‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Previews 3-D Footage to Close Out D23 Panel

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Director James Cameron’s long-awaited “Avatar: The Way of Water” closed out the Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century panel at the D23 Expo Saturday by handing out 3-D glasses to everyone in the audience and showing off six extended scenes from the movie.

The new clips weren’t released online, but stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang and producer Jon Landau were there in person to introduce the footage. Cameron appeared virtually to debut the exclusive D23 clips, which were richly detailed and made extensive and impressive use of 3-D technology. Surprisingly, however, Cameron did not provide any advance context for what the D23 Expo audience was about to see: No explanation about who the new characters are, what their relationships are to each other, or how each scene connects to the larger story. Indeed, whatever the larger story is for “The Way of Water” remains rather unclear after the presentation, beyond the Na’vi avatar of Lang’s (seemingly resurrected) character Quaritch menacing the family of Worthington’s Sully and Saldaña’s Neytiri.

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Coming 13 years after the release of the original film, Cameron’s follow-up focuses on the oceans of Pandora, as new performance capture technology has been developed specifically for Cameron to shoot scenes underwater. Many of the film’s cast had to learn how to free dive and hold their breath underwater to be able to perform their necessary scenes.

The first scene unveiled at the D23 Expo was the best showcase for the underwater work, in which several younger Na’vi jump into a coral reef and swim around hundreds of vividly rendered aquatic wildlife. 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 Kiri, the young Na’vi character played by Weaver, who watches video of Weaver’s character from the first film, Dr. Grace Augustine, and then looks lovingly at Grace’s (possibly unconscious or deceased) Na’vi avatar from the 2009 movie housed in a watery container. Nearby, two other male characters — one Na’vi, one human — speculate as to who fathered Kiri. The implication is that Grace’s Na’vi avatar was pregnant with Kiri when she expired in the first film, from having sex with another character from that film (specifically, Joel David Moore’s Dr. Norm Spellman). Again, though, the specifics of what all this actually means were left to be filled in another day.

The third scene had by far the most action: Several of the children from the first and second scenes are captured by Quaritch’s marines (most if not all of them are Na’vi avatars), and Sully and Neytiri attack them stealthily to save them. In the fourth scene, those children listen to Sully and Neytiri argue about whether to leave their home to escape Quaritch’s vendetta against them. The fifth scene was perhaps the most confusing, in which one of Sully and Neytiri’s children is castigated by the chieftain of a subset of aquatic Na’vi with green skin and fins running along their arms. The chieftain explains that killing is forbidden, and Sully’s son is among the clan of Na’vi who are killers, so he’s an outcast. The son tries to speak up for himself, but everyone around him, including his parents, scold him for speaking out of turn. In the final scene screened at the D23 Expo, the children are back in the water, learning how to befriend larger aquatic wildlife to learn how to ride them, similar to the flying sequences from the 2009 film.

Returning cast members include Moore, CCH Pounder, Giovanni Ribisi and Matt Gerald, and newcomers include Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, Edie Falco, Jemaine Clement, Michelle Yeoh and Vin Diesel.

The film’s initial teaser trailer opened in theaters in front of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” before premiering online, showing a selection of scenes from the sequel backed by a serene score from Simon Franglen, the film’s composer.

20th Century Studios produced the film, with Cameron and Jon Landau producing on a budget of about $250 million. Three more films for the franchise are currently in development, with release dates set for 2024, 2026 and 2028.

“The Way of Water” is set for a holiday season release in theaters on December 16.

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