Avatar: 1,137,846,909 dollars and counting

"Avatar," James Cameron's latest budget-defying blockbuster, turned out to be a live action "Fern Gully".
"Avatar," James Cameron's latest budget-defying blockbuster, turned out to be a live action "Fern Gully".

Director James Cameron, the man who brought us such films as “Aliens,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and the financial juggernaut “Titanic,” which currently holds the spot as the number one highest grossing film of all time, has struck success again with his 2009 science fiction film “Avatar.”

In just 20 days since its release, Cameron’s “Avatar” grossed   1,137,846,909 dollars worldwide, surpassing “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and becoming the second-highest-grossing film of all time, making Cameron the only director to have two films earn over a billion dollars.

A few factors play into the success of “Avatar.” Smart marketing and an enormous amount of hype built up anticipation for the film.

Leading up to its release, words like “revolutionary,” and “game-changing” were thrown around, making people antsy to see Cameron’s long-awaited seventh feature film, his first since 1997’s “Titanic.”

Cameron conceived “Avatar” in 1994. After technology caught up with his vision, he continued his work on the film. James Cameron and Vince Pace developed the Fusion Camera System (Reality Camera System), which Cameron used to shoot “Avatar” in digital 3D.

The system utilizes two HD cameras in a single camera body to create depth perception.

Cameron also developed advanced motion-capture technology that allowed him to observe his actors’ digital counterparts in real-time, as opposed to the previous version of this technology, in which the digital environments and effects were added after the fact.

The film opened on December 18, and casual moviegoers and film fanatics alike flocked to theaters to experience the film in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D.

I use the word “experience,” because this movie is more of a spectacle or event than it is a film. The consensus of many viewers seemed to be positive.

People have been amazed by the indisputably impressive visuals and the world of “Pandora” that Cameron created.

While I was one of countless people impressed by the visual feast and technological advancements, I left the theater underwhelmed.

The  hype, positive reviews from critics, and word-of-mouth praise probably didn’t help, but I couldn’t help but feel as though an opportunity for a truly awesome movie was missed. I’m no stranger to James Cameron; I really enjoyed his “Terminator” films and “Aliens,” so I was expecting something in a similar vein.

James Cameron has never been known particularly for his skill as a writer, but he really dropped the ball on “Avatar.” Instead of merging an awesome story with the fantastic technology in the film, he combined the technology with a story we’ve seen countless times before. It is the story of a man who realizes the error of his race’s ways as he assimilates himself into a native culture. It’s also the most expensive pro-environmental film I’ve seen, with a nearly 300 million dollar budget.

But, I digress. The story offered no surprises, and none of the characters were too engaging. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the film’s protagonist, is a paraplegic marine who’s given the chance to partake in a scientific program in which he controls an “avatar” that looks like him as a member of the native species, the Na’vi, on the planet Pandora.

It’s his task to find out more about the natives so that an evil, one-dimensional human corporation can obtain, ahem, “unobtainium,” from under the Na’vi’s home, a gigantic tree. Needless to say, Sully becomes attached to one of the natives, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and has second thoughts about what he’s doing.

The story elements in “Avatar” are much like those we’ve seen in films like “Pocahontas,” “Dances With Wolves,” and “FernGully.”

The familiarity of the narrative, coupled with the special effects, is precisely why this movie is doing so well. Mainstream audiences don’t go to the movies to think or to be challenged or anything of that sort; they go to the movies to be entertained and to forget about the monotony of their daily lives.

Viewers are looking for escapism and suspension of disbelief. For a large percentage of them, Cameron delivered this with flying colors. He has crafted an intricately detailed and rich world worth spending time in and exploring. It’s also a world that deserves a better tale, however.

With the enormous financial success of “Avatar,” I don’t doubt an imminent sequel or two; I just hope Cameron provides something more for jaded filmgoers like me the next time around.