Ahead of the first Avatar sequel, subtitled The Way of Water, hitting theaters this December, the original science-fiction spectacle from James Cameron is getting a limited run re-release in theaters beginning Sept. 23. And to that esteemed writer-director-producer, that's the only true way to immerse yourself in the world.
"If you're under 22 or 23 years of age, it's very, very unlikely that you've seen the film in a movie theater, which, in a way, kind of means you haven't seen the film," said Cameron during a press conference for the re-release. "We authored the film for the big screen in 3D, and now we've remastered it in 4K and high dynamic range and some 48 frames per second sections in the film. It's looking better than it ever looked."
Avatar, which was originally released in 2009, is set in the mid-22nd century during the colonization of Pandora, a habitable moon of a gas giant that contains a valuable mineral humans want. Mining this mineral is a threat to the environment, and the local Indigenous tribe, the Na'vi. Humans use the titular avatars to operate genetically engineered Na'vis in order to interact on Pandora, which is how human Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Na'vi Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) fall in love.
"Some of you play these other worldly characters with big eyes and cat tails and all that," Cameron said to his actors. "I think it took us out of our day-to-day problems, it took us out of our day-to-day political discourse and the chaos and disorderliness of real life, and it took us to a place where yes, there's there's conflict, there's all sorts of important things going on, but it's all through a lens of fantasy or science fiction."
The film earned mostly positive critical reviews, earning a Metascore of 83, and became the highest-grossing film of all-time at the box office. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that the studio (20th Century Studios) signed on for more original stories within this world, let alone the opportunity to bring it back to theaters. But the story's themes may be timelier than ever.
"This is a story about a young guy that went to another planet, and he was looking for something — looking to belong — and he found in another culture that didn't he really know anything about. Personally, I think that sense of belonging permeates with all of us: We're all kind of looking for our own little plan, our own clique, our group of people that can comfort us and give us confidence and then we can learn from, and I think there there's something in that that's very interesting," Worthington said.
Saldaña echoed that sentiment, noting that she felt like she was having an "out of body experience" when she first saw the film on the big screen, perhaps in part because of how much she felt she had grown from start to finish of production.
"I do feel that being a part of Avatar was my Juilliard," she explained. "It was an environment that was very playground-like and therefore, it was very free. I remember Jim saying so many times, 'There's no such thing as as a mistake: you just try it and if we don't like, at least we tried it.' And I also would hear him say to other people, 'If I'm coming at you because something isn't working and you come at me with some bullsh-- story, you better just tell me "I don't know what happened, sir."' I remember that! I remember going, 'Don't ever have everything to say; when you don't know, you just don't know, and let's keep finding it.' So, that is just that that's definitely something that I'm practicing in my career and now as a mother, I get to pass some of those teachings to my kids."
For Sigourney Weaver, who played Dr. Grace Augustine in the original film and will now play her Na'vi daughter in the sequel, the important scientific details the film delivers is also a reason the story is worth revisiting in big ways.
"Jim had given the world, the audience, and certainly my character this whole universe of a new flora and fauna, taking it so seriously — and the Na'vi with the own language and all of that. Even the things that seem impossible, like the floating mountains, is science, incredibly. And so, I was so proud to be part of the science of all of this, so that you're not dumbing down for the mass audience; in fact, you're lifting them up — you're giving them new ways to think about things," she said.
"I think when we're kids, we just innately love nature — we love animals, we love being out in nature — and as our lives progress, we become more and more away from nature," Cameron added. "And I think society at large anywhere in the world is suffering from nature deficit disorder of some kind, to some degree. And I think that this movie puts us back into that childlike wonder about nature's grandeur complexity and beauty."