‘Avatar 2’ was originally set to arrive in cinemas in December 2014. It’s March 2017 now, and director James Cameron has revealed the film has been delayed yet again, and will no longer meet its planned 2018 release date.
Cameron took his time with ‘Avatar’, which was released twelve years after his previous feature film ‘Titanic’, and given they’re the two highest-grossing films of all time it makes sense that he’d be given time to develop a sequel.
Not just one sequel either, four, in what is sure to be one of the most expensive film productions in history if the films are indeed set to release in quick succession and be shot back-to-back.
Has too much time passed though, for the ‘Avatar’ sequels to meet or exceed the enormous success of the 2009 original? Here’s why I suspect not.
‘Avatar’s popularity is waning
Sequels are conceived to capitalise on success and popularity, but with each passing year ‘Avatar’ is becoming less popular. This isn’t to say it’s unpopular, but after 7+ years on the shelf any film’s fan base would shrink rather than grow.
The time since that first film has only harmed its reputation too. Again, this isn’t to say the film is bad at all, but after the hype dies down so does public opinion. In turn, the number of people pining for a sequel will have shrunk as well.
To put it another way, it would be much harder to find someone who calls ‘Avatar’ one their favourite films in 2017 than it would have been in 2010.
‘Avatar’s 3D gold rush has already passed
Throughout cinema history, the commercial use of 3D in film has come and gone every 10-15 years. It’s always a fad, but at least the technology has improved with each recurrence.
Upon its release, ‘Avatar’ caused a 3D gold rush, with give-or-take every blockbuster for a good four or five years after getting wide releases in 3D as well as 2D. Predictably, it didn’t last. While 3D cinema is still around, it’s not nearly as omnipresent as it was in 2011 and 2012.
It’s hard to envision 3D technology making a comeback in its former guise, or there being anywhere near the same appetite for it. It was pushed so hard last time that cinema-goers inevitably ended up pushing back in the face of rising costs and 3D side-effects like the loss of image quality.
What it seems Cameron might have up his sleeves for his ‘Avatar’ sequels is glasses-free 3D – a technology that has predominantly been reserved for smaller screens, such as that on the Nintendo 3DS handheld video game console released in 2011.
Speaking at the Society of Motion Picture and Television engineers in November 2016, Cameron said: “I’m going to push. Not only for better tools, workflow, high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rates (HFR) – the things we are working toward…
“I’m still very bullish on 3D, but we need brighter projection, and ultimately I think it can happen – with no glasses. We’ll get there.”
If this is the path Cameron’s films take, it may well convince a mass audience to give 3D another shot. If not, what exactly could Cameron do with glasses-based 3D to entice people?
One of the major contributing factors to ‘Avatar’s success was its pioneering, industry-best use of 3D technology and its mind-blowing special effects. Audiences flocked to cinemas to see it for themselves, what would make them do that again?
I’m not just talking about ‘Avatar 2’
Another reason people saw the original in such huge numbers was that it was Cameron’s first film in over a decade, and his first since ‘Titanic’ – which was popular, to put it mildly.
A similar amount of time will have passed by the time ‘Avatar 2’ sees release, but it’ll be a much shorter span between it and number 3, number 4 and number 5 – assuming Cameron wants to be alive by the time ‘Avatar 5’ is ready to shoot.
So the hype machine will be in overdrive whenever it is ‘Avatar 2’ is released, and that almost always means box office success. However, whether that continues for the third, fourth and fifth films will ultimately depend on the quality of each film, and their ability to retain an audience.
When Cameron’s cutting technology loses its edge and his films are no longer a once-a-decade events, it’s hard to picture the ‘Avatar’ sequels meeting and, crucially, sustaining the success expected of follow-ups to the highest grossing film of all time.