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With James Cameron’s Avatar set to have a brief re-release this Friday, filmmakers share their experience of watching this magnificent visual extravaganza and talk about why they are keen to relive it

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Published: 21st September 2022

In 2009, as a 12-year-old, the first memory I have of James Cameron’s Avatar is reading scrolling news about theatres across the nation upgrading their projectors to screen this film in 3D. Most of us, who had a chance to watch the film on the big screen, still remember discovering Pandora for the first time, meeting the Na’vi, witnessing and eventually falling in love with the bewitching world Cameron and his visual effects team, spearheaded by Joe Letteri, introduced us to. Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time—a spot it still holds—and all the screens that were upgraded to 3D benefitted from Avatar’s success and the consequential popularisation of the format with Hollywood going on to churn out 3D spectacles regularly. While 3D had been introduced before, Avatar’s 3D had a depth unseen until then.

The remastered version of the film, which James Cameron is admittedly “really impressed with,” is set to grace the big-screen 13 years after its original release. Cameron, in fact, has strongly shared, “If you haven’t seen Avatar in theatres, you haven’t seen the film." Naturally, the excitement to catch it is palpable among film buffs.

Director Ranjit Jeyakodi, for instance, vividly remembers watching the film on the first day back in 2009. Recalling the experience, the Ispade Rajavum Idhaya Raniyum filmmaker says, “Honestly, I didn’t have any expectation, as I am someone who doesn’t consume much promotional material. Once the show began, my jaw dropped.”

KD-filmmaker Madhumita too emphasises this feeling of awe. “I couldn’t see the film for nearly two weeks after its release, as I was filming Kola Kolaya Mundhirika; everyone around me was making me restless by speaking about this film. So, one day, when we packed up early, I watched the film on an IMAX screen. I was just blown by the scale, the vision of the creator, and the fact that someone could imagine something so crazy while retaining the core human emotions.”

Ranjit notes that the film subverted Hollywood’s alien invasion trope. “Usually, it is the aliens that invade humans and we then have to fight them and save earth. In Avatar, humans are the intruders who encroach on another planet, Pandora, and endanger it. I found it fascinating. It is, of course, about the man vs wild conflict and talks about human greed.”

Madhumita too believes that the humaneness at its core lends a universal appeal to the film. “It has many Indian sensibilities. In fact, after watching the film, I felt the story would have worked really well had it been made in any Indian language,” she says. "I rewatched it in Tamil and Hindi, and the dubbing barely felt like a deterrent because as I said, the story is so Indian.”

Among the achievements of the film is its ability to draw viewers to its world. “I wondered how they managed to build this world from scratch. Like Sam Worthington’s character becomes a part of Pandora, we too become a part of it," says Ranjit, who also remembers watching the film multiple times. “I watched the film every day for a week, and I will be watching it this Friday again!"

Arun Chandu, sci-fi buff, director of Sayanna Varthakal, Saajan Bakery:

Being a 90s kid, Avatar was the first blockbuster spectacle that I saw in a theatre. I believe its 3D is an underappreciated aspect because Avatar helped redefine the idea of 3D. It had brighter visuals and more depth -- not the kind of 3D we saw up to that point. So I eagerly await the 4K remaster because Cameron supervised the visuals personally. After looking at some of the screenshots, this version is seemingly worth watching. Post-Avatar, technology and 3D has changed, and Marvel has changed the landscape of CGI.

So even though people may not be looking at Avatar as a modern masterpiece, I think if we keep aside the DC and Marvel, our children or grandchildren might regard it as a big deal. I can't wait to see the sequel. Whatever people say, we expect nothing less than a technical milestone from James Cameron. It's possible that he has taken a long leap with Avatar 2, and it could kickstart discussions again. Before Avatar came out, we knew that Cameron waited a long time for the technology to evolve so he could realise his vision the way he wanted. Since technology underwent a rapid evolution post-2009, the sequel brings much promise.

Saagar K Chandra, director, Bheemla Naayak:

Like how Maharshi Vishwamitra created Trishanku Sawargam, James Cameron created a parallel cinematic universe with human-like emotions in Avatar. I feel no cinema could ever be made like Avatar.

I watched the film on its release day (December 18, 2009) and was spellbound by its terrific visuals, storytelling, and the performances of the actors. I always wondered how one can get such ideas and conceive a film like this! Avatar is definitely superior to all the films made earlier because the film has justified and also applied every law of physics in a great way.

For example, the film showcased Pandora as a small planet and we know such planets have less gravity. So the vertebrae will naturally expand slightly, causing a person to become taller. Similarly, it also applied the law of evolution and light, too.

Avatar is out of the universe and is way beyond our imagination. I am looking forward to watching the film once again on September 23.  Going through that experience is like going down memory lane.

Sharmila Mandre, actor and producer:

Avatar is one of those unique films with a technical brilliance that you can keep watching over and over again. Amongst the slate of movies that have come over the last two decades, I think Avatar is one film that has remained in people's minds. Not a single person who watched Avatar was disappointed. A lot of films did try to meet up to the expectation of Avatar, but couldn't come close to it. The reason to re-release the original before the sequel comes out is a good move.

(With inputs from Murali Krishna CH, Sajin Shrijith and A Sharadhaa)

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