Image: Sky Editorial Asset Centre

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’: CGI spectacle left me sceptical

After I first watched Avatar at the age of seven, I will never forget Pandora – a mighty colour palette full of blues, purples, and greens, with magnificent views of the daytime and elegant illumination of plants at night. It became one of my most beautiful childhood memories.

At the age of 19, I rewatched Avatar in time for its newly released sequel, Avatar: The Way of Water. Impressed by the beautiful connection between the Na’vi and Eywa, I realised that Avatar not only feasts the audience’s eyes, but also profoundly explores the relationship between human beings and mother nature. Therefore, I watched its sequel with high expectations and immense excitement.

In Avatar: The Way of Water, the sky people return, and Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) insists on killing Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). Jake and his family retreat to the Metkayina clan, a seaboard at Pandora. They learn the Metkayina’s ways of living and spiritual bond with the sea, and fight against the humans together. It borrows many plot points from the first film; however, the storyline of the sequel is shallower in my opinion. For example, in the first film the humans invade Pandora because they want the valuable minerals there, but the second instalment does not clearly explain why the humans invade Pandora again. Thus, the military campaign is reduced from an illustration of human’s greediness and exploitation of natural resources to a display of the colonel’s ego by taking revenge. Additionally, the last quarter of the film is mainly composed of the fighting scenes of Jake’s family and the humans, portraying neither the moving unity among the Na’vi nor the powerful “flow of energy” between the Na’vi and nature. It becomes ‘just another exciting action movie.’

The movie fails to evaluate and focus on one or two topics in depth, leaving the audience with a sense of emptiness and exhaustion after watching

Despite the generally weak storyline, some moments in this film are insightful. The identity crisis of Jake and his family is the most memorable for me because it vividly illustrates the pain of many refugees nowadays. Countless people are forced to leave where they love and consider a strange place ‘home’ due to war or political suppression. Much like what Jake stresses, they try hard to keep a low profile and stay out of trouble in the new environment. Some of them feel guilty for not protecting their home and maintaining their own culture, like Neytiri (Zeo Saldaña.) Discrimination and lack of respect, which are also shown in the film, add insult to injury. The sense of being an outsider induces strong loneliness, like Spider, who is a human boy born on Pandora. What is home? Is it somewhere we stay with our family? Or somewhere we feel a sense of belonging? The change of environment and identity also echoes the symbolism of water as adaptability and fluidity.

Sadly, the movie does not dig into these bitter questions of home and identity. In the three hours of screening, the visual effects are rich, and the director ambitiously touches upon a lot of topics like environment, humanity, family and identity. However, the movie fails to evaluate and focus on one or two topics in depth, leaving the audience with a sense of emptiness and exhaustion after watching.

Technology has rapidly changed the film industry in recent years. On one hand, the emergence of streaming platforms encourages more directors to prioritise viewing experience on small screens and give up spectacular visual effects. On the other hand, more advanced technology in computer graphics and editing makes wilder imaginations a reality in cinema. Sometimes people even think that audiences should not expect too much or be harsh towards the plot of sci-fi movies because visuals are the selling point.

Technology, technology, technology… It develops, and brings more problems regarding the environment, art and culture

Yet film is an art form combining literature, visuals and audio. Being equally important, these three elements complement each other to make a movie successful. For instance, the CGI and 3D technology in the Life of Pi create an immersive experience for the audience to feel Pi’s faith, hope and desperation in the struggle for survival. In Interstellar, the powerful space scene highlights the softness of love and the fragility of humanity. In Avatar, CGI constructs a majestic world of Pandora. Creating a contrast to the Na’vi and human beings, the visual effects help convey how small we are in the face of nature. They hence accompany the plot and reinforce the idea that we should be humble and respect mother nature. Therefore, while visual and audio effects strengthen the messages delivered in the plot, a complete and appealing storyline allows the audience to enjoy the effects without boredom, confusion and frustration. A good movie should not show off the technological level at the expense of storytelling.

Avatar: The Way of Water is not a bad film. 13 years have passed, and the theme of environmental protection is still up to date. It leads the audience to reflect on how human beings have made no progress in over a decade, and the environment is getting worse and worse. It also provokes a discussion about the relationship between film and technology. Technology, technology, technology… It develops, and brings more problems regarding the environment, art and culture. Can human beings find a way out in this endless maze?

Comments (3)

  • Can’t wait to return for next filmin. Xxxx

  • Once the Blu-ray comes out, I invite you to rewatch the movie with a VR headset to avoid all the distractions from your phone. This generation is bombarded with reels, shorts, tiktoks and can no longer appreciate long form content.

  • This is wrong and an appalling take. They literally explained that they are trying to move the human race to Pandora as earth is dying. Maybe pay more attention next time?

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