unprecedented environments such as underwater.
Without an optimal seat and condensed to a 90-second clip, it’s hard to tell how much of, say, underwater performance capture will mesmerize on the screen in a longer story. Goal the amount of detail in every image, the vividness of the characters and brightness of each image, offered a perhaps overdue reminder that Cameron always uses his full ass when it comes to throwing himself into projects—and with the muscle of Weta Digital bringing those images to life, Avatar: The Way Of Water promises to be a visual and technical odyssey, whether or not anyone ends up wanting three or four more of these movies after waiting so long for the second one.