It looks like James Cameron’s Avatar is being setup to fail by every metric possible except the one that counts: “Is it a good movie?” Set up for a fall by unreasonable expectations brought on by intense secrecy, Avatar has already been derided for lackluster CG (even though Cameron said at Comic-Con that it was Gollum back in 2002 which confirmed that Avatar was possible) and a New York Times piece which applauded Cameron as a craftsman but one completely oblivious to the needs of actors or a rich story.
Now another damaging story has appeared in the NY Times, this time reporting that the cost of production and marketing for Avatar, spread out over multiple investors, is $500 million dollars. Hit the jump for details and remember that you’ve decided to be disappointed no matter what.
The New York Times reports on the details of the financial transactions involved and it’s pretty fascinating stuff. However, I’m more interested in how Avatar is being set up to be disappointing no matter how good the film may be. Because folks now know that the film cost $500 million, they expect a $500 million film. So unless Avatar pays their mortgages, it can’t succeed. Furthermore, negative reaction to the film will only be amplified by seven simple words: “They paid five-hundred million dollars for that?”
Except as the Times says, this isn’t a Heaven’s Gate-type setup where Fox will go bankrupt if the film doesn’t cross $250 million to put the film in the black. In fact, Fox won’t go bankrupt no matter what the film makes and while the studio obviously would prefer a hit to a flop, it’s more a matter of prestige. And if that’s what it’s all about, then I don’t understand why folks are judging it based on CG removed from the story and how much it cost to make when almost all movies make back their money from worldwide distribution and DVD/Blu-ray/Internet sales.
Why can’t it just be rated on whether or not it’s a fun adventure story? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was, based on the quality of the narrative and in terms of differentiating the CG of different robots, a failure. But the film was always going to rake in a shitload of cash because it’s Transformers so it could cost whatever it wanted with almost no risk. Avatar has a much tougher go of it and the grand irony is that even if it’s a better movie in terms of quality, it will be perceived as a failure because of its box office take. It has serious competition its following weekend with the double-threat of Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakuel. I’m not saying that Avatar is going to be a great movie (although I think it looks like a fun adventure story), but I find it a bit ironic that unless film pulls in Titanic-level box office, it will be perceived as a bigger failure than Transformers 2 even if Avatar is the better movie.