James Cameron - Is Avatar Going To Bomb?

Mark Oakley 11/11/2009

James Cameron doesn't do things by halves. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a balls-to-the-floor, all-action sequel to one of the finest films in Arnie's catalogue and cost just over $100 million to make, one of the more expensive movies of its time. Then came True Lies with a budget of over $100 million once more and Titanic, with its budget of over $200 million, at the time the most expensive movie ever made.

Now he's at it again with Avatar, reported to be the latest most expensive movie ever put to celluloid clocking in at a whopping $500 million, making up both the production and marketing costs of the film. Has no-one told him or studio 20th Century Fox that we're in the middle of a global recession?

Cameron hasn't always done things so lavishly and in his younger years was well-known for getting the most out of smaller budgets. In fairness, even when you look at the films he has spent oodles of dollars on most have made a decent return and you can at least see the money up on screen. Compare his output with the likes of Michael 'Transformers' Bay and Cameron does at least represent value for money.

But is Avatar a step too far even for him? A film this anticipated was bound to come into trouble as soon as fanboys caught a glimpse of what Cameron had been working on and it's fair to say that they have been left largely unimpressed by footage displayed in the many and various trailers currently doing the rounds. Accusations of the teasers being, well, boring and Lucas-like in their vision have been laid at Avatar's door. People have been making themselves heard on forums, claiming that the film footage looks no better than a very well put-together game.

Then the full trailer landed. Clunking dialogue, some gubbins about being good to the environment and a whole load of blue cat-people filling the screen, plus the suggestion of the requisite romance. Not even the presence of Sigourney Weaver (who's previously worked with Cameron on Aliens, of course) could make this look good.

What we are now left with, then, is a distinct feeling that Avatar could be a monumental flop. If not commercially then certainly critically. You could argue that the same problem beset the Star Wars prequels, that the audiences flocked to the cinemas and made George Lucas a hell of a lot of money while the critics, Empire magazine excluded, panned them. But the trailers to those films at least suggested cinematic gold and the prequels also had the benefit of being inextricably linked with what remains one of the finest trilogies ever made.

Avatar has no such past form. It's also still lumbered with that obscene budget and many are wondering just how it's going to make enough money to be considered a box office success. Remember Waterworld? Kevin Costner's hideously expensive flop of 1995 has proven that big names plus big budgets don't necessarily make for success in Hollywood.

Mind you, Waterworld never had Cameron at the helm. Let's not forget that this is the man that brought us Aliens, The Terminator, The Abyss and, ahem, Piranha: Part Two. The man has a proven track record of solid gold hits to his name and an alarming ability to make lots and lots of cash in the process. If he gets it right again with Avatar he will indeed boost his wallet even further.

If he gets it wrong, he'll be compared with Kevin Costner and that really doesn't bear thinking about.