New from Sarah Welch-Larson on Substack: 20: Blue Space Cats

If I’m being perfectly honest, the movie I’m most looking forward to this upcoming fall/winter is Avatar: The Way of Water. This is a little embarrassing to admit, given the rest of the awards season lineup (Cate Blanchett in Tár! Verbal sparring between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin! Decision to Leave, which looks like it’s my own personal brand of catnip!). But if we’re talking about the amount of time and mental energy I’ve spent thinking about any one particular movie, it’s the sequel to James Cameron’s Avatar, and it’s not even close.

It’s not that I’m an Avatar superfan. I don’t love the original; I saw it just once in the theater, and thought it was fine, if a little derivative. The big draw for me at the time as a baby linguistics student was the Na’vi language, even more than the CGI or the creature design. I’ve seen it a few times since then, sometimes on purpose, and sometimes not. If the movie’s on TV, I’ll watch it; it’s visual candy. It’s not a full meal, and I always come away dissatisfied. My problem with Avatar is that it’s an attempt to tell an eco-feminist story with a script that hasn’t decolonized its thinking. (I wrote about this problem a couple years ago—you can find that blog post here.) The movie was remastered and rereleased into theaters this weekend, and I have no desire to spend money on it. It’s doubtful whether I’ll rewatch it before Avatar 2 comes out.

Still, I’m curious about the forthcoming sequel. I expect that Avatar 2 is going to look incredible on the big screen, and I’m excited about the prospect of a colorful science fiction world that takes itself seriously. I’m hopeful (but not optimistic) that Cameron’s script could deepen the world he created, instead of simply broadening it to include fantastical sea life. I want the movie to do better than to re-skin stereotypes of Indigenous people into blue space cats. But again, if I’m being honest, I’m mostly intrigued that Sigourney Weaver, a 72-year-old woman who played a human scientist that died in the first movie, appears to be playing a 14-year-old Na’vi girl in the sequel. It’s her face on the teaser poster! I have been haunted by this piece of trivia ever since I found out about it! If Cameron is attempting to pull off some mystical reincarnation B.S., I hope it crashes and burns spectacularly, but I for one will be in the theater to find out opening night.

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What I talked about:

Kevin and I reviewed Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling for the Seeing & Believing podcast this week. I…don’t hate it? But I do think the movie is a prime example of a common structural problem in SFF movies from the past decade or so, specifically that they’re built around a central metaphor that is the only point of the movie being made. We get into that on the episode, and then we also got into one of my favorite new-to-me watches of the year, Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans.

What I’m listening to:

If you listen to podcasts about arts and entertainment at all, you’ve probably heard about Defector’s podcast Normal Gossip, which kicked off its third season this month. If you haven’t, and you like hearing low-stakes stories about how people are very weird, you should load this one into your podcatcher immediately. Host Kelsey McKinney tells a wild, true (always anonymized!) story with a guest over the course of an hour. If you’re on the fence, at the very least check out S1E7, where Kelsey and comedian Josh Gondelman break down a tale involving a dog park, marathon runners, and a neighborhood email listserv that had me in tears laughing.

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