On the eve of Avatar

One of my favorite parts of the writing process is research, and it’s great fun to go back to old press reports to see if stories were on target about movies, or if they were ridiculously off base.

Before anyone was able to see Titanic or Avatar, the press focused on the high stakes of both films, and whether James Cameron could pull off a hell of a long-shot with both movies.

Almost nobody could get access to Cameron before Avatar was finished, but Rebecca Keegan was able to write the book The Futurist with his cooperation, and The New Yorker’s Dana Goodyear also wrote about “James Cameron’s 3D Gamble” several months before the film was released on December 18, 2009. 

Goodyear called Avatar “the first big-budget action blockbuster in 3D,” and pegged the budget at “more than two hundred and thirty million,” although to this day nobody seems to know how much the film cost. (A lot, obviously).

Even his blockbuster peers, like Lucas, told the New Yorker, “Creating a universe is daunting. I’m glad Jim is doing it – there are only a few people in the world who are nuts enough to. I did it with Star Wars, and now he’s trying to challenge that. I do believe Jim will take this further out than anyone’s ever conceived of.”

And Jeffrey Katzenberg, as he always has, was thumping the tub for 3D as the salvation of the business. “I think the day after Jim Cameron’s movie comes out, it’s a new world,” he said. “When you look at the history of film, there have been to date two great revolutions – sound and color. This will be the third great revolution. The industry is looking for its Citizen Kane, its definitive work of 3D, and Avatar may be that film.”

And to cast some doubt before the end of the profile, the New Yorker mentioned how early ‘Net reaction was skeptical, with the snarky comments about the aliens resembling the Smurfs and the Thundercats. They also took the ultimate cheap shot, the Jar Jar Binks comparison. (Some fans on Aint-It-Cool-News complained of “eyeball rape,” and although I had eye strain from it too, I think rape is too strong of a term). 

Of course, things turned out just fine for Avatar, which made a gazillion dollars, and for me, and many other moviegoers was two hours and forty minutes of pure fun, transporting me to a great, hallucinatory world, and transporting me out of the worries and stress of my everyday earthbound life.

As a long time fan of Cameron, I’ve always admired the fact that he’s never rested on his laurels and has always pushed himself further and further as a filmmaker. 

As Bill Paxton told the New Yorker, “The words ‘No’ and ‘That’s impossible’ and phrases like ‘That can’t be done’ – that’s the stuff that gives him an erection.”

And screenwriter Jay Cocks, who wrote the Cameron produced Strange Days and did an uncredited rewrite on Titanic told me, “Jim is the only guy I know who will take his first vacation in ten years and go to Antarctica in the depths of winter! He’s a guy who needs perpetual challenge.”