Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar - A-

Who's In It: Sam Worthington (and his dog, Spot), Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana.

What It's About: It's the year 2154 and people still make references to the Wizard of Oz and the War in Iraq. The evil American military-industrial complex sends an obviously Australian marine to infiltrate and learn the ways of a group of people, who are so enlightened they apologize to their food for eating it.

What I Was Expecting: It's James Cameron. I expect bang for my buck, visuals like I've never seen and dialogue that causes physical pain to my ears.

What I Got: Everything except the last part. Okay, there were a few zingers from James Cameron, who apprarently learned to write dialogue by watching Ed Wood movies. But, in general, it's not too bad. Or I was just so dumbfounded by what I was seeing on screen, I didn't notice. I have never seen anything like this film. This film should not even be shown in 2-D. There's no point. It was obviously made to be seen in 3-D. And it's the 3-D effect where Cameron really shows his genius. Most 3-D movies focus on having things come at the screen. Cameron focused on moving things away. It was brilliant how many times there would be a character or two up front and how much movement there would be some 50 feet behind them. That is what makes it seem like things are happening right in front of you. As for the rest of the movie, as brilliant and inventive as the film is visually, plot wise, it's just okay. There is not a single, non-cliche character in the film. The performances are just passable as well. Sam Worthington apparently learned to do an American accent by watching Russell Crowe movies. I did like Giovanni Ribisi, but I liked his character much better when Paul Reiser played him in Aliens. Overall, the film is an experience and needs to be seen in 3-D, in a theatre.

Grade: A-

Oscar Potential: This film will get a lot of Oscar love. Nominations for Picture and Director, for sure. And the technical awards, just check them all off. How many it will actually win is a different story. Visual effects and the sound categories. But that may be it.

Five Random Thoughts:

1. I wonder how much screen time actual actors must have in a movie to make it not qualify as an animated film. Or is it that the animation looks so real in Avatar that you forget that minutes go by where you don't see anything not created with a computer.

2. Invoking Rule 34 on the Na'vi in (If you don't know Rule 34, google it.)

3. Any particular reason why the 3-D glasses look like Wayfairers?

4. They invent an entire language for this film, create all kinds of new species and the best sound they could come up with for the horse-like creature is an actual horse? And the best name they could think of for the Na'vi home tree is "The Hometree"?

5. James Horner should be shot for the score at the end of the film. If you've written one of the most recognizable film scores in recent memory, you don't rip it off. And it was an emotional moment and I found myself singing along to it, "Near...far...."

Trailer Park:

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief: I've reviewed this same trailer before, but it was the first time that I recognized the kid playing Percy as the kid from 3:10 to Yuma and the TV series Jack & Bobby.

Salt: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Wait a second. Hasn't Angelina Jolie been nominated a couple of times for Oscar recently? What on earth is she doing making this crap? The problem with coming up with such an awful title for a film: No one will forget it. You couldn't change it at this point.

The Book of Eli: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman....and Mila Kunis? Malcolm X, Beethoven and...Meg Griffin? Okay, I'm game. Looks great.

Alice in Wonderland: I'd seen this trailer on the internet before and I didn't think much of it. Now that I've seen it in 3-D, it looks amazing.

Despicable Me: I've reviewed this one a couple times as well. Had no idea this one was also in 3-D. Looks fun. Especially with THAT cast.

Shrek Forever After: I hated this trailer. I hate this title. When have you ever heard "forever after" in a fairy tale. And what happened to the original title "Shrek Goes Fourth"? Well, if it makes me laugh once, it'll be better than Shrek the Third.

Revisiting Titanic

Box office numbers are news under two circumstances. When a movie's opening is huge or its budget is.

Back on December 19, 1997, the most expensive movie up to that point was released. There had been a lot of noise about Titanic's budget, a whopping $200 million. And that's before marketing. It was estimated that Titanic would have to pull in over a half billion dollars worldwide before it even sniffed making a profit. Considering that it was an epic romance, people were questioning the studios' judgment in taking such a risk. There had only been 8 eight movies at that point to pull in that kind of money and six of them featured either aliens (E.T., Star Wars, Independence Day, Men in Black) or dinosaurs (Jurassic Park, Lost World). The other two were The Lion King and Forrest Gump. Titanic, on the other hand, did not have the names Lucas, Spielberg, Disney, Smith or Hanks attached to it. (Side note: Considering Jeff Goldblum starred in 3 of those, why isn't he a bigger star?)

