What's Next for James Cameron's Avatar - More Good Buzz?
by Alex Billington
August 3, 2009
I've been thinking about James Cameron's Avatar quite a damn bit since finally seeing 25 minutes of it at Comic-Con a little over a week ago. Not only have I been trying to let it all soak in, but I've also been trying to get a better grasp of the buzz coming out of the Con, in order to gain a better perspective on its situation. What I mean is that, oddly, it didn't come out of San Diego with the most buzz (that was probably Iron Man 2 followed by Tron Legacy). It's less of a question of why, and more of a question of what's next for Avatar? Because if you asked me about the movie a month ago, I would've said it was going to be the next Titanic.
So here's the thing about it - Avatar is not going to be the next Titanic because it's different in so many ways. Avatar is about the technological innovations and stepping forward with 3D and CGI, not simply telling a story we're familiar with (we learned about the Titanic sinking in elementary school). It's also about introducing us to an incredible new world on a planet far, far away called Pandora. And I have a feeling that no matter what, even if it's not the biggest box office success since Titanic, it will still be remembered and praised for those kind of groundbreaking achievements more than anything else (or so I expect).
I'm trying to hold back my true thoughts on Avatar until the upcoming "Avatar Day" arrives on August 21st. The primary reason being that the San Diego Convention Center's Hall H isn't the best place to experience something as visually astounding as Avatar. Sure, I love seeing footage in that room, but it won't compare to actually sitting in an IMAX theater watching it directly in front of me on a truly larger-than-life screen. So while I've been waiting to express my true feelings on the footage, I have instead been grappling with the buzz from Con and the reports coming out from almost every press outlet in the world (at least those that got in). And, of course, I've talked with almost every friend of mine who also saw the footage.
The buzz is certainly still strong, that's for sure, but it's not the strongest of the Con (as I've said many, many times before). So looking forward to "what's next," the next biggest make-or-break moment in the "life" of Avatar will arrive on the 21st. That's when the world will get to see the first official trailer (which will probably contain footage that none of us even saw at Comic-Con anyway) and millions of people will make their way to theaters to see the 15 minutes of it being screened for free. It's sort of the storm before the storm. There isn't a real saying like that (just "calm before the storm") but I'm making it up right now because it works quite accurately for this situation.
First off, I commend Fox and Cameron for coming up with "Avatar Day." What a brilliant idea, something we haven't ever seen a studio do before (correct me if I'm wrong?), and I'm excited to be there in-person to experience it. I'm fascinated by this event because I think it's an evolution of the "double dipping" idea. I know double dipping with DVDs is generally frowned upon, but what I mean is that the buzz is building for the 21st in a big way. I expect people to line up early and fight to get into the preview. That usually happens when a movie is released, not when they're just teasing it. So therefore, if it blows everyone away, it's a double dip because that excitement is going to be repeated again on December 18th when it actually hits theaters.
But the biggest struggle for Fox is going to be marketing it in general to a mass audience. When I was on the Comic-Con showfloor taking photos of the AMP mech on display (see those here), I heard two guys walk in behind me excited, only to discover that "oh, this isn't The Last Airbender?" Woops! Paramount is the one probably getting better marketing out of Avatar's early buzz (for their in-development adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon). I know that every last person reading this knows exactly what Avatar is, but does the rest of the world? Nope, not yet, as far as I can tell. That could all change on the 21st if things go very well - but that's a big "if."
I'm not the only one who realizes how much hinges upon the success of "Avatar Day." A good mainstream article about this can be found in The Guardian newspaper from the UK, where (after linking to my article about Favreau's comments on Avatar), they go on to say: "Maybe Avatar Day is also meant to consciously dampen expectations, too. At the moment, following the frothing, celebratory 25-minute Comic-Con preview, the public at large would be forgiven for thinking that Avatar is not just a quantum leap forward in terms of film-making, but also the dawn of a new chapter in the history of mankind." Interesting claim.
Another great article on the current Avatar dilemma, or so I'll call it, comes from Graeme McMillan at io9. He addresses two issues surrounding the movie, the first being that it "better not" fail because this year has already brought us too many fanboy upsets (they claim Terminator Salvation is one of them); and secondly that there's almost no way it can live up to all the hype, and, that we're building up our expectations so much thanks to our imagination and not actual footage. Which is why I am so intrigued by the response coming from Comic-Con - now that we've seen some footage, is our excitement and hype actually justified? At this point, I want to say "no," but I'm going to wait until the 21st to give you a real answer to that.
The last little tidbit I want to throw out there is the possibility that what has been shown publicly so far - roughly 25 minutes - is still not a good representation of the complete story we'll see over the course of Cameron's three-hour movie. As baffling as it may be, there's the possibility that the story could be as exceptional as anything Cameron has done before, and we just haven't seen enough to get that sense. So, when we see a trailer and 15 more minutes of footage on the 21st, our expectations could be kicked back up a notch because we finally get a real sense and it does look incredible (combined with breathtaking visuals).
Anyway, at this point I think I'm getting too far ahead of myself, almost right back to the point where all I'm doing is building up my own expectations once again. And oddly, I'm doing this even after having seen 25 minutes from Avatar. It's almost like I'm pretending I haven't seen anything yet, or I'm just trying to fool myself into believing I haven't seen enough. I don't really know? As excited as I am for December 18th to arrive so that we can see this in all of its glory, I'm probably more excited for August 21st. That's going to be a big day for Fox, for James Cameron, and for everyone. Calling it "Avatar Day" couldn't be more fitting.