Friday, December 8, 2017

Thoughts on Being the Rare Person Who Admits to Liking Avatar

I don't like to see movies by myself. I make exceptions, as when I discovered I had a narrow window to see Shin Godzilla and no time to alert any friends - but typically I go to the movies when I have a friend who wants to join me. On rare occasions, I've seen a film with my friends then later that month seen the film a second time with members of my family. I very seldom see a film 3 times in the theater.

One exception is James Cameron's Avatar. The first time I saw it a friend had invited me. The next two times I was the one inviting people to see it with me. I truly liked this movie and I continue to enjoy it. I delayed purchasing the DVD of the film because I wanted to wait for the limited collector's edition so that I could be sure I was getting the most complete version of the film for my library. I watch it at least once each year.

Don't get me wrong, the longest version of Avatar is not better than the theatrical cut - in fact, the longer cut serves as proof of Cameron's instincts in terms of what to leave out of his film. The theatrical cut is tighter and less flabby - the collector's edition cut exists just for the sake of Avatar fans who wanted more footage - people such as me.

I came onboard with the film without seeing any of the promotion (which is easy to do when you don't watch television). I didn't see the trailer until the day after I first saw the movie - I became convinced I should see the picture after hearing Cameron speak about it at San Diego Comic-Con. Hearing him talk about the work which went into making the picture left me impressed and certain that, as a fan of films, it would be of some interest to me.

Yes, I have heard the nitpicks. Yes, I have heard all the "Dances with Smurfs" jokes. Despite the film being the all-time box office grosser, there are many corners of the internet which despise this film. Nathan Rabin featured Avatar in his Forgotbusters column at the Dissolve, in spite of the fact that the stated purpose of 'Forgotbusters' was to explore top-grossing films which had been 'forgotten.' Avatar, as a film with planned sequels, continued merchandising and a still-active theme park, can't be said to be 'forgotten' in the way other entries in his series were - he bent the rules of his column because of his own distaste for the film. Likewise Forbes posted a well-circulated editorial titled "Five Year Ago, 'Avatar' Grossed $2.7 Billion But Left No Pop Culture Footprint". Many were and are skeptical of the sequels and remain incredulous that the film was the successful production it ended up being. As those sequels come nearer, I imagine there will be more articles such as those two.

And yet, Cameron seems to be 100% aware of these criticisms as he goes forward with the sequels: "Let’s face it, if Avatar 2 and 3 don’t make enough money, there’s not going to be a 4 and 5" he told Vanity Fair recently, also casting this shade:

"Basically, if you loved the first movie, you’re gonna love these movies, and if you hated it, you’re probably gonna hate these. If you loved it at the time, and you said later you hated it, you’re probably gonna love these."

Now taking all of this into account, here's how I feel about the sequels:

  • I will go see the 2nd film in the theater BUT
  • I'm not particularly engaged with the idea of a sequel either.

Again, I like Avatar enough to watch it once per year, but I don't want to see the film remade - that is, I don't want the sequel to replay the same narrative; if it's about the company trying to exploit Pandora and Jake having to band the Na'vi together again, I can't promise I'll enjoy it. Revisiting the same plot as the first film would be the easy path to a sequel - that's why sequels are so very often underwhelming. I suppose my hope is that - as Avatar was inspired by the John Carter* novels - that like John Carter there will be something else fascinating and adventurous to discover over the next hill on the planet.

So yeah, I'm part of the 'silent majority' who enjoyed Avatar. Yet even I'm uncertain about these sequels.

*=By the way, I liked the John Carter film too. Yeah, I don't really have a place at film fansites, do I?

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