It’s common for studios to rerelease movies or do double billings (showing two pictures for the price of one) before or along with the arrival of the latest installment in a franchise. Some theaters in the USA are known for doing marathons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s filmography. Others have screened “Top Gun” with “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Blade Runner” with “Blade Runner: 2049”, and “Jurassic Park” with “Jurassic World: Domination.” You get the gist. However, this rarely happens here in India, except for film festivals where restored versions of classics are shown to the public. Never as a theatrical release, though. But that has changed with the upcoming December release of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” as a remastered version of “Avatar” is playing worldwide (even in my silly little town!). The movie is 13 years old and has earned over $2 billion at the time of writing this article. So, almost everyone and their moms know what “Avatar” is all about. But then, what’s the significance of this rerelease? Well, let’s find out.
A Revisit Before Diving Into ‘Avatar: The Way of Water.’
The simplest reason behind rereleasing “Avatar” is to familiarize the audience with the culture of the Na’vi, the world of Pandora, and the central conflict between the “Sky People” and the indigenous folk. Back in 2009, it was obvious that people all around the world went to watch it not just once, but multiple times. And it’s quite possible that after its home release, some of them put it on their small screens and rewatched it. But there’s this common misconception that keeps doing the rounds of the internet that, despite being such a global phenomenon, no one really remembers “Avatar.” Therefore, that means people won’t be invested in a sequel. Now, I know for a fact that that is a bunch of rubbish that festers in the various movie-hating bubbles of social media and somehow made its way to the ears and eyes of the marketing experts.
The internet is a reflection of the real world and not the real world itself. A fraction of the general populace and a fraction of the people who watched “Avatar” are on Twitter dot com. And that’s the obvious reason why you probably don’t see a lot of chatter around a 13-year-old movie. But if you make the effort of taking to the streets and asking people if they remember “Avatar”, instead of writing op-eds after scrolling through your timeline, you’ll see the broader picture. That said, thanks to this false perception, the rerelease will now allow those who never got the chance to watch it theatrically to experience it in the format James Cameron wanted it to be seen in. Additionally, it gives an opportunity to those of us who watched “Avatar” as teenagers or kids to examine if the film still holds up after such a long time.
James Cameron Is Here To Say He’s Still The King Of Spectacle
If you think that we are suffering from some kind of franchise fatigue now, back in the 2000s, the cinematic landscape was dominated by “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” films. So, it was quite a surprise when James Cameron appeared out of nowhere to drop a non-franchise, wholly original CGI spectacle, which ended up making billions of dollars. After watching it at the theater once again, I can say that while it’s obvious that “Avatar” outshined any blockbuster film that came before it, no other big-budget film has managed to beat Cameron’s cinematic prowess yet. And after giving everyone a decade-long break, he is back again to shut down everyone who is questioning whether he deserves to be on the proverbial throne. The answer is, yes, he’s the king of the blockbuster spectacle.
The reason behind it is simple. Cameron cares. He is privileged enough to call the shots and give VFX and CGI artists the time they need to make everything look right on the big screen. He knows how to use VFX and CGI so that the resulting effect is awe-inspiring. Most importantly, he is as sincere about the drama as he is in his portrayal of the action and adventure. Because if he isn’t serious about it, he can’t expect us to be respectful about what’s on display. Recently, studios have been in a hurry to release their “blockbusters.” They hire directors who have no clue about how to use CGI, and they don’t have the reputation to say no to a studio directive. That’s why we are getting all this slop masquerading as “mass cinema” and making excuses for them by saying “they’re doing their best under the circumstances,” instead of calling out the studios that are creating said circumstances.
Side note: After watching “RRR” and “Brahmastra“, a lot of us said that India has finally surpassed the standard of CGI-heavy movies set by Hollywood. And I am sorry to say this, but no, we haven’t. Yes, if you compare them with all the films coming out of the Marvel assembly line, “RRR” emerges as the winner. However, since “Avatar” exists and “Avatar: The Way of Water” is on its way, James Cameron is going to be the reigning champion for a long time.
That’s How 3D Should Be Used!
In addition to perfecting the concept of making a film that’s almost completely made of CGI and hand-animation, James Cameron fine-tuned 3D filmmaking. Back in 2009, when my friend and I went to watch “Avatar,” we felt like we were right there with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), roaming around the forests of Pandora with them. After that, we were told that every other movie was going to be made in 3D. The mere act of handing over a pair of glasses to everyone in the audience motivated theater chains to bump up the prices of their tickets. It also motivated them to put up the expensive 3D versions of the movie only, instead of giving people the option to choose between 3D and 2D. Because, of course, everyone would go for the cheaper option. Why’s that, though? Why won’t people opt out of an immersive experience? Are they stupid?
