2009 was an interesting year.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe was in its infancy with Iron Man and Hulk coming out the year prior, jazz choir popularity was at an all time high thanks to Glee, and adults and children alike wept real tears within the first 5 minutes of Pixar’s Up. 2009 was also the year that the highest grossing movie of all time was released by the guy who had made the previously highest grossing movie of all time. To this day no other film has been able to rival the Titanic box office gross (pun certainly intended) of James Cameron’s Avatar.
At $2.788 billion, no Avenger, Jedi or Wizard has been able to topple the Na’vi’s box office holding and that’s not likely to change any time soon. News has recently broke that the long awaited sequel(s) will begin filming in the Fall, despite constant pushbacks from James Cameron, and the new Pandora- The World of Avatar theme park is taking over Disney’s Animal Kingdom this Summer. So as we prepare to explore yet another cinematic universe (nearly ten years after the initial release) there is sure to be rejuvenated interest in the original film and probably a 891-minute extended cut 4K 3D 2-Disc Blu-Ray release- and that is a damn shame.
Avatar is not a great movie.
I will preface this rant by saying that I saw Avatar a total of four times in theaters because of a variety of family, friends and one girlfriend. I will also mention that I am still a bit bitter about spending approximately $239 to see a boring, clichéd, overhyped film four times. So personal finances aside, let’s dig into what makes this film so obnoxious, why it can’t be beat (financially), and why it has taken a decade to get a sequel to this box office hit.
FernGully: The Last Airbender
Many praise the fact that Avatar is a unique property (not an adaptation, remake or sequel) but I would argue that even though the Na’vi themselves have only been exploited on film once, their story is a
tale as old as time… err… sung with all the colors of the wind.
Since Avatar’s release it has rightfully drawn countless comparisons to Disney’s Pocahontas and FernGully: The Last Rainforest. The story of a white male savior joining the ranks of the native inhabitants whose way of life he was previously trying to exploit isn’t anything new.
In case you have lived under a rock for the past ten years, the plot of Avatar is as follows- according to IMDB’s Jwelch5742:
“On the lush alien world of Pandora live the Na’vi, beings who appear primitive but are highly evolved. Because the planet’s environment is poisonous, human/Na’vi hybrids, called Avatars, must link to human minds to allow for free movement on Pandora. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed former Marine, becomes mobile again through one such Avatar and falls in love with a Na’vi woman (Zoe Saldana). As a bond with her grows, he is drawn into a battle for the survival of her world.”
The “survival” Jwelch5742 alludes to here is from the capitalistic human race which wants to frack the life out of Pandora for a mineral obnoxiously known as “unobtanium.” Much like Pocahontas, John Smith and the Powhatan tribe had to stop the English’s lust for gold in Disney’s 1995 hit.
Comparisons aside, Avatar’s plot may seem more timely than ever with the struggles over the Dakota Access Pipeline in the news recently. If anything though Cameron’s blue-washing diminishes the struggles of native people here on Earth. Blue aliens with flying bats probably sell a lot more tickets though.
Don’t get me wrong, most of Hollywood’s stories have been told a thousand times over. I’ve watched Martha Wayne/Uncle Ben die in one way or another more times than I can count over the last ten years, but you would think the highest grossing movie of all time would at least have a somewhat unique plot.
Then again, the film’s logo immortalized the font Papyrus so I don’t know what I was expecting.
Cameron may have failed to create a unique story for his motion captured actors’ antics, but it can’t be argued that his spectacle paid off at the box office.
Welcome to the 3rd Dimension.
Avatar marked the beginning (and peak) of the modern 3D extravaganza. As everyone who invited me to this movie insisted, the only way you could possibly see it was in 3D IMAX.
In recent years we’ve seen plenty of films try to take down Avatar’s high rank, but none have been able to topple the world of Pandora. A decrease in 3D sales, the growing success of streaming home entertainment, and an over-saturation of big budget CGI blockbusters means it probably never will be.
Admittedly, Cameron’s dedication to the spectacle of this film is admirable. It’s rumored he made Titanic so that he could afford to make Avatar and then he waited 10 years to redefine the technology needed. What has now become commonplace motion capture technology was groundbreaking for the time and that coupled with a more artistic approach to 3D depth made it necessary to see in a different dimension. As the one girlfriend I saw this with put it- seeing blue cat people have sex in 3D on a giant screen was worth the extra $10.
I think we’d both agree now that is wasn’t, but it was this expectation that helped drive ticket sales. To be fair, Cameron’s blue skinned aliens were perhaps worthy of 3D viewing, but subsequent attempts from other films saturated the market and 3D sales just aren’t what they were.
Audiences also just aren’t going to the movies as often anymore. It’s hard enough deciding what to binge next on Netflix, let alone going to the theater and spending money on a singular choice. I’m sure most people are fine waiting a few months for the biggest summer blockbusters to be released for direct download.
The “WOW” factor that insisted audiences see Avatar in theaters is an everyday occurrence now and audiences have come to expect moderate to amazing CGI/motion capture in all films. We can expect a new giant superhero-on-superhero battle royale weekly now, so if you miss one just check it out on iTunes in a few months.
Avatar 2 is sure to make plenty of money, but aside from introducing some new revolutionary film technique there is no way it will live up to its predecessor. Maybe that’s why it has taken so long.
While Marvel, DC, Universal and many more production companies have franchises with multiple releases coming out each year for the foreseeable future, Avatar has been suspiciously absent since its boom in 2009. Sure you might see a lone blue-kitty at your local Comic Con, but the film has hardly left a mark in pop culture.
Zoe Saldana has continued to have success as an alien (and actress in general) but what was thought to be a launching pad for star Sam Worthington was followed by a bit of a stumble out the gates. Much like the movie’s plot, the characters have been largely lost to the years. Do we really want/need to check in on them and their Na’vi babies four more times?
James Cameron pops in every few months to remind us that he has four sequels he’s working on, but the “long-awaited” followup has been pushed back time and time again. So what exactly has he been up to?
Most of Cameron’s more newsworthy moments come from his documentaries, which usually detail his interest in the mysteries of the deep seas. He’s said on multiple occasions he would like to explore the oceans of Pandora, so perhaps he’s developing some crazy new underwater filming technology to be used in the even longer-awaited Vincent Chase-led Aquaman movie? Probably not.
I would imagine Cameron is instead buying his time long enough to make this all seem interesting again. How do you recapture the amazement of audiences ten years after they realized your movie wasn’t that good? You draw it out long enough so the release in itself is interesting.
We’ve seen a slew of long awaited sequels including Star Wars, Mad Max and the upcoming Blade Runner 2049, but the results have varied. For every Force Awakens, there’s a Dumb and Dumber To. I’d lean more towards Dumb and Dumber for our second outing to Pandora, but with a decade worth of perfecting four sequel scripts what could go wrong?
Well, a lot has changed about how franchises are run, for better and worse, and we consume our entertainment in different ways. 20th Century Fox is surely putting every egg they have into Cameron’s basket, but only time will tell if it will pay off.
I for one will need some convincing that we need another Avatar, let alone four, even if it involves seeing blue cat people have sex in 3D on a giant screen under water.