Now, over a week later, there are still tickets available. What? Avatar, James Cameron’s feature film follow up to the biggest grossing movie ever, Titanic? Avatar, the film tipped to advance 3D film technology to unheard of levels? Avatar, 12 years and (allegedly) 0 million in the making? I’d always considered the Imax a bit too much of a gimmick. It was a big screen, there were all sorts of fancy digital and 3D ‘Under the Sea’ type screenings. Then, Dark Knight came out. I’m a Batman guy, and i loved Batman Begins, so it goes without saying i was excited about a follow up. So when i heard Christopher Nolan was going to shoot some scenes using Imax cameras, i decided that would be my first trip to the huge screen in Waterloo. It was, of course, amazing.
I made the decision that from then on i wanted to see the biggest movies only at the Imax. I went again for the pre-oscar release of Dark Knight, then eagerly awaited Watchmen tickets going on sale. The success of Dark Knight had greatly increased demand for Imax tickets in general. I got to see Watchmen at the Imax, but getting a ticket was a struggle, and i ended up sitting just five rows from the front. Anyone who has found themselves in the same position can tell you, it’s like watching a tennis match. You have to move your eyes from left to right constantly across the giant picture in order to take in all the action. For Star Trek it was worse, i couldn’t get a ticket at all. Having learnt from my experience, i wasn’t prepared to risk damaging my eyesight by sitting in one of the dozen front row seats that were available by the time i got onto the struggling server.
Christopher Nolan had made Imax, and from now on would be a fight. Again i struggled to get a ticket for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, though of course on this occasion wished i’d failed. Nothing interesting was lined up until Avatar, and i kept a constant eye on my inbox. To be honest, i didn’t expect to be able to get a ticket at all. So why can i still get them now?
The answer may lie in the seasonal release date. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me a trip to the cinema at Christmas just isn’t practical. I don’t have the time or inclination to fight the elements to get there. I don’t want to struggle to get on a train with the scores of people who can’t wait to spend their money on others, then after Christmas Day on themselves. Avatar opens the week before Christmas, encompassing the whole season and new year too.
Another reason could be a lack of big names. Sigourney Weaver hasn’t done much for a long time. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana are up and coming young actors, but not yet stars. Even Cameron himself has been absent from the spotlight for 12 years. There will be many that go to see the movie that have never seen a Cameron movie, particularly if the possible PG rating comes to pass. In this day and age of sequels and reboots, it could be that a completely original franchise isn’t a money spinner anymore. And the blue skinned, odd looking Na’vi are not necessarily the most marketable of characters.
Finally, maybe in some ways it could be the limited range of internet, viral marketing techniques. District 9 was a surprise hit this summer, thanks in no small part to a successful online campaign. But success looked different for District 9, 0m worldwide was a huge profit against it’s m budget. Avatar will need to do double that just to break even. The fact is, there aren’t enough online movie lovers to guarantee that level of ticket sales, so a large percentage of mainstream movie goers need to be hit. Right now, that isn’t happening. No-one i know outside of the industry had heard of Avatar when i mentioned i’d bought my ticket.
Now, i appreciate there’s still a month to go, and the TV spots are only now beginning to ramp up. But in order to stand out amongst the myriad of promotion typical of the Christmas period, the advertising needs to be something special. Without the ability to fully convey the true extent of the 3D technology used via tv, i’m not sure there’s enough compelling storyline to hook the casual film watcher. If it doesn’t turn a profit, will the experiment have been worth it?
If the 3D is that good, it should be. It’s worth remembering though, that Avatar took over a decade and nearly half a billion dollars to come to fruition. The theory is, with so much R&D done by Cameron and his team, the techniques should now be more efficient and affordable to other film makers, so it can be used for all 3D movies in future. But will it be that much cheaper? That much quicker? After Titanic, Cameron could write his own cheques. He is fortunate the project started when it did. In today’s financial climate, he probably wouldn’t have been allowed the resources to do it. With studios counting their pennies, will another movie of this magnitude be viable in the foreseeable future? Even if it could be done now for around 0m, what studio is going to want to take the financial risk? How many film makers would be trusted to turn a profit on that kind of gimmick movies? And which of them would even want to try?
The movie industry needs more film makers like James Cameron. Pioneers, who are willing to use their clout, risk their reputation, and spend a considerable amount of time to attempt to further technology, and break boundaries in the art of film. I really hope Avatar succeeds. That the technology presents us with a truly mind-blowing visual experience. And that the whole project makes a profit. Because my worry is, if it doesn’t, this will be the first, last and only movie we see of this type. I’m looking forward to making that trip to Waterloo, and to finding out what the future (hopefully) holds.
Bazmann – You can now follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann