A Look Back at Avatar Day and What Lies Ahead for Fox
So the entire world is now excited for James Cameron's Avatar to open on December 18th, right? Wait, they're not? Avatar Day didn't put the movie on a path to become another $1.6 billion success like Titanic? I'm still grappling with the outcome of Avatar Day last Friday and everything that happened that evening, both good and bad. I think it's a bit hasty to call it a global success but I also think it's a bit ignorant to call it a failure. But what exactly it is, though, I don't know. One thing is for sure - a lot of people watched the trailer for Avatar. But not a lot of people went to Avatar Day. Is Fox to blame? Or was it a lack of interest?
After Avatar failed to come out of Comic-Con with the most buzz (although it was still quite successful), I wrote an article titled What's Next for James Cameron's Avatar - More Good Buzz?. I wrote it because I was worried that the buzz would continue to get worse or Fox would make some big marketing mistakes. One of the best introductions that puts this into perspective comes from Jeffrey Wells' Hollywood Elsewhere:
"Yesterday morning before the online trailer hit, James Cameron's upcoming film was (a) the most keenly awaited scifi/fantasy of the year, and (b) about to have its profile bumped up big-time with a nationwide IMAX 3D quickie preview that would surely whet the public's appetite for the full-length version…"
"But in the wake of yesterday's trashing of the trailer by the elite cineaste/fanboy community and the negative ripple effect this has surely created to some extent, tonight's IMAX 3D showings have gone from being seen as a bold genius marketing move to a do-or-die, prove-it-or-lose-it attempt to quell the bad buzz…"
It's actually quite perplexing to consider how quickly Avatar went from being the most highly anticipated movie this year to being something that people are now on the edge about (is it worth seeing in theaters or not?). Obviously all this is debatable, considering the completely polar opposite opinions we're seeing, but Fox still has a very long way to go if they want to make this to be as big as Titanic or even Transformers 2.
In regards to Fox and their marketing, another great article on Avatar Day comes from Anne Thompson at indieWIRE. First off, she notes that "James Cameron himself wasn't happy that the Avatar online trailer preceded the Avatar Day IMAX 3-D screenings on Friday." That was an enormous mistake that has become increasingly apparent as everyone starts to look back at "what went wrong" and/or how they could've better leveraged that anticipation that Wells' noted existed before the trailer hit. However, where Thompson takes her piece from there is actually back into the positive side of things, which I think is the right direction.
"People are getting hung up on whether or not this is animation. What does it matter, if you are pulled into the story? Spielberg and Peter Jackson's upcoming TinTin is using the same exact process—without mixing in a live action story as well."
"I'm not worried about Avatar pulling audiences (it's real final cost will determine its ultimate success), because if the relatively primitive Polar Express and Beowulf succeeded—on the merits of being utterly new and different—on December 18 Avatar will deliver far more. Curiosity is key."
IMDb just did a daily poll today focusing on the Avatar trailer asking readers to grade the trailer. At the time of writing this, 36.5% of the polled users gave it a "C for I probably won't see this movie," with a fairly impressive 40.9% giving it either "A for amazing!" or "B for best trailer of the year" (which seem like the same choice to me). Not the best sign for Fox, but this is just a small poll that I don't really think is truly representative of the general opinion. However, it is an indication that, as I said, Fox has a lot of work to do to convince audiences with an improved second trailer that Avatar actually is worth seeing (in 3D).
Lastly, regarding the reports that most of the Avatar Day showings were half full (like the two showings I attended), I think Fox is to blame, not the movie itself. Not only was releasing the trailer early a mistake, but the ticket system crash on Monday (and subsequent re-registration) killed off a lot of hype for the preview. A Fox rep at my Avatar Day showing admitted that it was their mistake that they should've been ready. It also wasn't even marketed by Fox, meaning only hardcore Cameron fans and those who read websites like this one, went to Comic-Con, or saw the LA Times article, knew about it. But was that their strategy for this?
I'm not calling Avatar Day a failure nor am I call it a huge success. But, a bit like what Anne Thompson said, I think it has at least put Avatar on the right track for success and gained a few new supporters. Now it just depends on what Fox does moving forward and if their marketing can really kick ass. Let's just hope they don't make any more big mistakes, because I, for one, still want Avatar to be a huge success this December.