With the X-Men Origins: Wolverine workprint making the rounds, I think that no matter what the studio does the film will definitely open, “…with a 7 in front of it”, as they’ve predicted. (That’s only because some people manage to write things like “7$ million” on the Internet.) Other than that, 20th Century Fox seems to be looking towards a rough year at the box office. Sure, Night at the Museum 2: Battle for the Smithsonian will rack up some nice numbers (especially with an IMAX opening), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs will please the kids, and I Love You, Beth Cooper will probably do decently (particularly because of a certain cheerleader’s presence); but it seems like Fox’s potential box office bombs and generally disliked projects (Dragonball: Evolution; Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel) will overshadow the good this year. Especially with Cooper being overshadowed by Bruno (the Sacha Baron Cohen follow up to Borat), and with the Chippunks having to face off against Disney’s return to handdrawn musicals, The Princess and the Frog. Even if all of those films succeeded, there’s one mega sized elephant in the room. The one project that could make or break the studio, and in true Hollywood fashion it’s being released in December as a grand finale…James Cameron’s Avatar.
When a studio gives you $195 million dollars up front to make your movie, that’s ballsy enough. When they don’t choke on their morning latte when they realize that you’ve been developing said film for 10 years, and haven’t really made any other films (except for a couple IMAX documentaries) in that 10 year span…that’s extremely brave. When you tell them you only want to show it in 3D theaters, and you push it back to December from a Summer tentpole release date...then you're showing off, and seriously asking for it. But when your last movie won 11 Oscars and is the highest grossing film of all time, it seems like a moderate gamble at best. Surely you’ll remember to pimp the film out, surely you’ll be leaking photos left and right, and SURELY you’ll have a trailer out to sizzle the picture at least a year or two in advance. Again, that is of course only applicable if your name isn’t James Cameron.
Believing in the success and quality of Avatar right now is pretty much like organized religion for Film Geeks. Proclaimations that it’ll, “…be f**king our eyeballs out in 2009” have run rampant on the forums of Ain’t It Cool News, MarketSaw 3D is following production as a major source for spy photos and details, and all of this is without a poster, without a trailer, without even an official logo and a teaser image to string the fans along. Indeed, all that there is to hype this movie is faith alone; and for some that’s all they need until December 18th. The only official photos are “behind the scenes” photos that have been published on the Web; other than that everything else is gained through spying, leaks, and in one case a t-shirt given to JJ Abrams (which he wore at ComicCon, the event this film would normally capitalize on in spades). Indeed, the big question is: Is Avatar, like AIG, “too big to fail”? With extreme secrecy, a Titanic budget, and James Cameron promising, “it’s like dreaming with your eyes open”, there’s a lot here that could go right…and a lot that could go terribly wrong.
The last film that seemed destined for this sort of greatness was, of course, Watchmen; and anyone who knows the geek community knows that not only can something so big be extremely divisive, it also might possibly be savaged beyond belief. The only reason it wasn’t completely torn apart was because Zach Snyder engaged the audience. He made it clear to them he was passionate about the project, and supplemented that passion with revealing enough material to tantalize the fans visually as well as mentally. The big point is, you need to show something to the fans and you need to show it to them at the right time. By attaching a teaser to The Dark Knight last summer, Snyder gave the audience something that made them think, “If that’s what the trailer looks like, what does the rest of it look like?”. If James Cameron released, at the very least, a video of himself talking up the film, followed by some production sketches and closing with a logo and a release date, the fans would at least know their faith in this project is justified. Again, any other filmmaker would have made the rounds by now, would have hit ComicCon, would have hit ShoWest with more than just a tagline, and would already be prepping a theatrical trailer.
On the plus side, maybe the fact that Cameron hasn’t blown the hype for his own movie out of proportion says something to his work ethic. Maybe he’s just been taking so much time and care with what he’s been doing, he’s just been too damn busy to provide anyone with anything. Think of him as the brilliant inventor who doesn’t pay attention to the little things like schmoozing for grant money or shoring up PR clout. He doesn’t need it, he doesn’t favor it, and if anything is going to be released it’s going to be top notch. Which leaves us in the situation we’re in now. No poster, no trailer, no official sketches, all we have are a bunch of copy and blurbs, and a studio big shot saying the poster will be out “soon”. The studio is either trying to hide one of two things: either they’re just as scared as we are that this might suck, and they want to try and do something about it behind closed doors; or they’re so confident about the movie that they believe it’s at the point where the name alone sells it.
Is Avatar too big to fail? Or is it destined for nothing but failure? Whatever the case, the clock ticks down to December 18th. When the first pair of 3D glasses is donned in anticipation for James Cameron’s latest potential masterpiece…our eyes will be on the screen with anticipation. What comes next is up to them, and us in our own special way. For now, it looks like faith alone will have to do; but if it’s any consolation the way this is all being handled does tell us one thing for certain…this isn’t an ordinary film, James Cameron isn’t an ordinary filmmaker, and a new world truly does await.
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