You would be forgiven for being a little cynical about the way Cameron waxes poetic about the artistry of “Avatar” beyond its sense of craft. Even when it first came out, critics and general audiences were clearly far more taken with the movie’s visuals and the cinematic experience it offered than they were its scripted elements (which were praised for having progressive environmental and anti-imperialist themes but derided for relying on regressive tropes like the White Savior).
In his defense, Cameron seems at least somewhat aware of this. When interviewed by The Marianne Williamson Podcast in 2021, he explained the experience of watching “Avatar” is what he’s referring to when he talks about the “third level” the film works on:
“There was a tertiary level as well… It was a dreamlike sense of a yearning to be there, to be in that space, to be in a place that is safe and where you wanted to be. Whether that was flying, that sense of freedom and exhilaration, or whether it’s being in the forest where you can smell the earth. It was a sensory thing that communicated on such a deep level. That was the spirituality of the first film.”
Indeed, those sensory aspects were very much essential to making “Avatar” such a runaway hit with the masses. It’s a rare quality that would have been tough enough for a follow-up to recapture eight years ago, much less in the modern movie landscape. Perhaps it’s for the best, then, that Cameron didn’t hesitate to toss out his original sequel script draft. You never bet against James Cameron, as the saying goes, but even he knows he needs to put his strongest foot forward here.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” opens in theaters on December 16, 2022.