Monday, August 30, 2010

Pandora's Box Office.


In the crowded movie marketplace, you'd be forgiven for missing it: a little James Cameron movie about blue aliens amongst this weekend's crop of box office hopefuls.

The tally? At the top, The Last Exorcism makes $21.3 million. Avatar comes in 12th with a paltry $4 million.

Say it with me now: "Pooooor Avatar."

James Cameron's "Special Edition" of his 3D epic was bested even by Vampires Suck and Nanny McPhee Returns. I guess more people wanted Nanny McPhee to return than the Na'vi. You know what sucks even more than vampires this weekend? Avatar! (I've stopped myself before an expandable/Expendables joke. Oh wait - no I haven't!)

When Avatar was released just nine months ago, a live action 3D movie was still a pretty nifty concept. Was Avatar mind-blowing? It was. Were the special effects special? Yes! Visually, we'd never seen anything like it. (Thematically, well, some of us had seen Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, but it had been awhile.) I think we all recognized that there were certain story flaws inherent in Avatar, but to the vast majority of moviegoers, it didn't matter. We were wowed. We were awed. We felt as if James Cameron had truly transported us to Pandora. Another world.

And yes, maybe we were there about 20 minutes longer than we needed to be. And maybe it cost us roughly $4 more than we should have paid. But it was worth it.

Now fast forward a few months. Three dimensions are sooo last Christmas. Everything and its mother is being released in three dimensions. None of this 3D is as good as Avatar's, because didn't James Cameron spend like 70 years making that movie? Also, none of these movies are as good as Avatar. The Last Airbender. Clash of the Titans. Piranha. Step Up. I would be a lot happier if the extra dimension was character depth, and for that you don't need to put on any silly glasses.

It doesn't surprise me that the rerelease of Avatar didn't fly. For one, it's too soon. We all just took out second mortgages on our homes so we could afford the upcharge on 3D movies to see it the first time. For another, Avatar is available on DVD. This "Special Edition" comes with 9 minutes of extra footage that I'm sure is really great, and hopefully contains the subtlety and nuance that was originally cut from the film. But are those extra 9 minutes that somehow weren't good enough to put in the film the first time, but are suddenly so good that you absolutely must shell out another $645 to see it on the big screen, in 3D, on IMAX? Then there's also the matter that, back in December, Avatar was pretty much it for 3D, and now thanks to that film's $750 million take, we have been inundated. I never thought I'd say it, but Hollywood: Less depth, please!

Personally, I'm not a fan. Aside from Avatar, I have never wanted to see a film in 3D. I enjoy films such as Toy Story 3 in 2D as much as I possibly could, no extra depth required. In most cases, I think 3D is just a distraction from the elements of films I like: story, characters, dialogue. None of these are enhanced with such technology. In fact, the whole reason Avatar was received so well is because the 3D distracted from story, characters, and dialogue. Because, watch Avatar without those glasses on, and you'll see those elements seem flatter than ever.

The real problem with the rerelease is this: a mere nine months after its release - and only six months since it was the top rival to the year's Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker - Avatar is cheesy. Those blue people running around look like cartoons, that military bad guy is so over the top he might as well have a cape and twirly mustache, and "I see you" is no "I'll never let go, Jack" and never will be. Back in January, I placed it in the #10 slot on my list of 2009 films. Did an alien creature take over my body and force me to do this? No. Back then, all those months ago, Avatar was spectacle. I, like many, was enamored of it. But on subsequent viewings on DVD, it doesn't quite hold up. Is our world really changing at such a rate that yesterday's Biggest Movie of All Time can already be such old news? Is Avatar already just a punchline?

I don't think Avatar is a bad movie; I think it's far better than it could have been. The story and characters are serviceable for what it is. There are certainly worse blockbusters out there. Did you know there's even a way to learn the language of the Na'vi people from home? (Yeah, because that'll be a marketable skill someday. If you're going to take the time to learna foreign language, good for you - but please choose one that exists.)

I can't help but feel this "Special Edition" smacks of money-grubbing greed on the studio's part, especially when this is already the highest-grossing film of all time. How much more money do you need, James Cameron? If this edition is so special, why didn't you just put it out the first time?

Personally, I'm pleased that Avatar didn't fare so well in its rerelease. That moviegoers stood up to the Man and said, "No more. Not this time." I'm well aware that 3D isn't going anywhere, but this gives me some hope that all is not yet lost. (However, I will shamelessly admit that it's been a good 13 years since I saw Titanic in theaters and I am definitely up for a 3D Special Edition of that one. Jack + Rose 4eva!)

Still, I can't help but feel at least a little bad for James Cameron. I mean, sure, he has directed the two highest-grossing films of all time, but he also watched his ex-wife beat him in multiple categories at the Oscars this year. For a guy like Jim, a $4 million weekend at the box office must really sting. James Cameron probably spent $4 million on breakfast this morning. (And then rereleased his breakfast with 9 extra minutes of footage right afterward. In IMAX.)

Poor king of the world. I bet he's feeling really blue.

I'll never let go,



  1. Great article. I totally agree, although I didn't like Avatar the first time. I also don't care for 3D movies, as they tend to hurt my eyes. We always see movies in 2D if given the choice.
    I was trying to think of movies I've seen more than once in the movie theater, and my list is pretty short:
    Batman Forever (I was like 13 and in love with Chris O'Donnell, I think this can be forgiven - I saw it like 4 times)
    Dark Knight

    Ben saw Star Trek (the new one) twice in the theater.

  2. I've seen a good number of movies twice in the theater, or even up to 4 times (Titanic).

    Yeah I am all about 2D. It will take a lot for me to choose 3D over 2D, I just find it so distracting, like I'm on a ride. I keep waiting for my seat to suddenly drop out from under me or something.