Here's My Initial Reaction to 'Avatar: The Way of Water'
Some quick thoughts on James Cameron's return to Pandora.
Last night, Avatar: The Way of Water was screened for critics for the first time. I was among those lucky enough to be able to see it. This post will contain my quick reaction to the film and some very basic, non-spoilery details.
The “social embargo” lifted yesterday which means that I’m theoretically allowed to share a “social reaction” with you (as opposed to a full review). If you want to read a rundown of early online reactions, you can go to The Hollywood Reporter or Indiewire.
I’m going to be honest: It was mildly painful to sit out being among the early reactions on Twitter last night. I love the energy that comes from being among the first critics to screen a film, then adding my thoughts to the deluge of often-contradictory reports. But I’m trying to move my online presence off of Twitter and at some point, I have to put my money where my mouth is.
So what did I think of Avatar: The Way of Water?
Avatar: The Way of Water has some of the best action filmmaking you are likely to see this year. It is, as expected, a visually spectacular movie with advanced effects and new concepts that are stunning to witness. James Cameron and his team are using this franchise to try to push the art of filmmaking forward and it shows. All the money is up there on the screen.
But in my humble opinion, Avatar: The Way of Water is the Force Awakens of the Avatar franchise, with all the good and bad that that description entails. There are new characters and locations but the movie essentially repeats many of the same story beats, character beats, and even thematic beats from the first film as a means of bringing a whole new generation of filmgoers into this world. (This also means it does pretty much nothing to address any of the reasonable complaints about the first film). As a result, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Cameron’s return to Pandora definitely broke new ground visually, but from a storytelling perspective, it felt like more of the same.
One last thing…
I’ll have much more to say about the film when I start publishing full reviews next week. In the meantime, I have to mention this: The screening I watched had a variable frame rate. This means parts of the movie were projected at 24 frames per second (the normal frame rate for most movies) while other parts had a higher frame rate.
I found this viewing experience to be disorienting and I would NOT recommend it. While the underwater scenes were stunning in the higher frame rates, the frame rate changed very often (frequently mid-scene). I’d estimate there were over 100 frame rate changes during the course of the movie and every time one happened, it destroyed my immersion in the movie. Maybe my screening was atypical in some way, but I desperately wish I could go back in time and just watch the entire film at a consistent frame rate. Of course, your mileage may vary and you may prefer the higher frame rates, but my recommendation is to see this film at a consistent frame rate if possible, although it might not be quite what James Cameron intends.
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