Providing a fittingly grand finale for Disney’s dazzling CinemaCon slate presentation, writer-director James Cameron beamed in from a post-production facility in New Zealand to tease footage from his long-gestating sequel to the Oscar-winning 2009 blockbuster Avatar — and reveal for the first time anywhere its title, Avatar: The Way of Water.
Slipping on 3-D glasses, convention delegates were plunged back into the off-world paradise of Pandora: taking in the spectacle of tall blue Na’vi warriors astride dinosaur-like flying creatures and diving beneath an impossibly azure sea to frolic with whales and schools of fish. Almost nothing narrative could be gleaned from the footage — which played to cheers and whistles from the convention’s 3,000 audience members. Some of its sequences were situated in a dense and overcrowded city that stood in stark contrast to the first Avatar’s edenic imagery. “I know one thing,” star Sam Worthington says in voice over as his character Jake Sully. “Wherever we go, this family is our fortress.”
“We wanted our return to Pandora to be something special,” Cameron said. “Every shot was designed for the biggest screen, the highest resolution and the best 3-D possible. We wanted to push the limits of what cinema could do.”
Avatar producer Jon Landau turned up in Vegas to give a few tantalizing details surrounding the $250 million sci-fi epic: one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the last decade. While the first film follows a fairly standard hero’s-journey plot arc, its three sequels will delve into a more dynastic story line. “One of the strengths of James Cameron’s scripts are the universal themes he weaves into them,” Landau said. “And no theme is more relatable than family. These films will center on the Sully family: Jake and Neytiri’s family.”
In an era when Hollywood remains fixated on gratuitously churning out Cinematic Universes (with MCU-esque interlocking characters and connected plot strands turning up across the franchise diaspora), Landau maintains that every Avatar installment will exist as a kind of self-sustaining unit. “Each film will be a stand-alone story,” the producer continued. “Each will come to its own conclusion and there will be emotional resolutions to every film. However, when looked at as a whole, the journey across four movies will create an epic saga.”
In the lead-up to The Way of Water’s December roll-out, Disney plans to theatrically re-release a newly remastered version of the first Avatar in September. And sequels are scheduled to hit multiplexes in December 2024, December 2026 and December 2028. (The second film’s first trailer will screen in theaters ahead of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness next week before dropping online.)
Cameron said that original cast mates Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang will all return alongside new cast members including Cliff Curtis and Kate Winslet, as well as performers he described as an “extremely talented group of teenagers.” Having attempted to expand the boundaries of cinema with the first Avatar, the notoriously punctilious director hinted the sequel’s prolonged production process was at least partially a product of his technical ambitions and innovations. “We wanted to push those limits even farther using 3-D high-dynamic range, a higher frame rate and much greater reality in our visual effects,” Cameron said.
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