I hope to make this my last word on Avatar, at least until I see it. 


The movie is just a couple of weeks away – the London premiere is on December 10th, and while reviews are embargoed until the day of release, I’m sure word will get out. Hell, I’m sure embargoes will be demolished on this one as everybody rushes to print their review within hours of the film ending. What I wonder is whether the release of the film will mark the beginning or the end of the Avatar wars. 

There’s no secret that I’m not psyched for Avatar. Nothing I’ve seen so far interests me – I hate the designs of the Na’vi, the story feels hackneyed to me, I think 3D is a gimmick, James Cameron’s movies rarely work for me on a level beyond ‘Oh, that was cool,’ and even his most emotionally true film, The Abyss, feels like the mawkish musings of an unsocialized tween – and I’ve made no secret of that. But for a certain segment of the population (the folks I’ve been calling the Avatards), this has been tantamount to high treason. These people have twisted my lack of interest into an actual campaign to ‘take the movie down,’ which is both silly and flattering. It’s flattering that anyone would think I have the power to bring down a movie as big as this, and that I could bring it down by expressing an opinion that can mostly be dumbed down to ‘Meh.’

I won’t lie – this has been bothering me. The personal attacks these people make on CHUD’s comments, in emails to me, and on sites all over the web ranging from MarketSaw to IMDB, don’t bother me. It’s the idea that even a mild lack of interest and a healthy dose of skepticism can be seen by these people as personally offensive and as serious attacks on a property they love. And that’s what bothers me too; Avatar has been much-ballyhooed as an original movie, so these people can’t have previous attachments to the world, the story or the characters and yet they do. They treat this movie like it’s the adaptation of their favorite work of fiction. I guess some of this can be attributable to the early scriptment leaking onto the internet a decade ago, but that scriptment is frankly no good. 

These people have created a partisan dividing line that is as insane as it is unnecessary. It’s interesting that they get so threatened when someone doesn’t express the correct amount of enthusiasm for their favored project, and it’s left me wondering if this isn’t a sign of deep insecurity, if they don’t have the same doubts deep in their minds that I have. That maybe they look at the Avatar Day footage and have to say to themselves, even if in an unconscious way, ‘This doesn’t look particularly better than stuff I’ve seen before.’ But that’s just me armchair psychoanalyzing (note: I am quite certain these people do need to be psychoanalyzed). But whatever the cause of their inability to accept dissenting opinions on this film, it is real, and it is frightening.

But will it last? As we move into the final weeks before the release of the film my mild disinterest in the movie turns into a keen curiosity. Despite the protests of folks at Fox, I know that the budget of this film is near or at 500 million dollars. I’ve had it confirmed by too many sources, some of them incredibly close to the project, to doubt it anymore. I’ve met my first real live person who has seen Avatar, and they gave it a resounding ‘It’s okay.’ The caveat: ‘It’s no Titanic,’ meaning Cameron hasn’t birthed another billion dollar baby (in this person’s eyes). But regardless of that person’s opinions, I’ve become really curious as to how this film will be received upon release; I live in a Hollywood bubble but my understanding is that Avatar hasn’t quite become an event film for the general audience yet (and it really, really needs to be the event film of the decade with that budget). Maybe Fox is waiting until December to pull out the stops (that’s very likely. Expect lots of magazine covers after Thanksgiving), or maybe Fox has again proved they don’t know how to market a film (also very likely), but from where I sit I don’t see the buzz that usually precedes a major hit. Can Avatar break New Moon‘s opening weekend? I really wonder, and this curiosity – a cold, hard interest in the numbers – is what has me keeping an eye on the film.

All of which leads me to wonder what will happen when the movie comes out. Is this the next Episode I, a movie that divides the fans and kept message board arguments sparking for years and years after release? Or is this King Kong, a film that underwhelmed and really sank out of the geek mindset? Either way the Avatards will carry the flag, but what about the rest of us? I was convinced that the first half of 2010 would be filled with Avatar-related battles across blogs and boards (no matter the quality of a movie like this it will divide bloggers and commenters. And this one, good or bad, will provoke very strong reactions, many of which will be about Cameron as opposed to the movie itself. It’s how Lucas got in the way of serious discussion of Episode III), but lately I’ve been getting this feeling that we’re in the waning days of the Avatar wars. That while the partisans will keep up their attacks on non-believers, most people just won’t care enough to get involved. 

I could be very wrong, of course. We could see Avatar dominate the nerd conversation for months to come. But with so many other geek properties zooming our way, and with the film continuing to build up a very strong smell of mediocrity (as a movie. I’m not here to make too many judgment calls on the tech until I’ve seen the film. But I’m a film fan, not a technology fan, so all that crap is not terribly important to me), I feel like we’ve made it through the worst of the skirmishes. There may be some more to come – surely there will be opportunities to call people haters simply because they’re underwhelmed by the clips online, or to say that people must have a personal vendetta against James Cameron just because they wonder if there  couldn’t have been a more original story to tell on Pandora – but I suspect that by February Avatar will be something in our rear view mirror as we all begin arguing about the Thor costume.

A final note: I’d like to be wrong. About it all. I would like to see Avatar and be blown away, to be transported to an alien planet and be swept away by an epic story of heroism and romance. I’d like Avatar to be the first Cameron film since The Terminator to connect with me on a very human level (Titanic came very close, but a lot of that was cheap manipulation on Cameron’s part. I’m not complaining about that cheap manipulation – the shot of the old couple on the bed as water rushes in just works - but it’s the difference between  being scared by a guy jumping out at you and by a guy telling you a terrifyingly tense story. Cameron jumps out and shouts ‘boogedy boogedy’ at your emotions in Titanic). There is nothing I’d like more than to rush home after seeing the movie and write a review that is filled with passion and excitement and most of all hope for the future of the new technologies Cameron keeps touting. I’d like to have my mind changed about 3D. I’d like to be convinced that Sam Worthington is in fact a movie star. I’d like to love the hell out of this movie.