Sunday, January 31, 2010

Why James Cameron is Still the King of the World

Well, Avatar has now passed the $2 billion mark, officially surpassing Titanic’s worldwide gross of around $1.8 billion (according to Box Office Mojo). This makes Avatar the highest grossing movie of all time, not adjusting for inflation of course. Because if you did adjust the numbers, Gone With the Wind would be the highest grossing film of all time with a whopping $1,507,252,900.

Still, $2 billionis no small feat. After reports of being the most expensive movie ever made, a teaser trailer that looked – let’s be honest – less than stellar, and not only a shoddy economy, but higher ticket prices to see a 3D/IMAX show, Cameron’s space epic has spent seven weeks at the number one spot in the U.S. and won two Golden Globes (Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Drama respectively) and its chances of doing well at the Oscars are looking better every day.

For sure, the film is a marvel; it’s fun, thrilling, spectacular entertainment and an astonishing technical achievement. The plot may be reminiscent of films such as Dances With Wolves (an Academy Award winner for Best Picture I might add) or The Last Samurai, and it may have an obvious political stance and minor character development, but damn if it isn’t fun. With films such as The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies and Titanic, Cameron knows how to deliver thrilling spectacles that appeal to, seemingly, everyone on the planet with access to a movie theater.

However, Titanic and Avatar are not the only two films to have crossed the billion-dollar mark in worldwide box office gross. Again, according to Box Office Mojo, The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest and The Dark Knight have all made over a billion dollars, and they were all released within five years of one another. So what makes Cameron so special? Why does he deserve the title of “King of the World”? Well, it’s simple really: he’s done it twice, and you know what? He could do it again. The promise of an Avatar sequel means upping the ante, which these days necessitates a higher gross at the box office as well as grander spectacle on the big screen.

Back in Hollywood’s golden age, films like Gone With the Wind or Ben-Hur sold themselves as the biggest, greatest movies ever made and audiences flocked to them to share a global cultural experience. Today the emphasis is mostly on the biggest, but that doesn’t mean some of today’s big films aren’t excellent ones as well.

It doesn’t look like Avatar is done setting box office records just yet, and some may still consider it a 3D cross between Fern Gully and Dances With Wolves, but I can’t help but think of it as one of the few global cinematic cultural experiences since Titanic that I’ve experienced for myself. And frankly, after Jake Sully and Neytiri (along with all those other ten-foot tall blue Na’vi) win their battle against the greedy humans to save Pandora, and those big CGI eyes open up, I did give a damn.