We heard about the Avatar 2 trailer, long before we saw it. Last month, the Hollywood Reporter found itself lumbered with the unenviable task of describing footage of Avatar: The Way of Water that was shown to theatrical exhibitors during CinemaCon. And, judging by the write-up, it was a spectacle of such awe-inspiring immensity that it could only ever realistically be rivalled by the second coming of Christ.
Variety wrote breathlessly, “Exhibitors were immersed into different regions across the dazzling world of Pandora through sweeping visuals of the planet’s crystal blue oceans and lakes.” Forbes, meanwhile, was so blown away by the non-stop 3D extravaganza that it claimed Avatar had ‘won’ CinemaCon. The message from anyone who saw the trailer was clear: Avatar is back, and ready to knock your socks off all over again.
Well, luckily for us the Avatar 2 trailer went online on 9 May, giving us lowly non-exhibitors a chance to have our brains splattered out of the back of our skulls as well. And, upon watching it, there’s a good chance that we all had the same thought at the same time. Wait, are we watching the thing that they watched?
Because the trailer that dropped on YouTube really isn’t particularly spectacular. Some Na’vi jump across a tree. A sort of lizardy bird thing flies across some water. Some characters go for a bit of a swim. Sam Worthington’s character looks like he’s doing his best to hold in a fart. And, apart from the soundtrack – which is effectively the sound of Enya passing out from boredom and landing on a synthesiser – that’s about it.
Look, Avatar happened a long time ago. And, even though its cultural cachet has long since been eroded by the deathless onslaught of superhero movies, people loved it at the time. They got to go to the cinema and wear a special pair of glasses and be blown away by all the best visuals that 2009 could muster. I saw Avatar at the cinema twice, for example. However, can I remember a single thing about it? Not really. There were blue people, and something called unobtanium, and an angry man ripping off the final act of Aliens as hard as he could, but that’s about it.
If James Cameron is serious about making a long-dormant franchise like Avatar a going concern again – and he is, as his endless convoy of planned sequels will attest – then this trailer seems a bit like a misstep. There isn’t a trace of premise here, or character, or any real action to speak of. Instead, we’re given a minute and a half of nice-looking scenery. It’s like being held hostage to look at someone’s holiday photos.
Now, there is a chance that my viewing conditions aren’t exactly ideal. Avatar has always been about watching something beautiful on a giant screen, through special glasses that make you feel completely immersed. This is how the CinemaCon attendees got to see the trailer, and perhaps that explains their awestruck reactions. Meanwhile, I watched it on a four-inch YouTube window at my desk on a sunny day while eating an apple. The conditions couldn’t be more mundane, and you suspect that James Cameron would melt like an Indiana Jones baddie if he ever caught anyone sullying his work like that.
But this is how nine million people, and counting, have experienced the trailer. Far, far more people have watched it on laptops, or phones, or smartwatches for crying out loud, than in cinemas. And that will also extend to the film itself. For everyone who will pay to see Avatar 2 at the cinema like Cameron intended, scores more will wait for it to turn up for free on Disney+. And if the best thing that the film has going for it is lovely scenery that can only be properly appreciated through 3D glasses, that might be a problem.
But it’s still early days. In truth, the Avatar 2 trailer felt less like a trailer and more like a tech demo. We still have months before the film is released. Maybe in the next trailer, stuff could actually happen. Wouldn’t that be novel?
By Stuart Heritage