The answer is no, we aren’t stupid. 3D just isn’t immersive. And if you watch this remastered “Avatar,” you’ll notice the difference. It literally seems like the mist around the Hallelujah Mountains or the floating embers after Quaritch’s onslaught are going to hit your face. Or when the camera is zooming through the forest or peering over Jake’s shoulders to show us how high he is, you feel the speed and vertigo, respectively. None of the recent blockbusters have managed to emulate this feeling. The 3D and 2D versions are literally indistinguishable nowadays (apart from the fact that the 3D version gives you a headache). But when it comes to “Avatar,” the quality of the 3D elevates the overall viewing experience. It makes the already tangible film seem all the more realistic. That’s why my request to any studio peddling 3D movies is to stop doing it if it’s not at par with “Avatar.”
Disney’s Way Of Cashing In On The ‘Avatar’ Fever.
As much as I’d love to say that the “Avatar” rerelease is about making people appreciate the art in the spectacle, I have to acknowledge that there’s a business aspect to it as well (that probably eclipses Cameron’s artistic intentions). Without beating around the bush, Disney’s CGI-live-action remakes are garbage. Until Disney acquired Marvel, their movies at least looked good. But as those properties continue to grow in popularity due to nostalgia and the fascination with superheroes, Disney continues to make bank. And with great money comes great buying power, which is something that Disney used to purchase 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. So, now when you watch “Avatar,” you’ll see the refurbished 20th Century Studios logo in front of it, thereby technically robbing Fox of the credit for making one of the biggest movies of all time. It’s a way of flexing to the world that “Avatar” and its sequels are in the Mouse House now.
Given how dark and bleak this is, I can try and give it a little positive spin. Look, Disney is guilty of monopolizing the box-office game by saturating the market with all the IPs they have in their control. Those who are in control of the studio don’t care about making people feel anything. They just want the money. But it’s highly likely that James Cameron is the only person capable of reversing that, even if it’s just for the “Avatar” films. Because this IP is his baby, and he’s not going to let the studio pressurize him into rushing the process. I also don’t think that anyone in the Mouse House has the courage to go up to James Cameron and tell him to quicken things up. Disney can claim that they own “Avatar,” but it’s Cameron’s fingerprints that are all over it. And maybe, if he pushes back hard enough, Disney will rethink their overall strategy, slow down its release schedule, and let artists make art instead of hollow, soulless products.
‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Special Footage, Explained – Who Is Lo’ak? What’s The New Threat?
Yes, after watching “Avatar,” if you stick around for a bit, you will get to see a sneak peek of “Avatar: The Way of Water.” From what I’ve heard, this footage varies from country to country. The one I’m going to talk about is the one that I’ve seen. It opens with a shot of a young Na’vi boy lying unconscious on a piece of rock in the ocean. But the rock then starts to move because it’s not actually a rock. It’s a whale-like creature. The boy wakes up and introduces himself as Lo’ak (Britain Dalton). FYI, I am only 70 percent sure that that’s his name. Anyway, the whale points out that a big harpoon is sticking out of one of its fins, and it requests the boy to take it out. Lo’ak obliges by diving underwater and unhooking the harpoon. When Lo’ak resurfaces, the whale plays around with him to thank him for his help. But the scene takes a dark turn when Lo’ak swims over to the left side of the whale and notices that it is missing a fin. He promises to be by the whale’s side, and the two of them swim away together.
There are two takeaways from this special footage from “Avatar: The Way of Water.” Firstly, it looks absolutely gorgeous. I don’t know if all that water in it is real or CGI. And if I am confused, that’s a win in my books. If you have seen any of the “CGI Artists React” videos on YouTube or any primer on CGI, you’ll have an idea of how tough it is to make water (and the light and the elements floating in it) look realistic. But there’s a thin line between realistic water and photorealistic water, and Cameron and his team have apparently crossed it. I am aware of the fact that Cameron has shot several scenes underwater. Is this one of them? I don’t want to know, and I want to keep it that way until I’ve watched the film. Secondly, that harpoon hints that the Sky People are targeting aquatic life now. In the previous film, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) did warn Jake Sully that their efforts to conquer Pandora aren’t over. They know that the land and the skies are protected. So, the only way in is through the water bodies. Hence, the title of the film and all the water-based fight scenes that we’ve seen in the trailers.