Wwe heard about the Avatar 2 trailer long before we saw it. Last month, the Hollywood Reporter found itself with the unenviable task of describing footage from Avatar: The Way of Water that was shown to theatrical exhibitors during CinemaCon. And, judging by the review, it was a spectacle of such impressive immensity that it could only realistically be rivaled by the second coming of Christ.
Variety wrote breathlessly: “Exhibitors were immersed in different regions of the dazzling world of Pandora through panoramic images of the planet’s crystal blue oceans and lakes.” Forbes, meanwhile, was so impressed by the nonstop 3D extravaganza that he claimed Avatar had “won” CinemaCon. The message from anyone who watched the trailer was clear: Avatar is back and ready to blow your mind again.
Well, luckily for us, the Avatar 2 trailer went online yesterday, giving us humble non-exhibitors a chance to get our brains splashed out of the back of our skulls, too. And, looking at it, there’s a good chance we all had the same thought at the same time. Wait, are we seeing what they saw?
Because the trailer that appeared on YouTube is actually not particularly spectacular. Some Na’vi jump on a tree. A kind of lizard bird flies over the water. Some characters swim a bit. It looks like Sam Worthington’s character is doing his best to hold back a fart. And aside from the soundtrack, which is effectively the sound of Enya passing out from boredom and landing on a synth, that’s about it.
Look, Avatar happened a long time ago. And, even though his cultural prestige has long since been eroded by the deadly onslaught of superhero movies, people loved it at the time. They were able to go to the movies and wear a special pair of glasses and be blown away by the best images 2009 could muster. I saw Avatar in the cinema twice, for example. However, can I remember a single thing about it? Not really. There were blue people, and something called unobtanium, and a man in a rage copying the final act of Aliens with all his might, but that’s about it.
If James Cameron is serious about turning a long-dormant franchise like Avatar back into a going concern – and he is, as his endless convoy of planned sequels will attest – then this trailer seems a bit like a step in false. There is no trace of premise here, nor character, nor any actual action to speak of. Instead, we get a minute and a half of nice scenery. It’s like being held hostage to look at someone’s vacation photos.
Now, there’s a chance that my viewing conditions aren’t exactly ideal. Avatar has always been about seeing something beautiful on a giant screen, through special lenses that make you feel completely immersed. That’s how CinemaCon attendees got to see the trailer, and perhaps that explains their shocked reactions. Meanwhile, I watched it on a four-inch YouTube window on my desk on a sunny day while eating an apple. The conditions couldn’t be more mundane, and you suspect that James Cameron would melt like a villain from Indiana Jones if he ever caught someone sullying his work like that.
But that’s how nine million people, and counting, have experienced the trailer. Many, many more people have seen it on laptops, phones or smart watches to cry out loud than in theaters. And that will also extend to the film itself. For everyone who will pay to see Avatar 2 in theaters as Cameron intended, many more will wait for it to appear for free on Disney+. And if the best thing about the movie is beautiful landscapes that can only be seen properly through 3D glasses, that could be a problem.
But it is still early. In truth, the Avatar 2 trailer felt less like a trailer and more like a tech demo. We still have months before the movie is released. Maybe in the next trailer, things could really happen. Wouldn’t that be a novel?