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Visually stunning eco-worship


WORLD Radio - Visually stunning eco-worship

James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water is technically thrilling but the storyline suffers

This image released by 20th Century Studios shows Kate Winslet, as Ronal, left, and Cliff Curtis, as Tonowari, in a scene from "Avatar: The Way of Water." 20th Century Studios via Associated Press

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, December 16th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a sequel to the biggest movie of all time.

Thirteen years ago Avatar became a phenomenon, making almost $3 billion world wide. It currently holds the record for highest grossing movie ever.

EICHER: Today, the long-awaited sequel Avatar: The Way of Water arrives in theaters. But will it live up to the original? Here’s arts and media editor Collin Garbarino.

AUDIO: [Avatar music]

COLLIN GARBARINO: Let’s start with perhaps the most important detail about James Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water. The movie is more than 3 hours long—3 hours and 12 minutes to be exact. And since 3D costs extra, seeing the new Avatar in the theaters turns out to be pretty costly in both time and money. Is it worth it? Well… that depends on what you’re looking for.

The movie begins more than a decade after the events of the first Avatar, when a scrappy band of blue natives called Na’vi defeated the humans trying to exploit the resources of the alien planet Pandora. Sam Worthington returns as Jake Sully, the disabled human marine who joins the native Na’vi tribe after his consciousness is transferred to an alien body. Zoe Saldaña is back as his Na’vi wife Neytiri.

Jake and Neytiri are busy raising their family. At the film’s opening they have four human/Na’vi hybrid kids and serve as unofficial parents for an orphaned human boy nicknamed “Spider.”

JAKE: The humans are returning. They’re hunting us.

NEYTIRI: What is our plan?

But the humans, or “sky people” as the Na’vi call them, come back, and they don’t just plan to mine Pandora’s resources. They plan to turn the planet into the new home for humanity since humans have ruined Earth’s ecosystem.

The first thing on the humans’ list of things to do is find Jake and kill him. The Sully family flees their home in Pandora’s forest seeking refuge among the Na’vi who live in the sea.

TONOWARI: Why do you come to us?

JAKE: I just want to keep my family safe.

These Na’vi are different from the forest dwellers with green skin instead of blue and thicker arms and tails for swimming.

TONOWARI: Treat them as our brothers and sisters. Teach them our ways.

TK: Keep up forest boy.

Cameron introduces viewers to an entirely new aspect of Pandora. And the Sully family must adapt to a new way of life, even while the threat of discovery still looms.

The original Avatar earned its accolades from its stunning special effects and use of 3D technology. But the script was a little predictable and preachy. This sequel surpasses the original in both the highs and the lows.

LO’AK: The way of water connects all things. Before your birth and after your death.

James Cameron has been pushing the technical boundaries of filmmaking for his whole career. In the ’80s he created groundbreaking effects for Terminator and Aliens. Then in the ’90s he upped the ante with Terminator 2 and Titanic. 2009’s Avatar merged live-action and computer-generated imagery in an immersive 3D world unlike anything movie goers had seen before.

The Way of Water is a technical triumph. Big water set pieces have always been a challenge for Hollywood, and Cameron’s mastered it. He even created new technology to film the actors with motion-capture cameras while free diving. The end product is crazy good. It’s beautiful and dizzying, and the 3D aspect is subtle enough to enhance the experience without calling attention to the technology.

JAKE: I know one thing. Wherever we go, this family is our fortress.

The movie is visually exhilarating, but it suffers from the same problems as the original. The movie is punishingly long, and its thin storyline with its cast of imminently forgettable characters don’t provide much payoff. You’ll have trouble remembering even the main characters' names after the movie’s over. And the eco-warrior plot about saving the planet feels even more derivative this second time round since it mostly rehashes the events of the original Avatar movie.

JAKE: So what is it?

KIRI: I feel her, Dad.

JAKE: Feel who?

KIRI: Eywa. I hear her breathing. I hear her heartbeat. She’s so close. She’s just there. Like a word about to be spoken.

The biggest change is that the story focuses on Jake and Neytiri’s kids. But Cameron opts for chichéd teenage drama instead of offering a satisfying story about family.

LO’AK: I’m a warrior like you. I’m supposed to fight.

We see too many familiar tropes. There’s the stern father and the moody son who don’t understand each other. We get a predictable sibling rivalry. There’s an awkward teenage girl who feels different. We get a lesson in teenage bullying. And don’t forget the teenagers who fall in love despite their differing backgrounds.

LO’AK: Outcast. That’s all they see.

TSIREYA: I see you.

There aren’t many surprises in this film. The scenes proceed about how you would expect, and the subplot keeps preaching the idea that the earth is our goddess mother.

The movie is rated PG-13 for strong language, violence, and partial nudity. Let’s be honest—those little bits of flower petals and seaweed don’t cover much of the Na’vi women’s chests. The skimpy attire gets even more cringey in this sequel since most of the protagonists are so young.

Also a little cringey is the way Cameron depicts the green-skinned Na’vi as being Pandora’s version of New Zealand’s Maori people. He crosses the line from inspiration to caricature when they launch into a war haka.

This film promoting eco-worship has plenty of faults, but its groundbreaking effects are visually stunning. I don’t think the movie will translate well to the small screen. If you want to experience the immersive effects, go see it on the biggest screen you can find, and maybe spring for 3D. Be warned the spectacle is impressive, but the story isn’t worth the time or money.

If you don’t see it in the theater, you shouldn’t bother seeing it at all.

I’m Collin Garbarino.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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