Friday, 29 January 2010

Avatar's Gross!

I’m beginning to fear I may have to change the name of this blog to “Pop Culture Gone Avatar.”

This past week Avatar became the highest grossing film of all time. Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances (and maybe an enemy or two) have already posted Facebook statuses, Gchat statuses and a few Twitters lamenting this fact. All I can think is, “Why?”

Now, I’m not going to hide the fact that I liked Avatar. Was it the best movie of the year? No. I don’t think it even cracked my top ten, or if so, just barely. I mean, it was a Final Fantasy game. It had pretty simple characters, a plot that was as predictable as an episode of Sailor Moon, and all the ethical complexity of a morality play (“Hmm…should I do the good thing or the bad thing? Decisions, Decisions”). But damn, that movie was fun and pretty darn beautiful! And I tend to be a guy who ain’t all that impressed just by purty CGI. The last 30 minutes were just about everything I could want from a sci-fi action scene and the rest of it wasn’t too shabby.

That being said, I can understand why people didn’t like Avatar. The simplicity is a bit exhausting and the acting leaves quite a bit to be desired. In the end, it’s a dumb visual spectacle that’s delightful to munch popcorn over. [deep breath] JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER MOVIE IN THE TOP TWENTY GROSSING FILMS!

Let’s first look at the actual story: Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time. In the end, all that really is that it beat out Titanic. How can anyone who is not a teenage girl in 1997 be annoyed about that? All this means is that overblown one piece of James Cameron eye-candy with one-dimensional lovers and a paint-by-numbers plot has usurped the spot of another. Was Titanic really that much better of a film than Avatar? No? Okay, then you can’t really be all too upset over the fact it had to cede its throne to Avatar.

Honestly, I am quite happy over the coup. I never did like Titanic. Rose and Jack always seemed extraordinarily imbecilic and completely stolid to everything going on around them (except for the occasional bout of fervent panic). I waited with baited breath to see their stars cross and for the state of their affairs to sink below the murky depths. A melodrama does not work if the characters are utterly loathsome. Jake and Neytiri may not be characters crafted by the pen of Flaubert, but they at least got my sympathy. These recent developments simply mean that a slightly better variation on the same Cameroneon theme now holds the prior’s honor.

Of course, let’s pull back a bit. Maybe people are annoyed that Avatar has even cracked the top ten or top twenty. Maybe Titanic was as much of a fluke as Avatar. Without further ado then, I present the top 20 highest grossing films of all time, as listed on Wikipedia as of January 29, 2010.
1. Avatar (2009)
2. Titanic (1997)
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006).
5. The Dark Knight (2008).
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001).
7. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007).
8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
11. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
12. Shrek 2 (2002)
13. Jurassic Park (1993).
14. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).
15. Spider-Man 3 (2007).
16. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009).
17. Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets (2002).
18. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).
19. Finding Nemo (2003)
20. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Let me state off the bat (pardon the pun) that there is no love lost between me and Dark Knight and I’ve always found Finding Nemo to be a rather anomalous creation: a Pixar movie that was just decent. Many would argue that these are diamonds in the rough (okay, is that a term or did Jafar coin that in Aladdin?), but I place Avatar above them without hesitation.

Now for the rest, in no order. The Pirates movies I have not been able to sit through and really have never bought into the Johnny Depp love (he’s good, but that’s it) and even the most stalwart fans are cold when it comes to the third member of the trilogy. The Harry Potter movies are tapestries of prosaic teen drama only livened up by spurts of life provided by Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, the DADA teacher of the year, and the girl who plays Luna. I do not know a soul in his or her right mind who will defend the prequels to Star Wars. I’ve never seen an Ice Age movie and hope to keep it that way. Shrek 2 I don’t remember a single thing about. I’ve always felt people were more invidious to Spider-Man 3 than they should have been, but still don’t think it was anything more than dumb (and a bit fabulous) popcorn fun.

So that leaves us with Jurassic Park (which is one of those movies everyone in the world has seen but me) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Okay, you got me there. The Lord of the Rings films are better than Avatar. But, even they are really well done action films where most of the characters are fairly simple. You have a few more developed personalities and better acting, but still, the situation is not like Avatar knocked The Godfather and Casablanca out of the way on its crawl to the top. Well, yes, it did, but much earlier on. And you can’t really fault it for that. I wonder if there’s a film that came out in most major theaters last year that grossed less than those gems.

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