Features and Columns · Movies

Why Pandora is the Thematic Key to ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’

Can you *sea* what James Cameron is doing?
Avatar The Way Of Water Pandora
20th Century Studios
By  · Published on March 24th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores how the planet of Pandora is the thematic backbone of Avatar: The Way of Water.

It’s a miracle that anyone questions James Cameron these days. And yet, with the release of his sci-fi sequel/performance-capture tech showcase Avatar: The Way of Water, there were still idle grumbles about it being a three-hour postcard.

For what it’s worth, I’m generally opposed to the idea that some films are “just vibes.” This does a great disservice to the holistic power of cinematic elements other than traditional narrative. Color choice, editing, and even lighting have value as far as storytelling is concerned. And setting — where a film takes place — is no different.

It may feel obvious to point out that Cameron’s Avatar sequel foregrounds the planet of Pandora because, fundamentally, the film is about Pandora. To dismiss Cameron’s interest in being present and investing us in this world misses the Big Point of the whole movie.

The video essay below goes into further detail about why Cameron invites us to smell Pandora’s roses, as it were. Meandering isn’t an accident; not in a film this expensive and with a director as bull-headed as Cameron at the helm.

Beware of spoilers in the video below.

Watch “A Thematic Analysis of Avatar: The Way of Water”

Who made this?

This video essay on the thematic importance of place and planet in Avatar: The Way of Water was created by Like Stories of Old, a video essay channel run by Tom van der Linden. You can follow van der Linden on Twitter here. And you can subscribe to his YouTube account here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).