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Upon its release in December 2009, AVATAR became a global phenomenon. Effects-driven adventures were already permeating throughout popular culture, but this was different. Despite displaying a number of typical tropes of the genre, James Cameron’s expansive and stunningly beautiful actioner felt entirely new. I distinctly remember sitting in the theater with my jaw hanging wide, blown away by the cutting edge and flawless effects that unfolded over the course of nearly three thrilling hours.

With a sequel (THE WAY OF WATER) finally lurking just around the corner (December 16) AVATAR returned to the big screen this September. It was staggering to realize that an entire generation has grown up in-between the release of the two films. My daughter was just five months old when AVATAR debuted and now she is 13 years-old and couldn’t wait to see it on the big screen. Not just the sequel, mind you, she wanted to see the original on the big screen. It’s one thing to see the gap between 2009 and 2022 written on paper, it’s quite another to see it staring you in the face. 

Sure, you could watch AVATAR at home a billion times in 4K if you wanted to, but there is just something different about seeing it in theaters. It is the type of movie miracle that begs to be seen on the big screen with the surround sound on blast. Watching it all these years later, it takes me back to 2009, and reminds me why this remains the highest grossing film of all time.

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AVATAR was more than just special effects, and that remains apparent in subsequent viewings. This was a world meticulously created by Cameron, and every frame possessed nuances that were virtually impossible to fully grasp upon initial viewing. It was a spectacle that is bright, lush, and mysterious filled with unique characters and memorable creatures. It possessed folky elements that were comfortingly familiar (I’m looking at you, Tree of Souls) and would then transition to invigorating originality that kept us perched firmly at the edge of our seats. Now that we are roughly 297 projects into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and have seen countless bombastic battles and brilliantly choreographed action sequences, it takes a lot to stand out. Yet, those that unfurl in AVATAR remain top-notch. Seeing them again on the big screen was affirmation of something that I’ve known for the last 13 years; AVATAR is something special.  

Given the amount of time that has passed since its original release, I see AVATAR’s return to theaters not only as a cash-grab (I mean, it is certainly that) but also, a way to remind audiences how the world of Pandora was meant to be seen. The aforementioned generation that has now grown will have the opportunity to soak it in before the sequel, and will be able to decide for themselves where it stands in the modern movie world. Cameron has remained adamant that AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER would not be released until he could make the film he wanted, and now we are going to see his passion brought to fruition. In a couple of short months, the world will know if it was worth the wait.


(Re-release now showing in theaters) 

Brian Miller