Leonardo DiCaprio was not a household name. Kate Winslet did have an Oscar nomination under her belt, but wasn't exactly a big ticket seller. Who was the biggest name actor in Titanic? Billy Zane? Kathy Bates? Bill Paxton? Not what you would call star wattage. No, the biggest name attached to Titanic was James Cameron. A name that has been mentioned for too many times in his career with the phrase, "most expensive movie ever made." With the release of Avatar, I think this is the fourth time in his career he's held that distinction. Oh, the good old days when people screamed bloody murder over The Abyss' $80 million budget.

People forget that opening weekend for Titanic. You'll hear it mentioned on the news over the next 24 hours, Avatar's $73 million opening and what it means. How it was the second biggest December opening ever (ironically, Will Smith owns that record too.) But it's funny how people don't remember Titanic's opening weekend numbers. Titanic also had the second biggest December opening. Not of all time. Of 1997. The biggest December opening of 1997 happened the week before with a $32 million opening weekend for Scream 2. Titanic opened with $28 million. And executives at Fox and Paramount were panicking. A $28 million opening usually means a domestic box office of about $100 million. $100 million domestic usually means about $150 foreign. $250 worldwide means the studio will get about $125 million. And when you're movie cost $200 million to make and about $100 million to market, a $125 million return on a $300 million investment will NOT please your shareholders. Those kind of numbers end careers and sometimes entire studios. And when you're huge budget movie barely beats the new James Bond (Tomorrow Never Dies opened at $25 million), you're kind of screwed.

Then something interesting happened. You see, Titanic did $28 million over 3 days. That's just under $10 million a day. Now, when a movie makes $28 million in its opening weekend, it usually makes the same the over the four days following. Then in weekend #2, the movie will do about half what it made its first weekend. Theoretically, by the end of weekend #2, Titanic would have made around $70 million. By December 28, Titanic had made $88 million. Nearly 20% higher than expected based on the opening weekend. And things were looking up.

Neither Titanic's first or second weekends were anything extraordinary. Weekend #3 is STILL the fifth highest 3rd weekend of all-time. And on top of that, Titanic made $70 million the Monday-Sunday after weekend #2. Yes, all of a sudden, Titanic was averaging $10 million a day. Weekend #3 was actually $5 million HIGHER than opening weekend. That was unheard of.

Weekend #4? The highest 4th weekend of all time at $28.7 million. But Monday through Sunday, Titanic only made $40 million. A huge slowdown, probably because kids were back in school. The film still hadn't crossed the $200 million plateau.

Well, it didn't take the kids long to head back to Titanic. Weekend #5 (again, the biggest ever) saw Titanic back above $30 million again. To put it in perspective, the second highest grossing film of all-time, The Dark Knight, did $16 million in its fifth weekend when the average ticket price was $3 higher! That's how huge Titanic was at the time. Even with school back in, the Monday-Sunday was nearly $50 million.

Titanic also holds the record for:
Weekend #6 ($25.2 million. 2nd place? The Sixth Sense with $16.5)
Weekend #7 ($25.9 million, it went UP. 2nd place? Passion of the Christ at $15.2)
Weekend #8 ($23.0., followed by Home Alone, $12.6)
Weekend #9 ($32.8 million, Valentine's Day weekend, Home Alone in 2nd again with $9.8) Weekend #10 ($21.0 million, Slumdog Millionaire is #2 with $12.0)
Weekend #11 ($19.6, finally a weekend below $20 million. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is #2 with $8.4)
Weekend #12 ($17.6, Home Alone in 2nd again with $8.2)

They don't really keep track beyond that since most films don't remain in theaters much longer than 3 months. But considering Titanic was still doing better than $10 million per weekend for another FOUR weeks, it's unlikely any film even challenges it. Titanic's final weekend above $10 million was also it's first weekend where it wasn't number one at the box office, losing out to Lost in Space. Which holds a similar distinction to being the one who beat Ken Jennings. No one remembers who beat Titanic, just that it was eventually beaten.

Another amazing statistic about Titanic's numbers: To make it on the list of the biggest 12th week grosses, a film would need to make $3.5 million. That's in week TWELVE. The first weekend that Titanic DIDN'T make that much was in week number TWENTY-TWO! That's two and a half months later! By then, Titanic had made $577 million in the U.S. alone. That's over $100 million more than Star Wars and the Special Edition made combined. And the sick part is that Titanic went on to make ANOTHER $23 million before finally going away. $600 million in the U.S. alone. $1.8 BILLION worldwide. To this day, the second biggest worldwide gross (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) is over $700 million short of James Cameron's bohemoth.


The only movie to break the $600 million barrier. Until The Dark Knight last year, the only movie to even break $500 million. If Titanic had sold the same number of tickets for the price that people paid to see The Dark Knight, it would have made $921 million at the box office.

When people say something is of "Titanic proportions", I can't help but wonder if they're referring to the boat or the movie.