There was a moment, within the first hour of watching James Cameron’s latest film,, which I turned my head to the side. I don’t know what I was doing. I think I was trying to look around in the room I was in, a cavern where the Na’vi were hiding. I thought I’d see the other details. I was in a movie theater, of course. A huge Imax screen in front of me, 3D glasses on my nose. This has never happened to me before.
I guess there are those early movie stories, of people yelling at the oncoming train, thinking it was real. I think I found myself, in moments of Way of Water, getting lost in its reality. My mind started tapping into the 3D experiences I often have – not in cinema, but in virtual reality.
I saw the original Avatar in Imax 3D in 2009. It was amazing at the time, but in my memory more like a vast canvas, a world I could peer into. The Way of the Water felt, somehow, more… immersive? I felt that I was moving by he. I sat next to my colleague, David Katzmaier, during a screening on the massive AMC Lincoln Square Imax screen in New York City. He’s an incredibly seasoned display expert who’s hard to impress. I think he felt the same. He likened it tothat I still haven’t experienced.
I haven’t thought about 3D movies since maybe 2013, and I don’t even know if The Way of Water makes me believe more in the power of 3D movies either. Instead, I got this feeling of something different, kind of hyperreal A 3D experience that was more reminiscent of virtual VR worlds and even video games. This is not an insult to James Cameron at all; it’s just that smooth, ultra-real 3D that this movie ended up in Imax
Video games on high-end consoles and PCs often have that moment where you think you’re watching a cinematic cutscene, then suddenly you realize you’re able to control your character in an incredibly realistic world. I felt, at times, at times removed from that feeling in The Way of Water, especially since many of its most memorable moments were done in fluid shots and perspectives that seemed to follow the characters as they they moved around, or even looked directly at the figures through perspective. another’s eyes.
It’s intentional, I think. It becomes particularly powerful later, in the film’s shocking aquatic scenes. At the higher frame rate of the projection, these moments felt like nature documentaries and made me even more convinced that what I was seeing was somehow real. It made the emotional impact bigger (I don’t want to share any spoilers regarding what I’m referring to).
Earlier, in the first hour, the detail, smooth motion, and intensely rich 3D graphics were a little jarring, even weird. I have to admit, I felt like I started watching cutscenes from a video game on a PlayStation from 2027. I had to remind myself that it was a movie.
Oddly, 3D on a massive Imax screen helps make the experiences more intimate (for me). I kept taking my glasses off and becoming more and more aware of the sheer size of the screen. With glasses, my field of vision perfectly framed within reach of the screen, I found the experience more focused. Almost like watching in a VR headset.
Of course, no VR headset has the resolution and fidelity of what I’ve seen in Imax.aren’t even good enough to watch movies that rival your TV or iPad. But the technology is improving. Ultra-high resolution The VR headset is the closest at the VR “retina” level. If headsets from Apple and others raise the bar for visuals and audio, we might get even closer.
James Cameron hasas the in real life for oceanographic research projects, and the new Avatar movie, like the original, is full of scenes where holographic arrays float past characters. My whole viewing of The Way of Water felt kind of like a holographic experience. It was like a prototype vision of something that virtual reality can’t yet achieve.
But I also thought of something else that The Way of Water has done. Watching a trailer at home the next day, I remember moments I’d seen in 3D as if they were something real I’d witnessed. Or a live theatrical performance, perhaps. The original Avatar was about people moving between bodies, a form of real-world telepresence. William Gibson explores this idea in his book and recent Amazon series,, to a different end. The Waterway didn’t have as many characters moving back and forth between bodies: the world they occupied and the bodies they inhabited, for the most part, were the same. Their reality was locked away.
Instead, I felt like the avatar. For a few hours, I was in their world. For all the rich 3D worlds Cameron has clearly created, I’d be curious how I could visit it again. Not just in future movies, but in future VR headsets.