James Cameron is the type of director that is always looking for the next way to truly innovate and push the theatrical experience to its limits. That's partially why the aesthetics of "Avatar" look the way they do, with fully CG-generated worlds and motion-captured Na'vi characters. The 2009 film was built from the ground up to utilize 3D technology, and for a while, it looked like 3D was the future. Companies immediately rushed to support the 3D craze: RealD 3D and IMAX 3D theatrical experiences, 3D TVs, 3D Blu-Rays — even game consoles like the Nintendo 3DS utilized glasses-free technology to create a sense of immersion. For a good long while, almost every big blockbuster release had some sort of 3D format available to accompany its standard showings.

This trend died out almost as soon as it peaked. The convenience of streaming easily beat out the convolution of 3D home theater setups and physical media for most households. The use of 3D as an alternative format quickly became an afterthought for most movies, relying on shoddy post-conversion that aimed to milk box office sales more than provide an authentic cinematic experience. From a pure business perspective, it became evident that most of the industry had no aspirations to utilize 3D to its fullest potential, so most consumers kept it out of their regular setups.

A lot has changed in the 13 years since the original "Avatar," but Cameron still believes in 3D technology. Cameron wants audiences to experience his sequel "Avatar: The Way of Water" in theaters, but judging by all the premium formats for the film, it seems he deeply encourages audiences to see it in 3D as well.

So, will "The Way of Water" make audiences crazy for 3D again?

Avatar Uses 3D Technology To Its Fullest

In all those debates about whether or not the "Avatar" franchise has enough cultural staying power to exceed its sequels' box office goals, one argument that is often overlooked is just how much "Avatar," more than any other film in Cameron's filmography, lived and died by its theatrical experience. The September 2022 re-release of the original film, upscaled to 4K and re-mastered for IMAX 3D was a helpful reminder to some why it was at one point the most profitable movie of all time. The same will be said for "The Way of Water," which again utilizes 3D to the fullest.

In the "Avatar" films, 3D is not just about what's popping out of the frame, it's more concerned with giving each environment a sense of depth and scale. "The Way of Water" is over 3 hours long, but Cameron uses that screen time to fully immerse his audience into the beautiful landscapes of Pandora. There are times when it feels like a nature documentary, but as indulgent as that is, it serves as a brilliant demonstration of the capabilities of 3D. Pandora is essentially another character in "The Way of Water," a sci-fi universe that instead finds its spectacle in greenery and ancient spirituality contrasted with the sterility of the human colonies.

In one scene, a school of bioluminescent fish swims through a dark shipwreck. While I was still blown away by the depth and the way the rays of light bounce off the water, at a certain point I was no longer aware that I was wearing my 3D glasses anymore. I'd call that a true mark of full of immersion.

Don't Expect To See Another 3D Craze

Although I endorse seeing "Avatar: The Way of Water" in 3D on the biggest screen one can find, I am still cynical toward the prospect that it will revitalize 3D as a fad once again. The truth is, most theaters already had their in-house 3D technologies installed and ready to go for this film's release, so it wasn't much of a gamble for Cameron to bring the technology back for the sequel's theatrical run. 3D movies are no longer a trend, but in a way, they still exist as the least popular theatrical premium format. Marvel releases and select animated films are still being converted to 3D as a means to squeeze out any ticket upcharge sales, but this is separate from the more ideal 2D IMAX and other premium format experiences. It's important to note alsothat the majority of these converted films do not receive any sort of 3D Blu-Ray preservation when they arrive on home video.

Most working filmmakers outside of Cameron that have the luxury of directing big blockbusters have already made up their minds on 3D at this point, and there's no possibility of it becoming a temporary standard as it was nearly a decade ago. One and now two movies that successful evidently do not warrant large changes across the industry.

It is fun to think that the sole reason why your local cinema is taking out large boxes of plastic glasses out of their storage right now really is because of good old Jim Cameron. We might not be giving "Oppenheimer" or "Barbie" the same treatment in July, but you can bet that the next time another "Avatar" movie rolls around, we'll whip out the 3D glasses once again.

Read this next: What These Avatar Scenes Look Like Without CGI

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