It may be the fourth most expensive movie of all time at a reported $350m (£285m) but there seem to be few worries in Tinseltown about Avatar: The Way of Water being able to recoup that huge figure.
Mainly this is because we are talking James Cameron – and indeed Avatar. Disney long ago bet the mouse house that the sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time, now just a few weeks from release, is going to once again deliver us into glorious, high-end stereoscopy.
The Way of Water is currently predicted to take only $150m on its opening weekend in the US, but if it performs anything like the original, people will be turning up to the multiplexes for years to come hoping to grab their fill of 12ft blue space elves, sentient trees and evil human invaders in mech-suits.
Cameron is certainly counting on people going multiple times ; in a new interview he even suggests it doesn’t matter if we all need the loo half way through the three-hour film, because we can catch the bits we missed the next time around. This is some level of confidence, but perhaps we’re all forgetting how much of a Big Deal the first Avatar was.
I remember catching the film four times at the cinema, twice at Imax cinemas in London and twice on standard screens elsewhere. Watching Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully enter the spectacular world of the Na’vi in glorious Imax 3D was like having one’s eyes popped full of sugar serum and dosed with premium LSD. On normal screens … well, you would probably have had a better time at home in front of the telly.
This, I suspect, is the real reason that the hype surrounding The Way of Water has been middling to say the least. Where once Avatar was a majestic, psychedelic and spine-tingling big-screen trip into 3D sensuality, for the last five years or so it has been the silly-looking space fantasy that pops up every now and again as an option on Amazon Prime. We needed a sequel to get us excited about the forest moon of Pandora all over again, and Cameron roundly refused to give us one until it was ready.
The Canadian film-maker told the Hollywood Reporter about how his own parenting problems inspired him to centre The Way of Water on family. “I thought, ‘I’m going to work out a lot of my stuff, artistically, that I’ve gone through as a parent of five kids,’” he says. “The overarching idea is, the family is the fortress. It’s our greatest weakness and our greatest strength. I thought, ‘I can write the hell out of this. I know what it is to be the asshole dad.’”
It has to be said, this doesn’t sound quite as inspiring a premise as some of Cameron’s previous sci-fi offerings. Bunch of cocky Yank space marines get mullered by relentless, acid-blooded, multiple-jawed extra terrestrials from the seventh layer of Hades? Sign me up! Robot from the impending AI apocalypse comes back in time to murder the future leader of the human resistance? I’ll buy that for a dollar!
Giant blue space elves vie to fend off the same human meanies we saw last time while learning a lot about the importance of family in the process? It somehow doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Yet we should give Cameron the benefit of the doubt. At the age of 68, the arch sci-fi storyteller is ready to make at least another three of these films and even has plans for a further two episodes that will probably be directed by other people. Having moved into Peter Jackson’s old office in Wellington, Cameron is contemplating taking New Zealand citizenship as he searches for the perfect working environment to keep pumping out more tales of Pandora. Frankly, he couldn’t be more invested in Avatar if he tattooed himself from head to toe in cyan like Ben Stiller in that infamous Oscars sketch, especially when the film-maker himself admits he’ll probably be close to 90 by the time we find out how all this ends up.
Goodness knows how many sentient trees will have had to die, not to mention how many Na’avi great-grandchildren Sully and Neytiri will have spawned by the time we get to Avatar part seven. It frankly doesn’t bear thinking about.
But if Cameron really expects us to keep paying good money to see these films, he’ll need to ensure that The Way of Water fires up synapses and short-circuits photoreceptors like Avatar did. It won’t be long before we get to find out if the last 13 years were nothing but a tedious 2D fever dream, and the real action was taking place on a gorgeous, phosphorescence-dappled moon somewhere out there in the Milky Way …