A Decade On, Does Anyone Care That Much About The Avatar Sequel?
The experience of watching James Cameron's CGI Pocahontas tribute, titled Avatar, was truly mind-blowing for its time. It was lavishly funded and perfectly timed — its release co-inciding not only with a moment where trash like 2012 could earn hundreds of millions off the back of dazzling visual effects alone, but a moment where people genuinely thought people would be bulk buying glasses in anticipation of the 3D revolution. Think back to your earliest experiences wandering through JB Hi-Fi. I bet you remember at least one instance of Avatar being displayed on the display TVs in an endless loop.
Once we stepped out of the cinema, it didn't take too long for the world to move on. 3D TVs went the way of HD DVDs and Betamax tapes before them. CGI-led blockbusters, spurred on largely by the rise and rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, became the new norm. Suddenly, the concept of a movie costing $200 million and grossing a billion wasn't an anomaly: it was a benchmark.
In the cold light of day, suddenly Avatar, game-changing as it originally was, didn't seem all that inspiring any more. It was spectacularly, bedazzlingly gorgeous to look at. Now, we've moved even further on. These days, we can Vin Diesel into a tree and Dame Judi Dench into a horrifying anthropomorphic cat. The impossible has become the norm.
The story: a sentimental but not particularly cutting commentary on the arrogance of humanity's colonial nature, was pretty quickly forgotten, and it's fair to say it didn't really rocket its stars to Hemsworthian levels of superstardom either. Call us Sam, we'd love to know what you've been up to.
Looking back on it now, it's hard to remember Avatar as an exciting cinematic prospect for any reason other than the way it looked. But Disney, naturally, are intent on turning it into the franchise it was always probably supposed to be.
In fairness, this seems like something Cameron himself is acutely aware of. "Obviously, expectations are going to be very high on these films, especially on Avatar 2, to make sure it wasn’t just some big fluke the first time," he told Entertainment Weekly. "So we’ve got to deliver. I’ve created a nice rod for my own back, so they say."
And more than a year out from its release, the hype train, as we saw with the Mercedes x Avatar concept car unveiled at CES and the release of concept art from the project, has firmly left the station.
In the #Avatar sequels, you won’t just return to Pandora — you’ll explore new parts of the world.
Check out these brand new concept art pieces for a sneak peek at what’s to come. pic.twitter.com/bfZPWVa7XZ— Avatar (@officialavatar) 7 January 2020
There is no doubt that we're set to spend the next 18 months or so having reminders of Avatar's existence forced down our throats like geese at a foie gras factory. Soon, millions of people will probably wonder why they forgot it in the first place. But it's worth remembering that films, regardless of how much they gross, have to earn their status as cultural icons with good story telling, more so than ever in 2020, with audiences far savvier and cynical than they once were.
The Avatar-inspired Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept makes its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show with a vegan interior, 33 multi-functional flaps that move in synchronization, and an illuminated controller that measures various biometrics including your pulse. #CES pic.twitter.com/i5R4Zown8H— Cole Marzen (@cole_marzen) 8 January 2020
Who knows? Maybe we'll all flock to see Avatar in hopes of re-living the splendour. We all, after all, remember watching the film for the first time, and that might be enough to carry people to the box office. Cameron could even pull off a minor miracle and make Avatar 2 the Empire Strikes Back to the first film's A New Hope. But without setting the basis of having characters (or a story) that lived long in the memory, the challenge Avatar has in re-conquering an audience that is far harder to impress could be extraordinary.