James Cameron’s “Titanic” became the biggest movie of all time in 1997 … before the director broke his own record 12 years later with “Avatar.”
Except “Titanic” looked like it might mimic the titular ship at the box office.
Months before the film’s December 19, 1997, release The Washington Post summarized the oh, so bad buzz surrounding the project. The paper called the film “over budget, behind schedule and plagued by the sort of vicious Hollywood gossip that causes ulcers in studio executives.”
We know what happened next. “Titanic” earned $600 million stateside in its initial release (an additional $59 million came with re-releases). Academy Awards voters showered Cameron’s vision with 14 nominations. The blockbuster walked away with 11 golden statuettes, including the coveted Best Picture trophy.
Cameron did it again with “Avatar,” the 2009 adventure that embraced the latest F/X Hollywood had to offer. The film’s eye-popping 3D imagery made a mockery of films that used the gimmick for a few ‘comin’ at ya!’ moments. The wondrous CGI created a world unlike any we’d seen before on screen.
“Avatar” similarly drew wary headlines prior to its release. An NBC affiliate captured the suspicion greeting the film while acknowledging how Cameron had fooled everyone with his “Titanic” triumph.
“Avatar,” by contrast, is not based on any known quantity, something extremely rare in Hollywood these days. And its love story concerns a giant blue alien and a man disguised as a giant blue alien.
That leads us to the first major film Cameron has directed since “Avatar” 13 years ago.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is one of several sequels Cameron has in store for audiences. The film, in theaters December 16, reunites us with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), his bride Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and their children as they face new threats to their safety. Plot details are being kept to a minimum by Team Cameron, ever the showman.
Once again, the naysayers are out in full force. And they have some credible points.
It’s been 13 years since the last “Avatar” movie, a project lacking the cultural affection of the James Bond saga, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and “Star Wars.” A new generation of film goers may not grasp Cameron’s place in film history, having directed not just the aforementioned smashes but “The Terminator” and “The Abyss.”
The Comic Con crowd may assemble for the film’s debut weekend, but the saga lacks that heartfelt bond with Nerd Nation. The “Avatar” franchise could use some love.
Almost $3 billion grossed and yet, very few toys on the shelves, quotes in the lexicon, and only a smattering of extremely brave cosplayers.
“The Way of Water’s” two trailers are gorgeous, but they tell us little, if anything, about the story in play. We barely see any humans in the latest teaser.
Cameron isn’t an auteur like Stanley Kubrick, nor a comic genius like the Coen brothers. He makes up for those gaps in other, more 21st century ways. His tech savvy style embraces the latest Hollywood wizardly in ways few can duplicate. He also helmed two of the best sequels of the modern era – 1986’s “Aliens” and 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
He’s constantly pushing cinematic boundaries, eager to tell stories that force him to push special effects in exciting new ways.
Cameron is one of the few Hollywood artists, like Tom Cruise and Clint Eastwood, who intrinsically “gets” what audiences will line up to see year after year.
Yet his screenwriting chops have taken a hit over the years. Few would argue “Avatar” marked a high-water mark for realistic dialogue. He couldn’t resist using hokey phrases to score political points in “Avatar” like the anti-President George W. Bush line “shock and awe.” That’s a quip even a neophyte scribe might avoid.
Cameron isn’t shy about using his blockbusters as cinematic sermons. Many viewed “Avatar” as a retread of “Dances with Wolves,” the story dovetailing into a saga of an indigenous people fighting back against savage imperialists.
Cameron, now 68, shares how he’s using the expanding “Avatar” franchise to please his inner eco-warrior.
Everything I need to say about family, about sustainability, about climate, about the natural world, the themes that are important to me in real life and in my cinematic life, I can say on this canvas.
Let’s remember Cameron once said to a reporter, “I believe in eco-terrorism.”
And that’s where the Cameron magic may hit a speed bump. Red state audiences are keenly aware of Hollywood’s propaganda machine, now running at full blast.
They’ve seen Disney employees on Twitter admit to their social engineering tactics, watched beloved franchises go woke and seen stars spout their eco-hypocrisies from the most luxurious stages in the country.
Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the doomed Jack in Cameron’s “Titanic.”
Sharp-eyed audiences know Cameron made his cast and crew go green on the set, down to the food they ate between takes.
Will that impact “Avatar: The Way of Water” at the box office?
Cameron, never one to admit defeat, has sounded a rare note of caution regarding his “Avatar” franchise. He says the one-two punch of the streaming revolution and the pandemic may mean audiences will have their fill of his eco-adventures sooner than later.
The market could be telling us we’re done in three months, or we might be semi-done, meaning: “Okay, let’s complete the story within movie three, and not go on endlessly,” if it’s just not profitable.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Daily Wire.