Why Avatar just might make its money back
There’s a very good reason why James Cameron’s Avatar, also known as The Most Expensive Movie Ever Made, stars a couple of computer-generated blue humanoid aliens.
Simply put, the mega-budget 3D sci-fi spectacle has been designed with a sort of ‘calculated universality’ and its 10-foot, cat-eyed protagonists are a central part of that strategy.
Film production is a tight business and risk-averse Hollywood isn’t about to throw big money at a production unlikely to make big returns.
Cameron and co. have judiciously splashed Avatar’s rumoured $300 million pricetag on a film that can plays across almost all racial and cultural boundaries.
There’s no country on Earth Avatar won’t ‘work’ in; days out from its global release it’s looking like a very safe bet indeed.
Here’s how they pulled it off:
The US has a global image problem.
Avatar is set on the fictional planet of Pandora, a lush tropical paradise where greedy corporations ruthlessly exploit the natural resources under the aegis of a distinctly American brigade of space marines.
At odds with the human transgressors are Pandora’s tribal natives, the 10-foot blue-skinned Na’vi, who put up what little resistance they can with bows and arrows and hunting knives.
Avatar’s black and white depiction of ill-equipped Na’vi good guys struggling against aggressive US space soldiers – all clenched teeth and good ol’ boy attitude - will play gangbusters around the world. Imagine the opening night crowd at the Baghdad Cineplex.
White man? Black man? Red man? Try blue man.
The depiction of the Na’vi as tribal utopians is another facet of Avatar’s universalist strategy. Every culture on earth can trace its roots to some sort of tribal existence, giving a diverse range of audiences an easy ‘us’ and ‘them’ to grasp.
In the film, Aussie Sam Worthington plays a young marine whose conscience is transferred into a Na’vi body – the ‘Avatar’ of the title - to better assimilate with the natives.
The star of the film becomes in effect a racial Avatar for white, Chinese, Indian, even Haitian audiences. He’s simultaneously no race and whichever race has had the misfortune to ever be outgunned and oppressed.
One of Avatar’s themes is the ‘seeing’ of another’s true nature and by spending most of his screen time as a lithe Na’vi brave, Worthington’s character becomes an ideal cipher for viewers of any racial background.
Audiences everywhere can just sit down, pop on their 3D glasses and go on an expertly-steered ride with the blue guy.
Pandora: here, there and everywhere.
The flora and fauna of the planet Pandora also play integral roles in Avatar’s scattergun appeal.
By day, Pandora is gorgeous Earth-like jungle highlighted by a few Roger Dean-inspired floating mountains, but by night it comes alive with a wondrous display of bio-luminescence and alien beasties.
Hammerhead rhinos, pastel-hued pterodactyls and vicious panther puppies all compete amid the planet’s plausible-looking ecosystem, while providing obvious spectacle that will elicit just as many oohs and aahs from audiences in Paris, Texas as Paris, France.
The planet’s flora, too, has been designed to spellbind viewers, with much of Pandora’s vegetation based by Cameron, an avid diver, on Earth’s undersea plant life.
Pandora’s ‘almost Earth’ look provides the film a grounded reality; even those sticks in the mud who shun fantasy won’t mind queuing up for a ticket!
Three really is the magic number.
With Avatar, 3D’s resurgence as a theatrical format is complete. Awareness of the crisp new process has grown in recent years, with digital 3D put to great use on animated family flicks and teen shockers.
Avatar gives adult audiences not particularly turned on by My Bloody Valentine or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs in 3D a comfortable way to experience the well-established format.
The film has been positioned as much as a talking point as an entertainment - something ‘you’ve gotta see’.
One for the ladies.
As Avatar progresses, Worthington’s character meets and falls in alien love with a Na’vi princess played by Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana.
Their tribal romance is deftly handled – the affair registers much more authentically than Jack and Rose’s did in Cameron’s Titanic - and is given plenty of screen time.
Avatar might have a much softer edge than Cameron’s earlier sci-fi rockers Aliens and Terminator 2 (family friendly = wider box-office net!) but it’s a great time at the movies and good value ticket.
The film hits all its marks, which is highly unusual for an entertainment packaged with ‘something for everyone’.
Word of mouth will sell it; I’m even doing my bit to sell it right now… wait a minute, did they calculate that too?
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