Friday, December 30, 2022

Avatar 2: The Way of Cameron

Congratulate me! I have survived a trip to Pandora, and am only slightly water-logged. Yes, I just sat through all three hours and twelve minutes of Avatar: The Way of Water, staying awake most of that time. Never have I ever seen a movie that is both so beautiful and so unrelentingly convoluted. I noticed five people (including director James Cameron) listed in the opening credits as authors of the film’s story. This means five people helped sort out the plotline of this Avatar sequel before three of them went on to collaborate on the actual screenplay. Maybe this authorship-via-committee approach is why we’ve got a “something for everyone” storyline, crammed full of heroics, mysticism, family feelings, outside threats (from, of course, evil earthlings), and covert  ecological messages about saving our home planet.

 I’ve a hunch the writers fully expected us to re-watch the original Avatar the night before viewing this sequel. Avatar was first released, to thunderous acclaim, in 2009, and 13 years later most of us are a bit hazy about the circumstances on Pandora, aside from the fact that Jake Sully, an American military guy who’s among those invading the pristine little planet, eventually goes native. In the followup,.I was totally baffled by what Sigourney Weaver was doing on camera in that one scene, and couldn’t fathom her apparently maternal connection with one of Sully’s Na’vi children. And why does the sequel’s #1 human antagonist, the thoroughly nasty Colonel Miles Quaritch, look big and blue (like the Na’vi) throughout the action? Wikipedia explains it this way: Quaritch is “a human who led the paramilitary division of the RDA in their conflict with the Na'vi. After being killed by Neytiri in the first film, he is one of several RDA soldiers resurrected as recombinants, described as ‘avatars embedded with the memories of human[s].’”To which I can only say, “Huh?”

 But let’s focus on the film’s strengths. The Na’vi, as we discovered in the first Avatar, are fabulous beings. They’re tall, sleek, and noble. Though their anger can be fierce, they’re hardly Blue Meanies. If left to their own devices, they are peace-loving, devoted to the natural world and to one another. And they look absolutely regal (as well as rather sexy) in pretty much no clothing at all. They’re a triumph of Cameron’s use of motion capture to transform human actors into otherworldly beings.  By using the latest in technology, he can have his characters effortlessly do fabulous stunt work, while also interacting with unearthly sea creatures that boggle the viewer’s mind.

 In its undersea sections this Avatar is at its best. Cameron, it seems, is passionate about the ocean. He’s used it as backdrop for movies like The Abyss and (of course) Titanic, not to mention several documentaries.  And he’s had his personal ocean adventures, becoming in 2012 the first person ever to do a solo descent of the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the earth’s waters. While making Avatar: The Way of Water, he required most cast members to become adept at free diving, so that his cameras could capture their movement in the briny deep as well as on land.

 James Cameron got his start in moviemaking as a very novice art director on Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars. The goal at Corman’s New World Pictures was to make films fast and cheap, using tricks like spray-painting McDonald’s hamburger boxes silver and tacking them up to line a spaceship’s walls. Corman films are also notably short. Cameron learned a lot from Roger, but then obviously went his own way.




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