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D23 – Avatar: The Way of Water Footage Description, The Higher Framerate Is Jarring

It’s been a lifetime and a couple of pandemics, the last time Avatar was in theaters, but we’re getting one step closer to Avatar: The Way of the Water. During the Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century panel at the D23 Expo, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang and producer Jon Landau were there in person to show off new footage (a series of clips) and there was a mixed reaction. 

As James Cameron appeared virtually to debut the exclusive D23 clips, but awkwardly, no one provided any context for what was about to be shown, including no explanation of characters, their relationships with each other, or even what the scene was about and their connection to the plot of the movie. With only 3 months and 6 days until the movie’s release, we generally know the Na’vi avatar of Lang’s (who is now alive) character, Quaritch, is menacing the family of Worthington’s Sully and Saldaña’s Neytiri. Basically, he has the same motivations from 13 years ago. 

What is known is this: Way of the Water focuses on the oceans of Pandora and involves new performance capture technology specifically developed for the movie’s underwater scenes. Unlike Aquaman, the cast had to learn how to free dive and hold their breath underwater to be able to perform their scenes. We also know Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) have a family in this new movie (we’ll get back to that).

The first scene was used to showcase the technology used for the underwater sequence and follows Jake and Neytiri, and the children as they visit a tribe of water dwelling Na’vi. They all jump into the ocean and swim around playful fish and other marine life, as they interact with the water tribe. While this tribe is Na’vi, they have different physical properties – with flat tails they use to propel themselves through the water. They also have fin-like forearms. Some of the creatures can clearly breathe underwater, while others had to rise to the surface to gasp for air. 

The second scene focused on a teenaged Na’vi character played by Sigourney Weaver, who watches video of Weaver’s character from the first film, Dr. Grace Augustine. Grace’s avatar from that movie is housed in a watery container, but otherwise seems unconscious (or possibly dead). 

While there was confusion regarding how it all connects, it’s very clear these scenes were shown to get people excited about the feel of The Way of the Water. The movie was filmed at a high frame rate (48 frames per second instead of the usual 24 frames per second) and the film will be in 3D HFR. 

In basic terms, it makes the audience feel like they’re in the water swimming alongside the characters instead of just watching the events unfold. There are moments that have startled the audience (in the best way) and, with the added 3D immersion, once again, the cinematography coupled with the technology is more memorable than the script. 

While there were no issues with the first clip shown, because of the high framerate, the second clip felt like someone forgot to turn off the motion smoothing. It felt so real, it was unreal and over time it was a weird experience. However, with a runtime of three hours, the higher frame rate will be easier to digest.

Returning cast members include Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi and Matt Gerald. Weaver returns in a different role after her original character, Dr. Grace Augustine, dies near the end of the 2009 film. She plays Kiri, Jake and Neytiri’s adoptive teenage daughter, thanks to the magic of Disney’s de-aging technology and Cameron’s CGI special effects. New cast members include Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement, Michelle Yeoh and Vin Diesel.

The Way of Water will release in theaters on December 16th.

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