FEATURE: More Reflections on “Avatar”

22 04 2010

With the release of “Avatar” on Blu-Ray and DVD today, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the impact and legacy of the biggest movie of our time.

First of all, let’s go back to the movie itself.  Back in December (after seeing it at the earliest IMAX 3D showing on opening day), I gave it a solid “A.” I saw it again at the end of March, and I still stand by that rating.  Here’s some of what I said then:

”Avatar” is breathtaking moviemaking at its finest, with astonishing visuals that are designed to do more than just floor you.  They engulf you and transport you to Pandora, a land of untold beauty complete with its own indigenous people, language, and wildlife, for an exhilarating ride and fascinating experience.

“Avatar” isn’t just a movie; it is a full-scale experience that your visual cortex will never forget.  If it is the future of cinema remains yet to be seen, but it will most certainly usher in a widespread acceptance of the motion capture technology.  The movie also secures its fearless helmer a place among cinema’s greatest pioneers, and it could even reinforce his self-bestowed “king of the world” title.

“Avatar” is one of very few movies of the past decades that deserves to be called an epic.  Everything is bigger and grander than we have ever experienced before in a science-fiction or action movie.  It is a tremendously ambitious movie, and director James Cameron gives his vision every tool to succeed.  Whether you like the final product is up to you, but it’s pretty hard to deny that the movie is of epic proportions.

I think that the mere size of the movie has led to some massive exaggerations of opinions.  Normal people who didn’t absolutely love “Avatar” immediately say they hated it, and if they did love the movie, it’s their all-time favorite.  The same kind of feelings spread into awards talk too; people were either completely behind “Avatar” winning Best picture or vehemently opposed.  Very few people seem to take moderate, or even less extreme, stances.  My two cents here: it’s fine to just like “Avatar” rather than love it or loathe it.  There is not a problem with just kicking back in your theater chair and being transported; you don’t have to be wowed or disenchanted.

I do have to share the most extreme reaction to the movie that I heard of – and this is not a joke.  There is a syndrome called “Avatar Blues” that psychologists are actually studying.  Large numbers of people flocked to the Internet to discuss the depression that they felt after seeing “Avatar.”  It may not be what you think, though.

Ever since I went to see “Avatar,” I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it.  I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in “Avatar. (posted by “Mike” on an Internet forum)

You might not have been so blown away by the world of “Avatar” that you felt clinically depressed, but you had to have felt something.  Even if the story wasn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard not to have been struck by how intricately the movie was put together.  When I saw it a second time, I was floored by the impeccable attention to detail and just how thorough the world of Pandora was designed.

“Avatar” also brought consciousness of 3D and IMAX to a greater multitude, many of whom had never experienced either beforehand.  The movie absolutely blew away what we thought we could experience in the two mediums, and it has single-handedly been the catalyst for much of 2010’s discussions.  Because of the smashing success of “Avatar,” every theater owner is rushing to up his 3D theater count.  Our wallets have already begun to feel the pain from these additions with the soaring price of 3D tickets.  In addition, every studio is rushing to shoot their next big movie in 3D (acceptable) or convert their already complete movie into an extra dimension (unacceptable).  James Cameron has now become the wise owl in the tree on the matter, offering cautionary words to the future of the rapidly growing 3D market:

I draw a distinct line in the sand between films where you have no choice — “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Indiana Jones”, James Bond movies, “Terminator 2” — I would love to see all those films in 3-D and the only way to do that short of having a time machine, is to convert them. Now, on the other hand, if you’ve got a movie that’s coming out in seven weeks and you wake up one day with a wind bubble saying, I want to turn it into 3-D, that’s probably a bad idea. “Clash of the Titans,” even though it made some money, has set off this controversy that we’re going to piss in the soup of this growing 3-D market. If you want to charge a premium ticket price you have to give people a premium experience. So I’m against slapdash conversion. And I’m against anyone who’s making a major tentpole movie whether it’s a new Spider-Man film or a new Pirates of the Caribbean film and they want to release it in 3-D but they don’t want to take the time and the energy to shoot it in 3-D. Again, they’re charging the audience for something that they’re not delivering.

And what about all that money it made?  Simply put, “Avatar” is the highest-grossing movie ever because it was more than a movie; it was a true cinematic event.  It was a movie that returned the urgency to take the whole family to the theater, and people were willing to spend the extra money to enhance their experience.  Once everyone saw the movie, they knew that watching the DVD or Blu-Ray simply wasn’t going to thrill them in the same way.  So they went back to theater and saw it one or two times more.  How else do you explain the movie’s opening only counting for 10% percent of its total revenue?  How else do you explain the minuscule weekend attendance drops?  How else do you explain the fact that “Avatar” made more money in its second through seventh weekends than any other movie made in the same frames?  Perhaps most telling of all, how else do you explain that 124 days after its first day in release and the day it is released on video, it is STILL in the top 12 at the box office?  You can’t deny it; “Avatar” is simply a phenomenon.

And if you think I’m finished now, that was just the impact of “Avatar.”  Now moving on to the legacy…

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FEATURE: Unadjusted vs. Adjusted Box Office

4 02 2010

I don’t know if you have heard, but there is this little movie out in theaters now called “Avatar.”  It has been breaking box office record after box office record, every day stealing the top spot from movies like “The Dark Knight” and “Titanic.”

The past two weeks have brought a tidal wave of incredibly important titles for James Cameron’s motion capture epic.  On Monday, January 25, “Avatar” became the highest grossing film in overseas markets.  The very next day, it became the highest grossing movie worldwide.  On Tuesday, February 2, the day “Avatar” was nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, it became the highest grossing movie ever at the United States box office.  (All three titles were nabbed from Cameron’s “Titanic.)

Before I delve into deeper analysis, I think some hearty congratulations are in order for James Cameron and everyone involved in bringing “Avatar” to the screen.  No matter what you thought of the movie, you have to appreciate the tremendous amount of work that went into making it.  The amount of money that it takes to pay for a movie ticket has skyrocketed to prices that have forced Americans to reconsider how often they go to theater.  As a result, watching movies on laptops, iPods, and video game consoles has soared.  “Avatar” has returned the urgency to getting full immersion in the theatrical experience, and James Cameron deserves to be raking in all the money that he is.

But does “Avatar” really deserve to be called the biggest movie of all time?  There are people who claim the system by which that claim is made is flawed.  What I want to do is introduce you to the system that the detractors swear by – the “adjusted” system – and let you decide what system you think is the best.

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Random Factoid #41

7 09 2009

In the second grade, I became interested in the box office grosses of movies.  I began keeping a notebook that recorded the top 12 movies at the box office each weekend, beginning the weekend of August 18, 2000.  I didn’t remember the exact date, but I recall writing in the opening weekend take for “The Original Kings of Comedy,” which the Internet told me opened on that day.  I think it stopped towards the end of 2001, but my last distinct memory of logging anything in the book was April 1, 2001, when I hurriedly jotted down the gross of “Spy Kids” on its opening weekend as I dashed out the door to go see it myself.