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Things I Learned at the Avatar Premiere

Things I Learned at the Avatar Premiere

Thompson on Hollywood

James Cameron basked in the glow as Avatar, his latest industry-changing event-film, earned a standing ovation at the Mann Chinese Wednesday night. At the after party Cameron beamed as he stood between two tall women, wife Suzy Amis and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow. “You’re on a roll!” he said to the Hurt Locker director. “You raised the bar,” she said to Cameron.

“I told you,” Bigelow said to me. It looks like Cameron vs. Bigelow will be the story at the Oscars.

Cameron and I talked about how much Steven Spielberg likes the movie: he calls it “an epic spectacle. Cameron creates Oz, and then destroys it.” Cameron showed it to him the first time he screened it all the way through in 3-D, with some of the cast members. Spielberg can’t wait to get his hands on the face-capture technology. Spielberg spent some weeks on the Avatar set, and used Weta performance capture for 3-D Tin Tin, but that film was already shot by the time the real break-throughs occurred at the end of the Avatar production, and Tin-Tin is not photo-real anyway, Cameron pointed out. It’s stylized. UPDATE: (Spielberg has an official quote: “The most evocative and amazing science-fiction movie since Star Wars.”)

Thompson on Hollywood

Twentieth Century Fox co-chairman Jim Gianopulos admitted that he grew some white hairs on this production (as he did on Titanic), which racked up R & D costs. He says at a certain point the studio would have settled with breaking even. Will Avatar get to $400 million domestic? Gianopulos won’t commit, but said that based on the Wednesday opening in France, which was double that of Titanic in 1997, he expects the overseas box office to be huge. My estimate of a box office total of $1 billion worldwide would make Fox very happy; they don’t have to make that much to get out.

Gianapulos agreed that the opening weekend (3453 screens) on this unbranded movie (which nonetheless has huge marketing and buzz around it) will not tell the whole story. (Titanic scored the second best December opening at the time, reminds box office guru Gitesh Pandya. The record to beat is I Am Legend‘s $77.2 million.) Cameron has said that the movie is going to have to sell the movie. That is especially true with women, who need word-of-mouth to tell them there’s plenty for them in this sci-fi action romance. UPDATE: Analysts at SNL Kagan estimate that the movie will easily make its money back. The LAT expects the movie to well exceed Fox’s own lowball $50-60 million weekend estimate domestically and score $200-million-plus worldwide.

Needless to say, Fox is counting on Cameron to deliver them a much cheaper sequel. (Budget estimates for Avatar are settling in the $300 million range.) Then the studio can really count profits. (Cameron says Avatar is “the deal of the century.”)

Fox is also delighted that Titanic naysayer, the LAT’s Kenneth Turan, has come around on this one, posting a Wednesday night rave:

Think of “Avatar” as “The Jazz Singer” of 3-D filmmaking. Think of it as the most expensive and accomplished Saturday matinee movie ever made. Think of it as the ultimate James Cameron production. Whatever way you choose to look at it, “Avatar’s” shock and awe demand to be seen. You’ve never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else.

UPDATE: Rotten Tomatoes is trending 82% fresh so far. The NYT’s Manohla Dargis also likes the movie:

With “Avatar” James Cameron has turned one man’s dream of the movies into a trippy joy ride about the end of life — our moviegoing life included — as we know it. Several decades in the dreaming and more than four years in the actual making, the movie is a song to the natural world that was largely produced with software, an Emersonian exploration of the invisible world of the spirit filled with Cameronian rock ’em, sock ’em pulpy action. Created to conquer hearts, minds, history books and box-office records, the movie — one of the most expensive in history, the jungle drums thump — is glorious and goofy and blissfully deranged.

