James Cameron's AVATAR has lumbered past the impressive box office record held by TITANIC (made of course by James Cameron). It's no wonder that studios keep entrusting this man with more money than was lost by Icelandic banks to make his pet projects because his huge budgets bring in huge receipts.
But is AVATAR really a film?
Sounds like a silly question since it's showing in cinemas all over the world, but bear with me.
Films are about narrative, about character, about plot development and emotional involvement. AVATAR is about pretty pictures. HUGE pretty pictures...and in 3D. Watch in awe as cartoon creatures sweep over huge landscape paintings. Wonder as mountains float in the sky. Gasp at the beauty of a tree hundreds of feet high releasing its seeds. Fantastic images all, but do they add up to a movie.
The characters in AVATAR are cyphers, barely deep enough to be called characters. The plot is back of a postage stamp stuff and nobody develops at all. If it's a film then it's a bad one.
So how come it's made more money than the Mint?
AVATAR isn't a film it's a spectacle. It's intent is not to tell a compelling story, but rather to use what minimal story it can be bothered to come up with as an excuse to create those compelling, startling and wonderful images. It's no surprise that AVATAR is available in 3D and on the IMAX system because it is here that those images will have the greatest impact be they aerial journeys, mystical moments of giant machines blowing the hell out of everything in sight in an orgy of mechanistic (but nonsensical) violence.
The problem here is that success talks and AVATAR will make Hollywood think that throwing enough special effects at the screen is all you need to do make a great sci fi movie and that means we'll get more films from the likes of Michael Bay where eye-candy takes the place of mind candy and we really don't need more of that. Our only hope is the fact that the same year brought us the mind-blowingly brilliant MOON (infinitely better on 1% of the budget) and the entertaining DISTRICT 9 both of which acheived more with less.
So well done to AVATAR for making so much money in the middle of a global financial meltdown, but we just hope that the cost hasn't been too high and the damage too deep.