Sequel Saturday: Ambitious Avatar 2, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
In a recent interview with Collider, WETA Digital’s senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri notes that “I think what we’re trying to do for the Avatar sequels will be the most ambitious things we’ve ever tried.” Quite the bold statement coming from a special effects house that has worked on two trilogies based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, not to mention a slew of upcoming flicks like The Fantastic Four and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There is also mention that part of Avatar 2 will take place underwater.
Writer-director James Cameron is no stranger to water. From Piranha Part Two: The Spawning to The Abyss and Titanic, water has played a central part in most of his legendary filmography. He also directed a trio of lesser-known documentaries on underwater expeditions from 2002 to 2005. Part of the challenge with Avatar 2 will be doing convincing motion capture for underwater scenes. A true highlight of the original Avatar was its vivid depiction of alien flora and fauna. One can only imagine what colorful fishies lie below the deep blue oceans of Pandora.
A more interesting point is how audiences might respond to a new Avatar film over half a decade since the first; the sequel is set for a December 2016 release. Avatar came out in 2009, not only setting box office records but also kicking off the modern renaissance of 3D movies. Movie theaters across the world upgraded from film to digital projectors, and the allure of higher ticket prices for 3D showings was the Trojan horse that brought them in. And yet 3D is no longer the novelty it once was. According to Wikipedia, in 2011 there were 73 3D films released in 3D theatrically worldwide. Now there are HDTVs and cable channels allowing you to watch content in 3D from the comfort of your own home; the disappointing sales of 3D TVs have led to the current push of 4K TVs, which is a totally separate (if interesting) topic not germane to this discussion.
More importantly, few came out of Avatar harping on how great the characters and plot were. The inherent pro-environmentalist plot of Avatar either turns audiences on or off. I rolled my eyes at the big attack on the tree at the end, yet a woman sitting in the row in front of me was wailing “The trees. Not the trees!” during the whole climactic battle sequence. I have no doubt Avatar 2 will be a visual treat; say what you will of some of the films they’ve worked on, but WETA Digital is up there with ILM as far as top-tier FX work is concerned. Whether the story and 3D imagery (and maybe even a big 48 FPS push, which we haven’t seen on a grand scale yet aside from a few showings of the Hobbit films) of Avatar 2 will eclipse the original’s $2.7 billion gross remains to be seen.