Director James Cameron’s long-awaited “Avatar: The Way of Water” closed out the Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century panel at the D23 Expo Saturday by handing out 3-D glasses to everyone in the audience and showing off new footage.
The new clips weren’t released online, but stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang and producer Jon Landau were there in person to introduce the footage. Cameron appeared virtually to debut the exclusive D23 clips, but surprisingly, he did not provide any advance context for what the audience was about to see: No introduction as to who the characters are, what their relationships are to each other, or how each scene connects to the larger story. Indeed, whatever the larger story is for “The Way of Water” remains rather unclear after the presentation, beyond the Na’vi avatar of Lang’s (seemingly resurrected) character Quaritch menacing the family of Worthington’s Sully and Saldaña’s Neytiri.
Coming 13 years after the release of the original film, Cameron’s follow-up focuses on the oceans of Pandora, as new performance capture technology has been developed specifically for Cameron to shoot scenes underwater. Many of the film’s cast had to learn how to free dive and hold their breath underwater to be able to perform their necessary scenes.
The first scene unveiled at the D23 Expo was the best showcase for the underwater work, in which several younger Na’vi jump into a coral reef and swim around hundreds of vividly rendered aquatic wildlife. Some of the creatures can clearly breathe underwater, while others had to rise to the surface to gasp for air.
The second scene focused on the young Na’vi character played by Weaver, who watches video of Weaver’s character from the first film, Dr. Grace Augustine. Grace’s avatar from that movie is housed in a watery container, but otherwise seems unconscious (and perhaps not alive at all).
Returning cast members include Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi and Matt Gerald. Weaver returns in a different role after her original character, Dr. Grace Augustine, dies near the end of the 2009 film. She plays Kiri, Jake and Neytiri’s adoptive teenage daughter, thanks to the magic of Disney’s de-aging technology and Cameron’s CGI special effects. New cast members include Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement, Michelle Yeoh and Vin Diesel.
The film’s initial teaser trailer opened in theaters in front of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” before premiering online, showing a selection of scenes from the sequel backed by a serene score from Simon Franglen, the film’s composer.
20th Century Studios produced the film, with Cameron and Jon Landau producing on a budget of about $250 million. Three more films for the franchise are currently in development, with release dates set for 2024, 2026 and 2028.
“The Way of Water” is set for a holiday season release in theaters on December 16.
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