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Everyone that posted negative comments are idiots. … IDIOTS! Avatar has made more money than any other movie – EVER. People will say – well if you adjust tickets prices then….., but the problem is there are more movies being released today than there were when those other movies were released. What other options did people have beside Casablanca, or the Sound of Music? … It’s like TV ratings today vs. 1960. You have over 400 channels today vs. 4 channels back in the day. … The movie was one of the best I ever saw. I was amazed throughout with the picture, and I didn’t get a headache. Come to think of it I have yet to hear anyone except the idiots on this page complain about headaches, and the action is throughout the movie – not at the end. The 3D was amazing compared to other 3D movies because it’s new technology. … It was just invented. Not sure how new technology that never existed before Avatar is outdated when no other movie has yet to use it since Avatar. …. Idiots!


I really am struggling to understand the ‘love’ for Avatar. I went to see it based on the rave reviews by many and was sorely disappointed. The story is negligible and hackneyed – taken from numerous other sources, and much of it recycled James Cameron. The characters are so stereotyped that there is almost no need for any kind of arc. The single possibly interesting one, played by Rodriguez, dies in the usual manner. Until the flying sequences which create the only real magic in the movie, it was a B movie with a gimmick. The portrayal of the Na’vi’s world of ‘noble savages’ was at times so patronizing and cloying, even as a form of animation, it was hard to stomach. I wonder at critics I respect being so swept away by the visual excitement that they appeared to leave all other criteria for a good film at the door. I am also reminded of the place in movie history of “The Jazz Singer.” I don’t decry the VFX, or the dedication, but at the service of what? A decent story, good dialogue, well-rounded characters, emotional involvement, real suspense – I’d take a film with these ingredients, and watch it numerous times, over a whizz-bang creation of an acrylic-coloured ‘waterworld’ inspired fantasy that left no room for the viewer’s own imagination.


The 3-D effect made me want to puke – I was so dizzy


This gave me a huge headache – prepare for hours of 3D by doing this: Also, There’s no action until the end – a huge build-up for nothing. Like Titanic all over again…

Movie Master

Avatar is a panned piece of garbage with already outdated technology, and an historical box office disaster. Wearing 3D glasses for 3 hours gave the audience a massive splitting headache. They should have seen this coming. The technology to make this movie is substandard and overhyped as being cutting edge. Real cutting edge tech is on the internet 24/7. That’s where you find the real avatars, not in clunker movie theaters. This movie bombed for every apparent reason as it should have and was expected to. It was a failure in every way.

Ryan Sartor


I think you deserve a great deal of credit for anticipating the 82% “Universal Acclaim” that Avatar is experiencing at Metacritic. Even when critics like Roger Ebert had doubts about the initial 15-minute presentation, you stuck to your belief that the film would be a game-changer, and it’s certainly on track. A 100% review from Manohla Dargis? This is NOT the Thundercats feature people feared it would be.


The Cameron v.s. Bigelow thing is funny. Cameron was already “King of the world” I think it is time for Bigelow to be “Queen”. Also war movies have a good history of winning best picture for their weightiness. This would be the first one directed by a woman. Maybe Cameron should have released his film in summer of 2010!

I doubt that Tarantino has much of a chance, as hip and cool as his filmmaking is. He has blown off the DGA big time and people don’t have short memories for that.

By the way, you totally underrated “Everything is Fine”. DeNiro is back to form, and how. Welcome back Robert! The movie is a bit flawed, but no more than some of the other best pic contenders. Even Drew Barrymore is good in this one as she goes face-to-face with DeNiro. Outstanding performance that belongs up there in the nominations with Jeremy Renner, of course too. Glad that SAG recognized his Golden Globe snub. Best performance of the year, by far. DeNiro a close second.

Crow T Robot

Cameron vs Bigalow would be a great story. The “Mr and Mrs Smith” of Action Auteurs. But I still don’t think The Hurt Locker has a chance at an Oscar win. The Academy, as always, is out to help itself more that honor great cinema. A win for the terrific Bigalow film (which nobody except wine-sippers has seen) would further bolster the award as a fringe industry event rather than an important world cultural one. It would damage the brand more than help it.

If Avatar DOES catch fire, like every blogger seems to think it will, the big prize is almost assured.

If not, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Inglourious Basterds, a popular AND acclaimed work by a famous director, leap to the lead.

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