James Cameron shot Avatar: The Way of Water, Avatar 3, and some of Avatar 4 at the same time to avoid what he calls “the Stranger Things effect.”
James Cameron shot Avatar: The Way of Water and Avatar 3 back-to-back to avoid a major Stranger Things problem. Set more than a decade after 2009’s Avatar, the long-awaited sequel returns to Pandora and introduces audiences to Jake and Neytiri’s Na’vi family, which includes Neteyam (James Flatters), Lo’ak (Britain Dalton), Tuk (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), the adopted Kiri (Sigourney Weaver), and the adopted human Spider (Jack Champion). The sequel also introduces a recombinant Colonel Miles Quaritch who will stop at nothing to seek revenge against Jake, even hunting his family. This story is expected to continue into the next sequel, Avatar 3, which was shot back-to-back with the second film.
During a recent interview with EW, Cameron opened up about one major reason he decided to shoot Avatar: The Way of Water, Avatar 3, and the first act of Avatar 4 at the same time. The Avatar writer/director says he wanted to avoid what he calls “the Stranger Things effect,” coining a new phrase to describe the obvious growth spurts child actors can have on projects that last multiple years. For instance, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss was seven years old when she was first cast as Tuk and she is now a teenager. Similarly, Spider actor Jack Champion was twelve and is now eighteen and “growing like a weed,” according to Cameron. Read his explanation for shooting the sequels back-to-back below:
Otherwise, you get — and I love Stranger Things — but you get the Stranger Things effect where they’re supposed to still be in high school [but] they look like they’re 27. You know, I love the show. It’s okay, we’ll suspend disbelief. We like the characters, but, you know.
Why It’s Good That Avatar Will Avoid A Stranger Things Problem
Stranger Things has faced a lot of backlash regarding its rapidly aging cast, many of whom started the Netflix show as twelve-year-olds in 2016, but now look older than high school age. The problem was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Stranger Things season 4 to shut down production for some time. The larger scale of the season, as well as longer episode runtimes, resulted in an extended production process. As Cameron notes, most Stranger Things fans have been able to suspend their disbelief or embrace the imperfection as part of the coming-of-age story.
While Cameron tried his best, Avatar hasn’t avoided the Stranger Things effect entirely. Eagle-eyed viewers have noticed some scenes in Avatar: The Way of Water in which Spider looks considerably younger, such as the torture scene which was filmed when Champion was fourteen, compared to other scenes which were filmed when he was sixteen. Like Stranger Things season 4, production of the Avatar sequels also had to shut down for an extended period when the pandemic hit. Unfortunately, they didn’t have access to Pandora’s anti-aging drug amrita, the valuable resource coveted by the RDA in the sequel.
For the most part, the Avatar sequels will avoid the Stranger Things effect by filming back-to-back, a luxury not available to most TV shows. While audiences have mostly accepted actors growing older as an unavoidable part of television, Avatar is a massive movie franchise that prides itself on providing an immersive experience. Seeing a continuity error like a massive age gap between the actors and characters might break that immersion for audiences. With Avatar: The Way of Water now playing in theaters, only time will tell if the film franchise avoids the Stranger Things problem for sure.
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