Believe it or not, it’s been almost 13 years since Avatar hit theater screens for the first time, and it’s taken forever for a sequel to arrive. And unfortunately it looks like the movie will fall foul of Hollywood's most annoying trend — the overly-long runtime. And director James Cameron doesn’t want to hear you complaining about it.
Speaking to Empire (opens in new tab), Cameron is already anticipating that people will be criticizing the movie’s length. We don’t know how long Avatar: The Way of Water is going to be yet, but this suggests that it’s probably too long.
Avatar: The Way of Water is going to be a long movie
"I don't want anybody whining about length when they sit and binge-watch [television] for eight hours …” Cameron said, “I can almost write this part of the review. 'The agonisingly long three-hour movie...' It's like, give me a f—— break. I've watched my kids sit and do five one-hour episodes in a row."
It reminds me of a section from a Charles Bukowski poem: “People run from rain but sit in bathtubs full of water." At face value, and ignoring any deeper meaning and context from the rest of the poem, those two things seem similar but aren’t actually comparable. The same is true for comparing sitting in a movie theater with watching a TV show at home.
If you’re binge-watching a TV show over the course of a day, you always have the option to pause the thing. If you need to get up and pee, you won’t miss a key moment from Stranger Things or Obi Wan Kenobi. Movie theaters don’t give you that option, despite Cameron insisting that it’s ok to go and pee.
But then, of course, you risk missing something pivotal or interesting. Even if you run to the bathroom and are an Olympic-speed urinator, you’re still missing a few minutes of screen time. And you can’t always time your bathroom breaks for boring or uninspired moments.
Though based on how dull the first trailer was, I suspect Avatar: The Way of Water will have plenty of those. Perhaps Cameron can give us a rundown of points where it's safe to pee? That way we definitely won't miss the scattering of exciting sequences, or plot-critical events.
Or even better Cameron could try, you know, not making his movies so long? While there are a lot of movies with runtimes in excess of two and a half hours, like Avengers Endgame, The Batman, Dune or RRR. But Cameron has been doing it for decades.
Titanic is 3 hours and 14 minutes long, and was one of a handful of movies that was too big to fit on a single VHS tape when it hit home video. The Abyss was 2 hours and 51 minutes long and the first Avatar movie was 2 hours and 41 minutes.
Length isn’t Avatar: The Way of Water’s only issue
Runtime isn’t the only problem that could be affecting Avatar: The Way of Water. The time between the movie and its predecessor could easily have an impact on how mainstream audiences react to the movie’s release.
Avatar was very much a flash in the fire, from a cultural perspective. The movie was huge at the time, and that was reflected in the fact it was the first movie to earn $2 billion dollars at the box office during its initial theatrical run. To the point where its success, and far-reaching use of 3D, prompted other studios to release their movies in the format.
But then that hype burned out very quickly. Aside from a couple of rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the first of which opened in 2017, Avatar pretty-much vanished from public consciousness, to the point where people have been going on social media to comment on the fact they don’t remember any of the characters’ names.
Cameron insists that this doesn’t bother him, and insists these people are just trolls twisting the narrative (opens in new tab). "The trolls will have it that nobody gives a s***”, Cameron said, “and they can't remember the characters' names or one damn thing that happened in the movie ... Then they see the movie again and go, 'Oh okay, excuse me, let me just shut the f*** up right now.' So I'm not worried about that."
Cameron is pretty sure of himself, which isn’t a huge surprise given how successful his last two movies were. Whether his confidence is deserved or not is something we won’t be able to comment on until the movie is released.
But trolls or not, the fact that Avatar has been completely AWOL since 2010 isn’t a great look. But of course, it’s not difficult to watch it. The movie is widely available on disc, in digital storefronts and on Disney Plus. Not to mention the fact Disney is re-releasing the movie this November. So it’s not as though people can’t catch up on the events preceding the movie.
Avatar: Way of Water is pushing a dying 3D fad to its limit
Avatar was notable in helping to popularize 3D movies in the 21st century. Various films had 3D screenings before it, but Avatar’s runaway success seemingly prompted movie studios to push 3D as the new standard for theatrical releases.
It was a pretty terrible fad, if I’m honest. 3D isn’t all that to begin with, and a lot of studios didn’t invest the time and money to do it properly — leading to poorly converted movies that looked absolutely terrible.
If my local theaters are anything to go by, that fad is dying off. There are few, if any 3D screenings of blockbuster movies and that makes me insanely happy. In case you hadn’t realized, I don’t like 3D movies, and that’s amplified by the fact the technology gives me pretty serious headaches.
Unfortunately, James Cameron has never really got the memo that 3D movies are objectively terrible. Back in 2018 (opens in new tab) he admitted that Hollywood had done the format a “disservice” by embracing hasty conversion over dedicated 3D filming — blaming this for the downturn in 3D’s popularity.
Cameron hoped that movies would “get 4K out of [their] system”, and once that technology is everywhere Hollywood will need the next big thing — implying natively produced 3D would be the answer. The director also promised that the Avatar sequels would embrace native 3D, and he expressed hopes that it would be possible to watch the movie in 3D without glasses.
Glasses-free 3D is not happening, but speaking at CinemaCon (opens in new tab) earlier this year Cameron promised that Avatar 2 would have “the most immersive 3D available” alongside higher resolution, higher frame rates, high dynamic range and “much greater reality in our visual effects.”
Anyone that remembers Avatar’s initial release will know that it was damn-near impossible to see the movie in 2D. In fact Cameron originally only wanted the movie to be watchable in 3D, but adoption of 3D-capable theater equipment wasn’t fast enough to make that viable (opens in new tab). It’s going to be interesting to see what the ratio of 2D to 3D screenings will be following the gradual death of the format, and whether there’s a resurgence in 3D movies over the next few years.
God, I hope not. I can’t be dealing with the glasses and the headaches again, and if I can’t see Avatar 2 in 2D I definitely will not be seeing it in a theater. Cameron should be pushing for something like IMAX or other big-screen experiences, since that actually offers something positive to the experience.
However you look at it, Avatar: The Way of Water does have a lot of caveats attached to it. The movie may be a sequel to one of the highest-grossing films ever made, but I have to wonder how enthusiastic people will be about the movie when it arrives. I only know that I am completely apathetic to the movie, and everything new that happens doesn’t do anything to drum up hype.
Whether that’s the prospect of the movie having an absurdly-long run time (which won’t include pre-movie commercials), a director that hasn’t quite gotten over the 3D craze from a decade ago, or the fact I haven’t actually cared about anything Avatar-related for about 12 years. Even the trailer, which I saw ahead of Doctor Strange 2, proved to be incredibly boring.
But we don’t know what Avatar: The Way of Water’s fate will be until it arrives in theaters on December 16.