I love whales, but I have made my peace with the fact that I will probably never see one in a movie for the rest of my life. It’s because I love whales that it’s easy for me to make that peace: no whale should be subjected to the torturous film production process. The last film to use a real-life whale was Free Willy, whose star Keiko went on to lead a troubled and difficult life.
Because I am so invested in the health and safety of whales but also love the motion picture industry, I have, in turn, come to love when a movie has a big fake whale. An animatronic like in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home? Bellissimo! A big CGI whale like in Life of Pi? Yes!!! The best part of the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever teaser trailer is the shot of the big fake CGI whale swimming through the beautiful ocean. I don’t ever want to give Marvel Studios too much credit, but at least they know how to bait me with a big fake whale.
Imagine my surprise and thrill at the big, fake whale-ish not-whale from the new Avatar: The Way of Water trailer.
There’s so much of this guy: leaping, swimming, jumping. He’s stunning! He’s holding hands with a Na’vi!!! Can you imagine doing anything like that in your whole life? For all that we love to dunk on the Avatar movies for having people who have sex by connecting their hair and being vaguely post-colonial in a #VOTE sort of way, you have to admit that the creature design on Pandora makes every Earth-bound animal look like shit.
According to executive producer Jon Landau, these whale-like creatures are called tulkuns. Tulkuns — yes! I hear it. I see it. They’re more than 300 feet long, making them three times the length of an average blue whale. Would I be afraid of a tulkun? Maybe a little. But then I would remember how elegant and peaceful and sentient (so says Landau) they are, and I would also remember they are not real, and I would smile.