Thirteen years ago, in a shitty, moldy theater in suburban Pittsburgh, I took my buddy to see Avatar. This was before we knew James Cameron’s sci-fi epic would make a bazillion dollars and become one of the highest-grossing films of all time, nabbing nine Academy Award nominations along the way.
None of that. Just me, my buddy, and a pair of 3D glasses, probably still lots of germs from the last kid who saw Avatar. But in a year when we were all rocking with Wii Sports and the iPhone 3GS—damn near the Stone Ages, really—watching the Na’vi, whatever the hell that was, run and skip and jump out of the same screen where I saw Chronicles of Narnia felt damn near transcendental. 3D was cool, back in the day! Especially if you were in high school. It’s a theatrical experience I’d never forget. Now, it’s worth repeating, nearly 13 years later, Disney is hyping up the first trailer for the film’s sequel, Avatar: The Way of the Water, in advance of its December 16, 2022 release date. Most audiences will lay eyes on the preview before Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness this weekend. Before Disney showed Doctor Strange to journalists on Monday evening, the studio set up a screening for the Avatar trailer in a nearby theater.
It’s a little strange, seeing a movie released in 2009 make a nostalgia play, but that’s exactly what The Way of the Water trailer aims for. Instead of giving a full idea of what Jake Sully and Neytiri are up to outside of starting a family, the preview tries to remind us of why we fell in love with Pandora in the first place, the oohs and aahs you get from another planet popping out of an IMAX screen. The problem is, over the past decade or so, we’ve gotten a little bit spoiled. We’re at the dawn of the Metaverse, whatever that is! Virtual reality headsets, smartphones, video games—the things that transport us to other worlds—have sprinted ahead of the flag Avatar planted in 2009 as the can’t-beat technological achievement. Suddenly, those 3D glasses don’t seem so whiz-bang. It’s sad, but true. Technology tends to outpace itself.
If Avatar: The Way of Water wants to stun the world like it did back in 2009, it’s going to need much more than some gorgeous views of Pandora. We’re going to have three more Avatar sequels after The Way of the Water. So Avatar can’t really rely on shocking us all via a pair of 3D glasses, giving another once-in-a-lifetime visual feat a la The Arrival of a Train. This time, we’ll need a genuinely unforgettable story behind it all. Here’s hoping we get that.
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