OWe heard about the Avatar 2 trailer long before we saw it. Last month, The Hollywood Reporter found itself tasked with the unenviable task of describing footage from Avatar: The Way of Water that was shown to theatrical exhibitors during CinemaCon. And, judging by the writing, it was a sight of such awe-inspiring vastness that it could never realistically be rivaled except by the second coming of Christ.
Variety breathlessly wrote, “Exhibitors were immersed in different regions of the dazzling world of Pandora through panoramic images of the planet’s crystal blue oceans and lakes.” Forbes, meanwhile, was so blown away by the nonstop 3D extravaganza that it claimed Avatar “won” CinemaCon. The message from everyone who saw the trailer was clear: Avatar is back and ready to knock you down again.
Well, luckily for us, the Avatar 2 trailer went live yesterday, giving us humble non-exhibitors a chance to get our brains splashed on the back of our skulls as well. And, looking at it, chances are we all had the same thought at the same time. Wait, are we watching what they watched?
Because the trailer that dropped on YouTube really isn’t particularly spectacular. Some Na’vi jump through a tree. A kind of lizard bird flies above the water. Some characters bathe a bit. Sam Worthington’s character seems to be doing his best to hold back a fart. And, aside from the soundtrack – which is actually the sound of Enya passing out from boredom and landing on a synthesizer – that’s about it.
Listen, Avatar happened a long time ago. And, even though its cultural cachet has long since been eroded by the endless onslaught of superhero movies, people loved it back then. They got to go to the movies and wear a special pair of glasses and be blown away by all the best visuals 2009 could muster. I saw Avatar in the cinema twice, for example. However, can I remember one thing about it? Not really. There were blue people, and something called unobtanium, and an angry man ripping off the latest Aliens act as hard as he could, but that’s about it.
If James Cameron is serious about reviving a long-dormant franchise like Avatar – and he is, as his endless convoy of planned sequels will testify – then this trailer feels like a bit of a faux pas. . There’s no hint of a premise here, nor a character, nor any live action to speak of. Instead, we are given a minute and a half of beautiful scenery. It’s like being held hostage to look at someone’s vacation photos.
Now, there’s a chance that my viewing conditions aren’t exactly ideal. Avatar has always been about looking at something beautiful on a giant screen, through special glasses that make you feel completely immersed. That’s how CinemaCon attendees got to see the trailer, and perhaps that explains their amazed reactions. Meanwhile, I watched it on a four-inch YouTube window at my desk on a sunny day while eating an apple. The terms couldn’t be more mundane, and you suspect James Cameron would melt like an Indiana Jones villain if he caught anyone messing up their work like that.
But that’s how nine million people, and counting, experienced the trailer. Many, many more people watched it on laptops, phones, or smartwatches to cry aloud than in cinemas. And that will also extend to the film itself. For all those who will pay to see Avatar 2 in theaters as Cameron planned, dozens more will be waiting for it to appear for free on Disney+. And if the best thing the movie has going for it is beautiful landscapes that can only be properly appreciated through 3D glasses, that might be a problem.
But it’s still early. In truth, the Avatar 2 trailer felt less like a trailer and more like a tech demo. We still have months before the movie comes out. Maybe in the next trailer, things could actually happen. Wouldn’t that be new?