Select attendees at the Busan International Film Festival on Thursday got a sneak peek at 2022’s most anticipated movie — James Cameron’s long-gestating mega-tentpole Avatar: The Way of Water.
A 15-minute showreel of exclusive footage from the Avatar sequel was shown to a large Korean audience who had paid about $5 each (7,000 Korean won) to don 3D glasses and attend the promo event (tickets sold out almost immediately after they went on sale ahead of the festival). Avatar: The Way of Water’s lead producer, Jon Landau, was on hand at the event to introduce the footage and discuss some of the revolutionary technological processes employed in the new film’s creation.
Signaling its intention to take Busan by storm, Disney installed Avatar 2 posters all along the city’s iconic Haeundae Beach, along with massive sand sculptures on the beach itself, imprinted with Avatar‘s characters and some of the mythic sea creatures that feature in the sequel.
In a story set more than a decade after the events of the first film, the preview footage shown in Korea reintroduces Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, and Na’vi Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldaña, against stunning shots of Pandora’s brilliant blue waters — both above and below the surface. As revealed by trailers, Toruk, the flying creatures introduced in the first film, are back for the sequel, along with new majestic, whale-like creatures.
Appearing via video link inside the theater, Cameron explained that his sequel tries to convey the ongoing collapse and threats to the world’s marine ecosystems. While the previous edition delved into reckless strip-mining rainforests, the director said he wanted to convey how the marine ecosystem affects human conditions in the new sequel. As a scuba diver himself, Cameron also said his passion for ocean conservation led to a film about an underwater world.
“It’s a story set in Pandora, but it is also happening in our world,” Cameron said.
Landau, who attended Busan’s opening ceremony Wednesday night with his wife, also attended the special screening on Thursday, where he said there are many technical improvements in the sequel compared to the 2009 film, with a specialized team of VFX artists developing revolutionary underwater motion capture technology.
Landau and Cameron also explained that they hoped the film would provide an opportunity for audiences to reassess the “cinematic experience.”
“Avatar 2 shows what a film is about,” Landau said. “We wanted to send the signal that it’s time to return to the theater.”
Twitter reactions from the Busan crowd started pouring in shortly after the preview.
Tweeting in Korean, user TailorContent wrote: “Director Cameron has confidence for a reason! It was so exciting seeing the pre-release footage. You can smell the money during the CG and action scenes. There were many underwater scenes in the released 18-minute video, and the CG quality was so high. I can’t wait for Avatar: The Way of Water!”
Twitter user @opticron, tweeted a quote from Landau’s presentation, along with a photo of Cameron appearing via video link: “John Landau, producer of the franchise, said, ‘If the first film pursued something ‘photographic’, the second film tried to pursue ‘photorealism.’”
Many other audience members were more plainly impressionistic in their responses.
“Whoa… Avatar 2 looks so good…” Tweeted another user.
Returning characters for the sequel also include Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine and Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch. The Way of Water 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 2’s visual effects are back at Weta FX in New Zealand, again led by senior VFX supervisor and four-time Oscar winner Joe Letteri.
Admission revenue from the Busan sneak-peek event will be donated to a charity selected by the Busan International Film Festival and The Walt Disney Co., organizers said.
To reacquaint global fans with Cameron’s world of pandora, Disney rereleased the original Avatar in theaters on Sept. 23, with enhanced picture and sound. The rerelease has made over $15 million in North America and nearly $40 million worldwide, pushing the 2009 film further into the record books. Avatar’s lifetime run now stands at over $2.9 billion, the most of any movie in box office history (Avengers: Endgame sits in second with $2.797 billion).
Cameron, Landau and their Lightstorm Entertainment, along with 20th Century and Disney, are 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. In Korea, the sequel will be screened in Screen X and 4D theaters — formats that were developed in the country.
The original Avatar racked up more than 13 million tickets sold in Korea when it was released in 2009.
Avatar: The Way of Water opens worldwide on Dec. 16.