James Cameron's Dazzling Underwater Technology Is The Standout Of The New Avatar: The Way Of Water Footage

Warning: a discussion of new footage from Avatar: The Way of Water is about to begin. If you want to see the clip for yourself, head out to a theater near you and catch the re-release of Avatar

The wait is almost over, as we're entering the home stretch in the wait for Avatar: The Way of Water. Director/co-writer James Cameron’s entry in the world of upcoming movies has been one of the most hotly anticipated sequels since the first Avatar became a super smash hit in late 2009. Cameron himself knew he had to stoke the fires, and as such he’s been helping crank up the hype engine on the sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time.

This not only meant delivering a new re-mastered version of Avatar, but also some new footage from The Way of Water. Thanks to the return of the origin story depicting Jake Sully’s journey to becoming one with The People on Pandora, a new look has been released from the next chapter of the saga. A theatrical exclusive for the moment, James Cameron’s dazzling underwater technology is the standout of this brand-new footage, enhancing what we already know about Avatar 2

Since it’s not available online, let’s talk out what this new scene includes and why it’s so spectacular. To start, I’m going to describe what Avatar: The Way of Water’s footage included. If you want to remain surprised, you can still see this moment in theaters with the newly-remastered version of Avatar. Otherwise, let’s get into the watery details! 

Sam Worthington's Jake Sully Na'vi in Avatar: The Way Of Water 2022 film

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

What Happened In The New Clip From Avatar: The Way Of Water?

A young Na’vi male, presumably one of sons of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in the cast of Avatar 2 characters, finds himself waking up on the side of an aquatic creature known as a tulkun. Recognizing this massive beast that has a trademark call sounding like a cross between a dolphin and a whale, Jake and Netyri’s (Zoe Saldaña) son notices that it has a spearhook of sorts in its fin. The young Na’vi removes this impediment from the tulkun’s fin, and that’s where the fun begins.

For the rest of the sequence shared from Avatar: The Way of Water, we see our protagonist of the moment swimming and frolicking on the high seas with this beautiful organism. The action takes us above and below the waters of the oceanic moon we were introduced to in that first Way of Water trailer. This is where the latest sneak peek really shines, as James Cameron has outdone himself yet again with pushing the boundaries of technology.

Underwater shot from Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

How James Cameron’s Underwater Technology Makes Avatar’s Sequel Stand Out

Since the beginning of the first Avatar sequel's development, we've known that underwater performance capture is key to what’s going to happen next. Stories of actors training to film extended takes underwater, without the aid of breathing tanks, have been plentiful in the road through this film’s production. This new sequence from Avatar: The Way of Water is the best look at where those efforts currently stand, and it’s as breathtaking as the 3D advances for 2009’s Avatar.

Showcasing the High Frame Rate look to Avatar 2, it’s a bit of an adjustment to see this new advance applied to Pandora and the Na’vi. Which is more than likely the huge reason James Cameron decided to remaster Avatar for a theatrical re-release, besides reminding audiences of Jake Sully’s first adventure before December’s long awaited follow-up. It pays off, as the underwater motion capture is as organic as it is stunning. 

There are definitely still CGI enhancements and gaps being filled in with creatures and landscape that don’t exist. However, the interaction with actual water in Avatar: The Way of Water only further blurs the lines between those fabricated elements, and the practical effects and performers involved. Not to mention that the underwater footage is gorgeous as hell to behold. Cameron delayed this sequel's production partially to nail the technology that brings such a sequence to life, and now it's easy to see why he felt it was worth the time.

A Na'vi swims with a Tulkun in Avatar: The Way of Water.

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

What In The Name Of Pandora Is A Tulkun?

With all of the mentions of this new underwater frontier in Avatar: The Way of Water, another important lesson to be learned is what exactly a tulkun is. As it happens, producer Jon Landau gave a great description of this mighty beast during an interview with Empire. Here’s what you should expect from the latest addition to Pandora’s menagerie: 

The idea was to create a creature that was on the scale of Pandora. A tulkun is, like, 300 feet long. They are a sentient species and as intelligent in their own way as the Na’vi are in theirs. [It’s] like a giant flying fish but keeps its trail in the water – its tail is its propulsion. The Metkayina [water tribe] and all the reef people use them as their military mounts when they’re going into combat. They can go 60 miles per hour for endless periods of time.

Keep in mind, when I was watching this footage from Avatar: The Way of Water, it was on a gigantic IMAX screen. So if a gentle moment of watery coexistence looked and sounded impressive, knowing that the tulkun is a “military mount” in the fight to come adds even more excitement and importance to what’s about to be unleashed in theaters. 

Also, since the tulkun are symbiotic with the Metkayina tribe, and Kate Winslet’s Ronal leading this enclave of Pandoran society, there’s a chance we’ll see her riding high on one in the near future. A badass Winslet performance on the back of a giant creature? That’s worth reviving the IMAX 3D format, if you ask me. 

It wouldn’t be a surprise if we get at least one more trailer for Avatar 2, despite the fact that the one we already have plays things mysteriously enough to sell movie tickets. Should the next look at the continuing adventures of the Na’vi and Jake Sully look as good as this new footage does, it’s only a stronger sign of how massive this potential blockbuster could be. For now, Avatar is in theaters “for a limited time” with its remastered re-release, and The Way of Water is scheduled to surface in a theater near you on December 16th. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.