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CinemaCon delegates, donning their 3D glasses, gave a wildly enthusiastic welcome to their return to Pandora with a first look at the stunning teaser trailer for James Cameron’s newly titled sequel Avatar: The Way of Water, Wednesday during Disney’s slate presentation in Caesars Palace’s Colosseum.
“We need to make sure [audiences] have an experience they can’t get anywhere else, and that needs to be exclusively in theaters,” said producer Jon Landau in introducing the teaser trailer, which will be released next week, exclusively in theaters, ahead of Disney/Marvel’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Landau additionally announced plans to re-release the original Avatar on Sept. 23 in theaters, with restored picture and sound.
Landau reported that each of the four sequels — the first, The Way of Water, is scheduled for a Dec. 16 release — will center on returning Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, and Na’vi Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldaña, and their family, and the lengths they go to keep each other safe; each is a stand-alone film that “together are an even greater connected epic saga.”
In a story set more than a decade after the events of the first film, the dazzling footage in the teaser trailer focuses on Jake and Neytiri and includes gorgeous shots of Pandora’s bright blue water — both above and below the surface; Toruk, the flying creatures introduced in the first film; and new whale-like creatures.
Returning characters also include Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine and Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch. The film also features some big-name newcomers including Vin Diesel and Cameron’s Titanic star Kate Winslet. Behind-the-scenes talent includes director of photography Russell Carpenter, Cameron’s Oscar-winning Titanic DP. Avatar’s visual effects are back at Weta FX in New Zealand, again led by senior VFX supervisor and four-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri.
Released in 2009, Cameron’s Avatar quickly became the top-grossing film of all time at the worldwide box office, with more than $2.8 billion. It was also credited for ushering in the digital 3D era and introducing new production tools and techniques in areas such as performance capture and virtual production. Its sequel is one of the more anticipated films of the past decade.
“We set out to push the limits to what cinema can do,” said Cameron in a video message from New Zealand, where he’s making the movie. He reminded exhibitors that they are “partners,” adding, “Jon and I are here with you. We can do this.”
As it has in recent years, CinemaCon sponsor Dolby has outfitted the Colosseum — CinemaCon’s main venue — with Dolby Atmos immersive sound and Dolby Vision, meaning they installed the company’s premium 4K, high dynamic range, high frame rate and 3D capable laser-based projection system. This enabled the Avatar 2 filmmakers to put on quite a show.
Cameron, Landau and their Lightstorm Entertainment, along with 20th Century and Disney, is expected to offer Avatar 2 in a wide variety of formats to support the range of theater installations, including the use of 3D, 4K and a high frame rate of 48 frames per second.
On Tuesday at CinemaCon, John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, noted that Avatar 2 will have more versions than any movie “in the history of movies” when it arrives in theaters: “We are talking about high resolution, high frame rates, 3D, Imax, PLF, different sound systems and in 160 different languages.”
“He is working very closely with our members around the world to show his movie in the best possible way,” Fithian said. “Jim is uniquely driven. He’s brilliant. There may be only a couple of hundred screens in [some of the formats] but he wants [Avatar 2] on those screens. It’s time to make sure your light levels are correct and everything about the picture is correct. We’re excited about it.”
Before the release of 2009’s Avatar, Cameron created more than 100 versions of deliverables in various light levels, 2D and 3D, resolutions and sound systems. It was the most ambitious digital release at that time.
Cameron previously used CinemaCon as a platform to discuss the potential of high frame rates. The filmmaker gave a presentation at CinemaCon 2011 with a comparison of 3D content — a medieval dinner and action scene — projected at 24 fps, 48 fps and 60 fps. As the clips played, Cameron shared his observations, including some distracting strobing that occurs in 24 fps (which has been blamed for why some viewers get headaches when viewing 3D) and pointed to a smoother higher frame rate image.
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