Saturday, December 17, 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water

James Cameron: Avatar: The Way of Water (US 2022) starring Zoe Saldaña (Neytiri) and Sam Worthington (Jake Sully).

US © 2022 20th Century Studios, Inc. / TSG Entertainment. A Lightstorm Entertainment Production. PC: Lightstorm Entertainment & TSG Entertainment. Distributor: 20th Century Studios. P: James Cameron, Jon Landau.
    D: James Cameron. SC: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Story by: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman, Shane Salerno. Based on: characters by James Cameron.
    Cin: Russell Carpenter. Camera: Sony CineAlta Venice 3D. Source format: X-OCN RAW. Master format: Digital Intermediate 4K. Release format: D-Cinema, 4K, also 3-D: RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema, IMAX ja IMAX 3D. Select showings also support dynamic high frame rate up to 48 fps. Released in Dolby Vision.
    PD: Dylan Cole, Ben Procter. AD: Luke Freeborn, Kim Sinclair. Set dec: Vanessa Cole. Cost: Bob Buck, Deborah L. Scott. Makeup & hair: Sarah Rubano. Senior VFX Supervisor: Joe Letteri. Lightstorm's VFX Supervisor / Virtual 2nd Unit Director: Richard Baneham. Tattoo artist: Michael Krehl. Prosthetics: Jess Reedy (ProFX). Animatronix: Weta Workshop. VFX: Weta FX, Lightstorm Entertainment. AN: Weta FX.
    ED: Stephen E. Rivkin, David Brenner, John Refoua, James Cameron. S: Dick Bernstein, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle. M: Simon Franglen. The Avatar theme: James Horner (1953-2015). Casting: Oryan Landa.
    C: Na'vi / Recombinants (recoms): Sam Worthington (Jake Sully), Zoe Saldaña (Neytiri), Sigourney Weaver (double role as Kiri and Dr. Grace Augustine), Stephen Lang (double role as Colonel Miles Quaritch Recombinant and the original Quaritch in a recording), Kate Winslet (Ronal), Cliff Curtis (Tonowari), Britain Dalton (Lo'ak), Jamie Flatters (Neteyam), Trinity Jo-Li Bliss (Tuktirey), Bailey Bass (Tsireya), Filip Geljo (Aonung), Duane Evans, Jr. (Rotxo), CCH Pounder (Mo'at), Matt Gerald (Corporal Lyle Wainfleet), Alicia Vela-Bailey (Zdinarsk), CJ Jones (Metkayina interpreter).
    Humans: Jack Champion (Spider), Joel David Moore (Dr. Norm Spellman), Edie Falco (General Frances Ardmore), Brendan Cowell (Captain Mick Scoresby), Jemaine Clement (Dr. Ian Garvin), Dileep Rao (Dr. Max Patel), Giovanni Ribisi (Parker Ribisi).
    Studios: Stone Street Studios (Wellington, NZ), MBS Media Campus (Manhattan Beach, CA).
    Filming dates: 25 Sep 2017.
    Languages: English, Na'vi.
    192 min
    London premiere: 6 Dec 2022.
    US premiere: 16 Dec 2022.
    Finnish premiere: 14 Dec 2022, released by Walt Disney Motion Pictures Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Timo Porri / Janne Staffans.
    3D HFR DCP viewed at Finnkino Strand 1, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 17 Dec 2022.

AA: I liked the original Avatar (2009) 13 years ago, as I liked Titanic in 1997.

First impressions of Avatar: The Way of Water: there is an irresistible, compelling drive. Although James Cameron had given his permission to go to pee during the movie, I did not go, nor did I glance at my watch, and it took a long while until I was able to start to take notes.

James Cameron belongs to what I call the architectonic-industrial school of the cinema: these directors are like generals or urban planners designing huge public spaces and spectacles. The Way of Water is a new amazing achievement in this major current of popular cinema.

One of the best pieces on James Cameron I know is Daniel Mendelsohn's essay on Avatar in The New York Review of Books. Mendelsohn's point of reference is The Wizard of Oz, Cameron's favourite movie. Like in The Wizard of Oz, there is in Avatar a visual contrast between the drab monotonous world of normality and the staggering colour and the ravishing light from beyond. Mendelsohn names Cameron's visual look, already familiar from The Abyss, "bioluminescence". Mendelsohn found visual ravishment the principal experience of the movie, enhanced by the "surprisingly subtle use of 3-D technology". (I blogged about Mendelsohn in 2010.)

The use of 3-D technology is much more advanced in The Way of Water, and the 3D High Frame Rate (48 fps) presentation I experienced was impeccable. But as in the first Avatar, I noticed the preference for cold colours. Although a celebration of life is intended, the colour world is that of death. Anyway, the waterworld is breathtaking in 3D, the deep focus unique, the composition in depth stunning all the way.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) was the first film I saw in 3-D HFR. It was ultra-sharp and superior to previous 3-D experiences, but the ultra-sharpness also emphasized the uncanniness. The ambiguity remains in The Way of Water, but it is getting more refined.

Avatar: The Way of Water is a science fiction epic, a cyberpunk tale, a disaster film, a dystopia about ecocatastrophe, a fantasy, a myth, a war film and a guerrilla hero saga.

It is not a film of psychological subtlety or immortal dialogue. But it creates compelling worlds of imagination. It is about escapism, but also about the impossibility of escape: everywhere we find ourselves.

In the first Avatar we had destroyed the Earth and attacked Pandora to exploit its resources and suppress indigenous peoples. The war starts again in the sequel. Warlords of "the sky people" (= us) who have already died are resurrected as recoms. They can also assume the form of the indigenous Na'avi.

We encounter a whole new world of sea tribes, the Metkayina clan, and a new and original universe of visual fantasy is introduced. A central role is played by intelligent sea creatures, the tulkun, sentient, whale-like creatures. The entire ecosystem is interconnected in peaceful harmony. Other new creatures include the ilu and the skimwing.

As a poet of the ocean Cameron is a follower of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Rachel Carson. He has explored the oceanic theme before in Titanic, The Abyss, Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. The Way of Water takes the Cameronian "bioluminescence", the term coined by Daniel Mendelsohn, to the next level.

Cameron also connects with the greatest sea tale of all, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. When the "sky-people" attack the tulkun, the usually peaceful creatures finally react like the white whale.

Because life on Pandora is based on peace, love and harmony, it is vulnerable to the brutal attack of the sky people. The fact that the most evil power can brutalize all is one of the greatest tragedies in history. In The Way of Water, the war between the physically superior imperialists and the weaker guerrilla people evokes Russia's Feldzug in Ukraine and the USA's Quixotic attacks in Vietnam and Irak.

At stake is the pacifist's dilemma. The principle of "resist no evil" is an expression of the highest order: the reverence for life. Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King lived as they taught and were executed or murdered. Did they lose? It is too early to tell. By dying for their cause they became immortal. Leo Tolstoy was devastated when the Czar's Imperial Guard massacred Father Gapon's peaceful demonstrators on St. Petersburg's Bloody Sunday in 1905, a turning-point leading to the violence in 1917.

As always, James Cameron creates strong female roles. Men are incarnations of the death drive. Women are the carriers of the life force. The young generation features prominently. Indigenous Maori actors are highlighted in this film largely produced in New Zealand.

The Avatar movies are milestones of animation, and in animation, human or humanoid characters are still far from being as engaging as actors in regular live action movies. There is still the uncanny valley: it is inherently difficult to relate to digital humanoids. James Cameron has created many fantastic worlds of imagination. The characters inhabiting the Pandora worlds are not yet irresistibly memorable, but they might be in the process of becoming so.

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