Directed by James Cameron, Avatar holds numerous box office records, including the title of the highest grossing film overall. In 2009, it was the first movie to earn over $ 2 billion and closed its first box office with gross revenue of $ 2.74 billion. The film also broke the record for the biggest national opening weekend for a non-franchise film and the biggest opening weekend for a green film. Domestically, he had dominated the box office for seven straight weeks. It was the longest consecutive lead since James Cameron himself’s 15-week run, with his 1997 film, Titanic. Globally, the film has held the top spot at the box office for 11 straight weeks, surpassing the previous nine-week record held by Pirates of the Caribbean: The Dead Man’s Chest.
In 2019, the massive box office triumph lost its highest-grossing film title to Avengers: Endgame, which had a gross amount of $ 2.797 billion. However, a reissue in 2021 of Avatar in China led the film to reclaim its title and position itself with a cumulative gross of $ 2.847 billion.
After more than 12 years, the film is still incredibly relevant and loved by many. Anticipating the sequel to the films, the second and third of which began filming in 2017 and have release dates in 2022 and 2024 respectively, many Avatar fans decided to watch the original film again. But what made this 2009 adventure fantasy so incredibly popular, and how did it manage the incredible feat of remaining relevant almost 12 years later?
James Cameron’s achievements
Cameron has a complete and very successful CV. A director’s name recognition and appreciation can go a long way to help popularize a movie. Cameron’s film career saw success with his 1984 film The Terminator. Both written and directed by Cameron, this unique sci-fi story captivated and entertained audiences whose world was and is increasingly integrated with technology. It was with this film that Cameron established himself as an incredibly skilled world builder and creator with surprisingly original ideas. His later films, from 1986 Aliens until his most recent, Avatar, all demonstrate his ability to create new, relevant and moving stories.
Beyond the original storytelling (which is an incredible feat in itself), James Cameron is able to effectively translate his ideas to the screen. Many other great stories, usually in the form of novels or comics, find lackluster representation when adapted for film. This could be because the medium was not originally intended for screen, or perhaps it was the fault of an incongruity between the original creator and the director hired; sometimes, it’s just not possible to convert a sci-fi idea into a visual medium. Either way, we don’t see it with Cameron, who is able to effectively craft an original story made only for theaters, which is becoming increasingly rare.
Translating the story into the movie isn’t as straightforward as creating a screenplay or script, for it. Cameron is involved every step of the way, and with a blockbuster movie like Avatar, there is a lot of process. Cameron prepared the cast for the shoot by sending them to Hawaii to experience a tropical environment and had them meet a professor of plant physiology to understand the methods a botanist can use. He appointed a linguist to develop the Na’vi language and worked closely with designers and illustrators on 3D renderings, paintings and sculptures. In addition, Cameron had new technology built especially for this film. Cameron is ambitious and determined, not only in this epic masterpiece, but also in his anticipation of four more sequels, creating five films in total in a process that will certainly take more than two decades. With Cameron having led no no-Avatar film tied for the past 12 years and for the foreseeable future, it looks like the director is set to dominate the 2020s with his blue, alien vision.
Revolutionary special effects and technology
The film was originally scheduled to begin production in 1997 and was slated for release in 1999. However, Cameron postponed this, believing the technology was not yet sufficiently developed to tell the story the way he envisioned it. Prior to principal photography in 2007, James Cameron and Vince Pace developed a modified 3D camera to capture their images. Additionally, Cameron used innovative and novel visual effects techniques. This included a larger motion capture step and an improved method of facial expression capture technology. During the motion capture process, Cameron used a new virtual camera system that placed the actor in a virtual environment and could display reactions in real time. Cameron said the film is 60% CGI and 40% live-action, and yet the combination is pretty seamless.
The huge amount of data stored and transferred led to the creation of a new cloud computing digital asset manager created by Microsoft. The company responsible for visual effects in Avatar is Weta Digital based in the capital of New Zealand. Weta used a massive server farm consisting of 4,000 HP servers, 35,000 processor cores, 104 terabytes of RAM and three petabytes of storage.
An indispensable metaphor and a powerful story
Throughout the film, Cameron uses metaphor and symbolism to convey a much broader meaning. One of the most obvious is the relationship between humans and the environment. Avatar, we see humans destroying the natural world and robbing it of its resources. Regardless of the native population or the ecosystems they live in, the humans in the film are driven by greed and constant gratification. In 2009, as today, ecological degradation resonates with many viewers.
In addition, the theme of imperialism is present throughout this film. The attempt to eradicate the indigenous population is shown and invokes the idea of colonization. The use of terms such as “shock and awe” in the film describes the overwhelming show of force technique that is used in modern occupation and warfare. Naomi Klein even wrote a book on the subject, on how greed exploits and profits from disaster.
Although the world we see throughout the film is fictional, the familiarity with the realistic themes creates a deep emotional response. By the end of the film, thanks to the work of the protagonists, the evildoers come to an end and the good guys somehow win, inspiring audiences to participate in the very real struggles against climate catastrophe, war, greed, and racism. Avatar is a cinematic spectacle, a visually and technologically innovative film from one of the world’s most successful directors, and which takes viewers on a thrilling and emotional journey through powerful motives and empathetic characters. Audiences will be able to walk that journey again and again this decade, as the sequels are sure to dominate the box office once again. Welcome to the Avatar Decade.
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