More than a decade following the 2009 release of “Avatar,” director James Cameron and the cast of the box office hit returned to screens to close out the 2022 movie season. The story of the original Avatar movies follows characters Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) in the fictional world of Pandora that inhabits blue beings called “Na’vi.” With stunning visuals and larger-than-life motion capture and computer generated imagery (CGI), director James Cameron and the production team behind him have not only broken new technological ground, but improved upon the original film in just about every aspect.
The 2009 film made history in the movie industry for its $2 billion dollar box office standing, as well as being one of the major big budget films that contributed to the commercialization and popularization of 3D movies. 13-years later, the sequel titled “Avatar: The Way of the Water” garnered anticipation for the future of the franchise and has already broken box office records.
The film brings in much talent, including veteran actors like Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, and some incredible young talent including actors like Britain Dalton, Jamie Flatters, Bailey Bass and Jack Champion.
The first movie was a wonder for its time, using extensive and innovative CGI and motion capture technology, not to mention the film has held the top spot as the highest grossing box office film for over a decade, the long-awaited sequel made sure to exceed expectations and up the game from the first movie.
Narratively, James Cameron raises the emotional stakes by giving our protagonist, Jake and Neytiri, a litter of children, all while under the threat of mass destruction and colonization of their home. This time around, the family is forced to leave their home and seek refuge from a neighboring clan called the “Metkayina” who are anchored in the essence of the oceans and teach the family “the way of the water.”
An interesting element of the movie was the children and their reflections on the values that the movie highlights, such as family, spirituality and a deep connection to nature. Characters Neteyem (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) strikingly reflect the character traits and behaviors of their parents in the original movie, by design. Doing so strengthened the emotional backbone of the film. The movie walks the line between potent social commentary and engaging its audience in its imagery, but the parallels between real history involving colonization, forced assimilation and displacement are hard to ignore.
Sophomore political science majors Samira El-Amin and Natalia Wilson picked up on these not-so-subtle callbacks to reality upon seeing the film for the first time.
“I definitely think that the movie intends to draw parallels to real world events,” El-Amin said. “Of course this was evident in the first movie in terms of the humans forcing assimilation in schools and then ultimately attempting to push the Na’vi out of their home. With the second movie, it’s clear that the parallels continue.”
“Avatar: The Way of the Water” takes it a step further and includes the idea of stolen resources and destruction of sacred bonds between people and nature by introducing and endangering whale-like creatures called the “tulkun” within the story.
“With the Metkayina tribe, it is clear that inspiration is drawn from Māori people, but I think that James Cameron tows the line carefully enough between appropriation and appreciation,” Wilson said. “Even with their tribal markings, they are visibly much different than Māori people.”
The separation between mimicking and drawing inspiration reflects in the work put behind creating the fictional beings.
“I have to commend James Cameron for hiring someone to create a full Na’vi language, both verbal and sign,” Wilson continued. “Also, the way it seamlessly transitions to English for the viewer, despite the characters speaking Na’vi during the entire film, was a thoughtful way to make the film more accessible to everyone everywhere.”
The franchise is expected to release three more movies between now and 2028. The next film is set to explore a whole new group of Na’vi people, covering yet another element of nature: fire. In an interview with French outlet “20 minutes,” Cameron explained how these two films are just “a way to set the table before serving the meal.”
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