“Avatar” singlehandedly changed the way we see special effects in movies. It started the whole 3-D/IMAX craze. Now you can blame James Cameron if you have to pay $20 to see a romantic comedy in 3-D. It also was a bizarre blend of “The Last of the Mohicans” and “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” That being said, the film broke tons of box office records and made Cameron disgustingly richer. The first of three sequels is due in 2016, seven years after the first film premiered. But are audiences still dying to go back to Pandora?
“Avatar” has such a complicated premise that a solid 45 percent of the film is exposition. Ex-military officer/wheelchair enthusiast Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) arrives on Pandora, a lush planet that resembles the rainforest. Earth businesses have decided to mine mineral deposits of unobtainium, yes you read that right. They have enlisted the help of a scientist played by Sigourney Weaver. She’s an expert on the indigenous species, the Na’vi. She is also somehow an expert in using technology to transfer human consciousness into Na’vi/human hybrid bodies called – wait for it – avatars. Jake is needed because his twin brother died, and they share the same DNA. Jake, in his avatar form, joins Na’vi and falls for the chief’s daughter Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). A significant portion of the film is Jake learning Na’vi customs. The film culminates in a battle between the natives and the invaders from Earth.
Here’s the problem: How do you succinctly recap the first film for newcomers and people who haven’t seen the movie in seven years? “The Matrix” sequels were only four years after the successful first installment. Audiences had lost some of their excitement, and the franchise’s esoteric premise went up its own ass. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is getting released nine years after the original and has lost a fair amount of buzz and a few actors, and some of the stars have faded into obscurity. In Cameron’s defense, the first sequel to “The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was also seven years after the original. The film intelligently factored that time into the world of the characters and shocked audiences with a buffer Linda Hamilton and new terminators. Maybe he can do that for the world of the Na’Vi.
One challenge is “Avatar” is mostly exposition. It has some compelling characters, but the end of the first film brings closure to the four core characters of the film. If you’re living under a rock or refuse to buy the bargain bin copy of “Avatar,” do not finish this paragraph. Jake and Neytiri save Pandora and are married. Grace and main antagonist Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) are dead. The Earth forces leave Pandora. Where else can the story go? It also has the added challenge that so many films have borrowed from “Avatar” any callbacks to the original will feel dated and cliché.
What’s scary is the film has not geared up one sequel or to make the film a trilogy. Money-hungry Cameron is set to film three sequels back to back and release them through 2018. On the one side, since the first film is mostly exposition there is room for the franchise to head into multiple directions. What are the other tribes of the Na’Vi? Do Earth settlers come back? Does Lord Voldermort, President Snow and the Legion of Doom unite to destroy Pandora? It doesn’t seem like there is enough material to warrant so many sequels. So basically, the first sequel has the added pressure of providing fans with an exciting film and creating the demand for two subsequent sequels. Are the giant blue cat people enticing enough to excite audiences again?
The “Avatar” saga is bound to shock audiences with even more advanced special effects and find geek loyalists. It’s bound to make a nice chunk of change for Cameron’s coin purse. Or perhaps like the sketch from “Robot Chicken,” it will just be blue rabbits fucking.