James Cameron is one of the most successful movie directors who ever lived, having won a mountain of awards, repeatedly shattered box-office records and crafted some of the most iconic pop culture of the 1980s and 1990s. This December, he’ll double down on his 21st-century franchise with a long-delayed sequel to the 2009 megablockbuster Avatar.
Subtitled The Way of Water, this outing looks to be focused on all things aquatic.
It’s no secret that Cameron’s filmography is wet all over. From his feature directorial debut, the schlock horror flick Piranha II: The Spawning, to his sweeping historical romance Titanic, he seems drawn to the element like a moth to flame. He has produced many documentaries about ocean exploration, often voyaging to its unthinkable depths himself: In 2012, he made history with a solo dive to the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench, almost seven miles down — in a submarine he helped design and build. Fantastically wealthy from his Hollywood career, Cameron owns several such vehicles. Over the years, we’ve been treating this like a very exclusive hobby, and thanking him for the contributions to science, but with this newest turn to the glittering waters of planet Pandora, it’s time to concede that he’s simply horny for the stuff.
Looking back, it was always obvious. In 1989’s The Abyss, an underwater sci-fi thriller, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio makes contact with a mysterious, seemingly intelligent fluid tentacle — then fingers it and licks a droplet to confirm that it is, in fact, sea water. Titanic posits that the aphrodisiac effect of the ocean is enough to overwhelm the rigid hierarchy of social class. Cameron worked with his then wife, Kathryn Bigelow, to develop the script for Point Break, nominally a crime story but mostly about the homoerotic bonds between surfer bros. If a male auteur is ultimately making pornography for himself — think Alfred Hitchcock’s blonde ice queens or Quentin Tarantino’s foot close-ups — then Cameron is the world’s thirstiest hydrophile. Even the liquid T-1000 of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the True Lies chase over Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys feel like nods to the fetish. He can’t help himself!
Still, Avatar: The Way of Water is the definitive proof. Not only do you have “water” right in the title — finally, we’re admitting it! — but production was delayed for years while Cameron worked to solve the technical problem of filming performance capture scenes underwater. Couldn’t rewrite his script to avoid water, wouldn’t settle for an inauthentic version of it and once again demanded that his cast and crew remain submerged for basically the entire shoot. Maniac. And that’s to say nothing of the spangled veins of light in the waves, each meticulously rendered CGI droplet you see on the characters’ faces when they emerge from the cerulean surf.
Go ahead and enjoy this big moist movie when it comes out. Just know he’s enjoying it much, much more.