Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)


This comment is of a threeD viewing in a well appointed theatre. Quite apart from all else, this is the best blocking of a 3D film I have ever experienced. If you can, have this experience in a proper setting. We used to have to worry about the quality of the film stock so would rush to see ‘first prints’. We need not worry about that now. Everything visually and sonically is as perfect as it can be, and I believe this sets the bar for factory films.

There are three scaffolds here.

There’s the characters and what we usually call ’story’. I believe Cameron will be much criticised for his reuse of so many tropes, and borrowed themes. So many parent-child dynamics, binary evil, even Dune-like spice. But you need to consider two things: he has mapped out five films in a coherent arc. I fully expect us to discover more about the super intelligent whales, the provenance of Kiri, and the role of the eclipse. Despite all the bits being bankable things we’ve seen before, there is some massive craft here in giving us something that emotionally moves enough to allow the rest.

I have no complaint here, and if you hear such from others, probably best to ignore them. The story is the excuse for the movie, not the purpose.

We have the nesting of personal conflict in larger, cinematically appropriate contexts. This is rarely done well, folks. Usually, you have your grand sweeps, including battles, and you separately have your story. Think of how few films use each to amplify the other. ‘Hero’? ‘Atonement’? ’To Live’? Very few. I frankly can do with fewer battles because there’s little that is novel here, excepting the whaling scenes. I think they will come up again when we find the ‘whales’ are deities.

But in typical franchise form, both of those plus the production values are all in the service of the world building. That’s what I at least come for. Other than possibly ‘Dune’ in my world, and ‘Lord of the Rings’ in other folks, we have very little coherent world that has cinematic power.

I can only guess what the other elements will be in the remaining three films.

Although the story, the borrowed elements, the fealty to the original elements bother others, I’m okay with it. What bothers me is the profound lack of imagination in the camera. I think there are two reasons for this. The first is practical. Though these could be the most expensive films ever made, budget constraints dictate that all the special effects use a static or near-static camera simply because the computational load goes up with the moving eye. But in humans, that is exactly what engages us, the challenge of understanding as things change.

The second reason is that they took a very conservative approach to the 3D. This is a stage, and the viewer is located in relation to it. I get it. The 3D comforted me. But I want to fly too, and I feel Cameron reneged on an implied promise. He shows me a wonderful world, but forbids me from entering it.

Posted in 2022

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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