“Are You Avatarted?” March 15, 2010 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns
Part One of Two: 3-D = Three bucks
Since the last few columns have overstayed my 1000-word limit, I’m going to do my best to keep this one shorter.
In honor of this past Oscar week, let’s briefly discuss AVATAR, the alleged “highest grossing film of all time.” That’s not adjusted for inflation, which most of the media tend to forget, and which has nothing whatsoever to do with popularity. Box office gross only concerns those who can make or lose money from it, not the general public. What do I care how much a movie made? I like to know what’s popular. What movies are selling the most tickets (vs. how much the tickets are overpriced)? The measure of that would be ticket sales. And AVATAR ain’t even close to SPIDER-MAN or STAR WARS, let alone GONE WITH THE WIND.
There are just two reasons for the high dollar-amount of sales: IMAX and 3-D. [full disclosure: Craig Rogers works for IMAX.] Granted, there have been plenty of other movies that had the giant format contribute to their bottom line; but there are more IMAX screens now and few had the double-whammy of that and 3-D. You see, whether you see AVATAR at the higher-priced IMAX or your local cineplex, you still have to cough up an extra three bucks for the extra dimension.
This has been Cameron’s plan almost since day one. He’s admitted in more than one interview that a big reason for doing the film was to restore the “magical” experience of going to the movie theater, to compete with the ever-increasing advantages of home viewing. One of those ways is 3-D, and he set out to make a movie that lifted the format from the gimmick it had been previously. By doing so, studios can charge extra for tickets and make more money. (And help keep their ticket revenue streams from evaporating further.)
Every article I’ve read on the film calls it a “game-changer,” a film that “changes the way movies are made.” But not because of genre, direction, acting, writing, characterization or plot. The reasons are technology and money: the camera technique pioneered by Cameron and Vince Pace, which is tied into the 3-D gim–err, “phenomenon”, and the potential to make more money by charging you extra for tickets.
When you pay that three bones you get cheapo glasses. Even if you bring your own, even if you see a matinee, it’s three Washingtons more. Today my wife and I saw ALICE IN WONDERLAND and I asked if we had brought our own glasses, could we get a discount? I was told the three dollars is “not for the glasses but a charge from the studios.” Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. I guess the glasses are free but you’re paying for the fake z-axis.
Tell me, if you order a large popcorn and no drink, do you still have to pay for the drink? If you rent a car and return it with a full tank of gas, do you have to pay for gas anyway? If you order a burger and no fries, do you still pay for the combo? Even the worse-off airline business, which is dying a slow death and trying to maximize revenue at the most absurd level possible, doesn’t charge you for snacks or baggage unless you actually use those services.
So now, you’ll notice, every other film seems to be coming out in 3-D. Even Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams are trying to get their respective studios to turn the Transformers and Star Trek franchises into 3-D.
Will that extra dimension make them that much better? Did you think SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, STAR WARS, DARK KNIGHT and the TREK movies all sucked because they weren’t in 3-D? Is AVATAR worth three bucks more than any other 2-D film? Will the extra “D” in TOY STORY 3-D make it worth thirty percent more than the first two?
I don’ think so.
(For the artistic record: on both AVATAR and ALICE, the 3-D effect wasn’t essential to the gorgeously shot films. It was a bigger deal on the former, but the novelty soon wore off and I forgot about it. On the latter, it was cool for maybe a handful of scenes and that’s it. The first two dimensions, however, were quite essential to enjoying the films. Go figure.)
The end result? I’m actually going to see less movies this year than usual, not more. In 2008, we went to the theater an average of every other week during the spring and summer, to see all the blockbusters. Spent a lot of dough. But unless we’re given the choice of a 2-D version of all the new films, we’re cutting our viewing in more than half. And that extra three bucks for the ones we do see will not come near to equalling what we spent in years past.
I wish others would do the same.
So…here’s hoping the box office will be a little less gross.
Next week: Why AVATAR is an “art film” and will never come close to being another Star Wars.
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