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We Don’t Need a $200M ‘Avatar’

They’ve finally released the teaser trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar, and I’m torn.   On one hand it looks great. Even on my lousy computer the scenes of the alien world are stunning. From the looks of things, Cameron hasn’t lost his touch for directing hellacious action scenes.   But on the other hand this […]

They’ve finally released the teaser trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar, and I’m torn.

 
On one hand it looks great. Even on my lousy computer the scenes of the alien world are stunning. From the looks of things, Cameron hasn’t lost his touch for directing hellacious action scenes.
 
But on the other hand this Magilla cost over $200 million to make! (Originally it was reported that it was over $300 million, but those reports have since been updated) Meanwhile a little film called "District 9" cost only $30 million and tells basically the same story — human because involved in aliens’ fight against oppressive humanity.
 
It kinda takes me back to 1999 when the made-for-pennies "Blair Witch Project" kicked the over bloated "Haunting" remake right out of the multiplex. Sure there’s been a lot of "Blair Witch" backlash over the years, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who says the Liam Neeson/Lili Taylor "Haunting" was a better movie.
 
I’m also reminded of "Speed Racer" from last year. The Wachowskis spent $200 million on a pic that ended up looking only marginally better than one of those "Spy Kids" flicks Rodriguez cranks out for a fraction of the price.
 
I would love to see Hollywood trade a few $200 million blockbusters for seven "District 9s" or "Spy Kids" because as a writer I want to see more opportunities and more originality. But this would benefit everyone including the studios. The more projects in production means costs per project go down over time. A carpenter who works on one to two movies per year needs less per job than if he works on say one movie every two years.
 
And there’s another reason. Much of the rationale for the $200-million-plus tentpole strategy is that it takes so much money to release and promote a movie. But that’s no longer the case. Viral and internet marketing are playing a larger and larger role and they cost pennies compared to the traditional billboard/poster/primetime trailer slots.
 
Digital projection promises to reduce distribution costs to near nothing. If a studio wanted to, it could release a movie right now on 3,000 screens without a single print. Every screen in America already has that Movie Watcher Network/Fathom Events digital projector.
 
Sure it’s a piece of crap compared to the real Digital Projector, but a studio complaining about image quality is like McDonald’s complaining about the feces content of its ground beef.
 
On the home front, VOD will turn the DVD and the Blu-ray into the next Dodo. It’s only a matter of time. This new digital streamline distribution network promises faster, cheaper delivery that’s going to require more product than the studios are currently producing.
 
At least I hope so.
 
So "Avatar" represents both everything I love and everything I hate about today’s Hollywood. It’s both the absolute cutting edge and maybe also the last dinosaur. I hope it’s as kick-ass as the trailer makes it out to be.
 
But I also hope that when it’s all said and done, it’s "District 9" that the studios are looking to emulate.

 

Michael Lee is a novel writer, blogger and freelance journalist living in L.A. He's been a judge for the prestigious PAGE Awards and blogs about his two biggest passions, screenwriting and food, at Screenwriting Foxhole and To Cook and Eat in L.A., respectively. Lee is also a co-author of "The Insider's Guide to Screenwriting" and has just published his first novel, "My Frankenstein."