The Cinematic Juggernaut
Posted by Bri • Friday November 20th, 2009

Nice to have my soap-box back. Let's get down to business.

Like most of you keen fellow moviegoers, I have watched the trailers for James Cameron's long-awaited, highly speculated "Avatar." And also like a lot of you, I've seen the rumors that this cinematic juggernaut is costing an absurd half billion dollars to produce.

Let's break it down.

The first major red-flag that shot up is that in every trailer and/or promotional item I've seen for it, nothing touches on the story. At all. Unless there's a secret members-only trailer I'm missing out on - all I know about it is that it's a cross between the Smurfs and Fern Gully with "technology finally catching up" to make that dream a reality. Turns out it essentially boils down to a love story where a wolf (dressed as a sheep) falls in love with a sheep. You know, once you get beyond all the thinly-veiled politics of stealing resources from a foreign planet (in the same way that Titantic was still about a boat. Sorta.)

I'm a fan of James Cameron - he's a film legend at this point. And yes, I even loved Titanic (although, I don't think it should have been called "Titanic"). But outside relying on past works to get me excited, I don't think it looks like it's going to be a good movie. As many others have pointed out before me, it looks like a video game and that's never a good thing.

OK, enough blabbering - we all know I'm going to see the movie regardless, so let's talk shop.

$500 million. I usually feel a little weird calling studios out on how much they spend on their movies (unless the MPAA starts complaining that pirates are the reason why they can't turn a profit), but this number just baffles me. Yes, it's a lot of money, but it's also a private industry. The problem I have with it is two reasons.

1) The ability for a film to recoup its investment: Box Office Mojo has a list of the top grossing movies of all time (adjusted for inflation) and if you notice - only 33 movies in the last 100 years have topped the number it's taking Avatar just to be made. That means that this film has to not only do well - but me record-breaking out of the gate just to make a profit. Only five of the 33 were released in the last 15 years (although, to his credit, "Titanic" is the highest of the five)

2) The simple observation that money doesn't make something good: Take a gander at the most expensive movies ever made (this list varies by the source) and tell me how many of these films you consider to be honest-to-God good movies. Pirates 2 & 3? 2012? Spider-Man 3? I like to contrast that by lower (much lower) budgeted movies that people consider to be masterpieces (and then sometimes followed up by the "can you believe it only cost [single-digit] million dollars to produce.

My second reasoning is admittedly more flimsy and obviously, you can definitely make a crappy movie for low budgets as well - but maybe that's my point. If you could make a bad movie for $3 million or $300 million, wouldn't you make it for less?

And sure, this is all speculation. No one has seen the movie except Cameron and his team - but it is making me more and more nervous when the interviews and materials they release are all about how much technology they were able to cram in it or how much it all cost. Story shouldn't be playing second-fiddle for as long as it has had to.