Avatar deserves popularity for mix of marketing, tech

Credit: Jessica Thurston/Contributing Editor Credit: Jessica Thurston/Contributing Editor
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Whoever thought a movie about blue aliens would have movie buffs around the world up in arms? But so the world goes when James Cameron tries to reassert himself as the king of the world.

With Avatar surpassing James Cameron’s previous work, Titanic, as the worldwide highest-grossing movie of all time this past week — and likely to pass the same milestone for number one domestically in a few days — many have been grappling with what this actually means. Is Avatar really as good as its box office total? Is Avatar’s box office total even as good as it seems, after inflation and 3-D markup? I, with my amazing ability to cram large amounts of information into small places, will tackle these frequently asked Avatar questions (FA*A*Qs) one by one.

FA*A*Q #1: Is Avatar really doing as well as we think it is, after we take inflation and marked-up prices for 3-D?

The way inflation is getting thrown around as a blanket discounter is very problematic. Inflation is working against all of us, I know, but let’s analyze this with a more discerning eye. Back in 1965, people were lining up to buy tickets for box office legend The Sound of Music at an average price of $1. According to, something that was priced at $1 in 1965 costs $6.92 today. Meanwhile, the average ticket price has risen to $7.46 since 1965. Ticket prices are increasing faster than the rest of what we purchase.

At first this may seem like fruit for the argument that inflation is boosting Avatar’s total gross. But as anyone with some economics savvy can tell you, this could in fact dissuade many people from purchasing movie tickets with cheaper entertainment alternatives to pursue. If you now consider that the 3-D tickets are marked up more than their 2-D counterparts, you can see there is a huge pressure on viewers not only against watching Avatar, but coming back to watch it again in 3-D.

FA*A*Q #2: Does Avatar really deserve to be the highest-grossing movie of all time? Aren’t people watching Avatar just because of the novelty of 3-D?

The question of whether or not Avatar deserves its box office gross is, well, quite hilarious. Did Wayne Gretzky deserve to score more goals than anyone in the history of his sport? Does Joe Smith deserve it when he gets a 100 percent on an exam?

Many feel Avatar has an unfair advantage over past movies due to its groundbreaking 3-D experience. This is barely a half-truth.

Avatar is probably one of the greatest fusions we have seen of technology and well-executed storytelling. Where many big-budget films flop in the storytelling department (see Transformers, and the most recent Spider-Man and Star Wars installments), Cameron is able to fuse the 3-D experience with the story he is trying to tell, instead of allowing one to shortchange the other.

Resisting the urge to create gimmicky 3-D scenes with the purpose of shocking the audience, Cameron utilizes the third dimension to subtly accentuate the background of each scene. This would have taken as much creative thought as the angle of the camera, the prose of the dialogue, or the approach of the actors.

In short, technology is as much a part of the creative cinematic process as any other aspect. And that Avatar pioneers this new facet and sets the bar for the future does give it an advantage over other films, although not an unfair one at all. Movie-making is about innovation, and never has the use of special effects been considered to be outside the lines.

FA*A*Q #3: But is Avatar really that good? Is it really one of the greatest movies of all time?

These questions are starting to get a little too personal. But this has been a fairly angst-ridden topic. Somehow, somewhere along the line, the idea of box office gross has gotten blurred with artistic merit. In the top 25 movies by gross, you can find The Godfather at number 21, with no appearance by Citizen Kane or Casablanca. These movies are widely considered to be the three greatest films of all time. The Phantom Menace grossed more than all three of these!

The amount of money a movie grosses is a marriage between good marketing and having strong appeal across all demographics, rather than artistic merit. The subtleties of a Coppola or Scorsese film that get movie-critic purists drooling aren’t necessarily what moviegoers are looking for.
James Cameron has realized this once again, wedding a tried-and-true human storyline with never-before-seen movie technology, while creating as much hype as he could muster. Moviegoers want to see something new, while being told something that they believe dearly to be true. They can get all of this with a ticket to Avatar, no matter what the price.