We Were Wrong: 'Avatar' Looks Like a Winner

Despite our naysaying, Cameron's half-billion-dollar epic wins critical applause and eager audiences

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Confession time: when the Atlantic Wire previously covered the furor around the reported $500 million budget for James Cameron's new film Avatar, bad buzz around the awkward-looking previews prompted us to ask "Will 'Avatar' Be a Megaflop?" But now as the movie opens nationwide, it appears the time has come for us to eat our words: The initial critical response to 'Avatar,' in case you haven't heard, has been resoundingly positive. Early ticket sales are staggering (on track to set the Fandango record) and some are expecting the movie to have a $100 million opening weekend, which would put it near the Top 10 of all time (though still well short of the Dark Knight's $158 million total). Still, as others have pointed out, the mercurial media's pendulum has swung already, and could swing yet again. For now though, it appears that those who questioned Cameron's ability to deliver are about to be decisively silenced.

  • Expenses Justified In the New York Times, where the $500 million figure originated, Manohla Dargis confesses to being overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle of 'Avatar': "Few films return us to the lost world of our first cinematic experiences, to that magical moment when movies really were bigger than life (instead of iPhone size), if only because we were children. Movies rarely carry us away, few even try. They entertain and instruct and sometimes enlighten. Some attempt to overwhelm us, but their efforts are usually a matter of volume. What's often missing is awe, something Mr. Cameron has, after an absence from Hollywood, returned to the screen with a vengeance. He hasn't changed cinema, but with blue people and pink blooms he has confirmed its wonder."
  • 'Masterpiece' Writing for Cinematic Happenings Under Development (CHUD), Devin Faraci devours the film, even though he also once doubted its ability to "make its money back," agreeing the budget was astronomical. As he now writes:
Avatar could be considered James Cameron's masterpiece. It's the culmination of his career's work, carries many of the signature throughlines and trademarks the director is known for, and seems to be a punctuation mark on a career filled with substantial genre milestones. Cameron's a serious talent whose attention to detail and militant approach to his work has been a divisive and vital part of his work and Avatar represents the man exorcizing seemingly every creative demon in his being with almost pinpoint accuracy....

This is what [Star Wars Episode 1] The Phantom Menace should have been. It's proof that all that buzz about Sam Worthington is legit. It's proof that the only downside to Avatar is how it allowed us to forget what a powerhouse James Cameron is.
  • 'Obliterates the Bullseye' In November, Cinematical blogger Peter Hall also attempted to analyze the widely contested New York Times report on Avatar's massive budget, arguing that no matter what the final cost/benefit ratio of the film turned out to be, parent studio Fox would be fine because their upcoming children's film Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel was certain to rake in the cash. He now thinks that any doubts about Avatar's moneymaking potential were entirely unfounded:
The buzz and buzzkill leading up to Avatar, it turns out, found inadequate purchase now that the world has finally glimpsed the fabled film. The echo chamber of hype that believed it would drastically alter the landscape of filmmaking forever, the virulent, vitriolic cries of Dances with Smurfs, the total indifference...all misplaced.

You are not prepared for Avatar. Roll your eyes at that; laugh it off, you've heard that pitch before. It's not hyperbole, though, it's bald truth. Whether it's your most anticipated movie of the year or your least, it is not precisely what you think it is. How could it be? Avatar is a motion picture precedent, after all.
  • 'See It This Second' Similarly, Screen Rant blogger Kofi Outlaw asked in November if Avatar was "Too Expensive to Be Successful?" He considers it instead "Classic Disney for the Digital Age," which to him means a "simplistic" but "heartfelt" adventure story with incredible technical achievements, making it "truly worthy of the word 'magical.'" His colleague Vic Holtreman does him one better, saying: "Avatar is the most visually amazing film I've ever seen. His boasts were valid: Nothing like this has ever been done or seen on the big screen. The incredible scope and detail is really mesmerizing - he created an entire planet with variety and detail that is unparalleled... and had to maintain it throughout a 2 1/2 hour film. It boggles the mind to think that (by my estimate) at least 80% of the film is fully CGI."
  • Good, But Not Great Ironically, one of the most vehement defenders of the film included by The Atlantic Wire in our prior coverage is perhaps most disappointed. Collider's Matt Goldberg took issue with those harping on the 'Avatar's' budget last month, asking "Why can't it just be rated on whether or not it's a fun adventure story?" Having watched the film, he concedes it is "amazing," yet contends that it is 'surprisingly limited.' As he puts it: "Leave behind the hype about 'revolutionizing cinema'. Ignore the half-billion dollar price tag. Forget the numerous years James Cameron waited to make sure technology could match his imagination. To include these external factors in an evaluation of Avatar would make the film a colossal disappointment. However, judged solely on its own merits, Avatar is a fine film but one that can feel limited at times."
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