Leave it to James Cameron to turn the D23 Expo into a Dolby-powered 3D theater. The legendary director didn’t have a new trailer for fans, but he did bring Pandora to them by way of a curated selection of scenes from Avatar: The Way of Water in state of the art 3D. No really, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen and you should know better by now than to bet against Cameron (or the water god he’s made a deal with).
While the director wasn’t present, his ensemble cast led by Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Stephen Lang were on hand to tease a bit about the film and present the footage, which set up the world we’ll be returning to in the sequel. The Sully family has expanded with kids of their own; Weaver plays Kiri, the eldest of the children, who seems to carry the reborn spirit of Dr. Grace Augustine (her character from the first film). Also returning is the franchise’s main villain, Miles Quaritch, played by Lang, who seemingly has respawned as a fully grown Na’vi warrior leader of a splinter squad.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Avatar: The Way of Water really wants you to know that this story is about generations. In the six-scene presentation, we primarily followed the Sully kids and their human foundling Spider—who seems to be related to someone with a bad rap (guessing Quaritch). There’s gorgeous underwater sequences that fully jump out of the screen in an upgrade to 3D most recently seen in Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness: basically the pop-up book style of 3D, versus what Cameron’s done, which is make it feel like alien aquatic life was nearly about to come out of the screen. The textures are hard to describe; truly, we haven’t reached this level of high def on the tech until now. The ethereal atmospheric scenes really recreated an environment that just on an artistic level will put butts back in seats.
Cameron’s keen sense of wonder is on full display in his world building for Pandora. Na’vi Quaritch looks to be assembling a new tribe toward his colonizing agenda from the first film while Jake (Worthington) and Neytiri (Saldana) lead their clan and others to stand against their rising threat. There’s an intense child hostage situation we got to see play out and I don’t know how that man did it but I care about these blue children now. Cameron’s signature action flair reaches new heights with bombastic sequences that ramp up the intensity in 48 frames per second. It’s a feast for the eyes that looks like it’s happening right before you and signals a grand new spectacle—it may even be a bit too much to process all at once. Thankfully, the maestro of movies knows not to dial up the mighty frame rate too much but only for key moments, all the better to immerse us in more Avatar movies we didn’t know we needed.
Avatar: The Way of Water is due out December 16.
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