Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#1: Avatar Is Almost Titanic

By David Mumpower

January 3, 2010

More of these plants should have been Na'vi eating.

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Fast forward to 2009 and the research and development team working under Cameron finally conquered the cutting edge technology needed to create the fully immersive world required for Avatar's story to work. Early trailers for the movie created a strong buzz, not all of it positive. Consumers were a bit confused by the graphics, which were aptly described as similar in tone to a videogame cut scene. The last such movie to achieve that look, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, is arguably the worst financial disaster in the history of our industry. Ergo, that is not the comparison anyone wants linked to their film. As further footage and a more detailed trailer were released, details of the plot emerged. In point of fact, the staff at BOP was able to suss out the entire storyline structure based upon the visuals in the full length commercial. Daron Aldridge would describe its contents as "a very straightforward, linear" clip and he was later proven right. One of the conceits of Avatar's marketing campaign is that it laid out in plain sight what the movie would be. The catch is that there was no way to anticipate the actual movie-going experience itself. Avatar's ads sold the steak rather than the sizzle, a first in our industry.


The sizzle could not be revealed in an advertisement. Perhaps this is why Cameron and the movie's distributor, Fox, placed such a lockdown on information regarding Avatar. As recently as a month prior to release, no one had any idea whether Cameron's opus capitalized upon the treasure trove of motion-capture technology advances he had demanded to employ. All buzz about the film was predicated upon the commercials. There was nothing else out there that was confirmed about it. Due to the overriding resentment and jealousy directed toward Cameron, the movie discussion vacuum was centered upon the budget of the film with published speculation placing the production cost north of $500 million. Fox took the rare step of publicly stating the budget in order to head off this line of negative discourse. The distributor stated an outlay of $237 million for the production as well as an additional $150 million directing toward marketing expenses. The hefty price tag of $387 million in negative cost meant that Avatar needed to be nothing short of a global phenomenon to earn a profit. Stating the obvious, it is.

The opening weekend of Avatar was tense. As is the case with all December releases, the first three days were not as lucrative as would be the case for a summer release. The behavior during this month of box office is singularly unique, depressing the opening weekends and dramatically extending the legs of all releases. The existing champion for largest December debut was I Am Legend at $77.2 million. A first day total of $26.8 million gave Avatar a chance at the title, but it just missed. Fox originally issued a statement indicating they believed Avatar had attained the record, only to discover later that it fell $200,000 short at $77.0 million. This is the last bit of bad news the production experienced.

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