James Cameron Wants It All – He’s Taking On ‘Star Wars’

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People were doing high fives around Hollywood today when this weekend’s box-office results revealed James Cameron’s Avatar: Special Edition “only” brought in $4 million on 812 screens. According to Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood, “one rival studio exec tells me, ‘No tears shed’ for this pittance considering the original Avatar holds the biggest worldwide box office record of $2.7B. Fox, move on…”

This “pittance” is $300 thousand more than industry fave The Kids are All Right did when it went wide on slightly more screens (847) last month. No one trashed that film for opening soft nor were there huzzahs going around on industry web sites about it’s less than stellar total. For anyone else it would be an amazing feat to add another $4 million to the highest grossing film of all time at the end of a long run. Not for Cameron.

James Cameron might be the most hated man in Hollywood. I’ve never really understood this phenomenon but my neighbor is a child psychologist. He suspects Cameron hatred is based on what Freud called Transference. Transference is “the redirection of feelings, unconsciously retained from childhood, toward a new object.” He’s probably right about that.

When Cameron got on stage after winning the Best Oscar for Titanic in 1998 and shouted, “I am the King of the World” it stirred up memories of every braggart and bully the members of the Academy ever encountered. That’s why people were so thrilled to stick it to him last year by giving the Best Picture Oscar to The Hurt Locker. They got to kick dirt in the bully’s face. Take that King of the World.

Well, he’ll take it, but instead of going home, Cameron’s gonna go big. Last week he announced it’s not enough to have two of the biggest films of all time. He wants to create the most successful franchise. He’s out to topple Star Wars.

“You’ve got to compete head on with these other epic works of fantasy and fiction, the Tolkiens and the Star Wars and the Star Treks,” Cameron told the Los Angeles Times. “People want a persistent alternate reality to invest themselves in and they want the detail that makes it rich and worth their time. They want to live somewhere else. Like Pandora.”

As we’ve known for a while, Cameron’s out to make two more Avatars. That’s right he’s making the dreaded trilogy. Perhaps most memorably, George Lucas sprung the trilogy on us with Star Wars and its two sequels and it’s a franchise move that has been enormously successful when done properly. The Lord of the Rings trilogy pleased hardcore fans and general audiences alike. It might be the most completely satisfying trilogy of all time.

Too often, however, the trilogy has been a disaster. The Wachowski siblings’ convoluted, unsatisfying Matrix films being perhaps the worst offender. (Only because the first one was so incredible, while the second and third films failed to come anywhere near its excellence.) But there have been others just as poorly executed. Often this happens because the idea of the trilogy is developed after the fact as a way to shake the nickels out of audiences who enjoyed the first movie. It’s rare when a trilogy works if it’s developed after the fact. I’m not sure when Cameron came up with whatever ideas he has rolling around for his second and third Avatar films, but it appears to me it’s another “after the fact” effort, but still I say, Go for it Jim.

Film fans around the world have Cameron’s back even if the industry he’s helped save over the last 20 years doesn’t. People like Cameron are the reason Hollywood is so great. Two more Avatar films will mean he’ll have to top himself visually. If his past films are any indication, he’ll move technology ahead as well. In, and out, of theaters.

That’s not to say Cameron is perfect. Too often his stories are simplistic and his dialogue wooden and silly. However when it comes to creating visual excitement and choreographing action he has few peers. Titanic might have been a simple Romeo and Juliet story set on a doomed ocean liner, but when the boat started going down audiences had never seen anything like it. Avatar may be a rehash of Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves (or Ferngully if you want to be really mean) but the visuals are unlike anything we’ve ever seen up until now.

He’s also not afraid to say what he thinks. His war of words with LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan remains legendary. And while his attacks on the glut of new 3D movies currently in release seem disingenuous to some considering how much dough Avatar raked in on IMAX and 3D screens last winter, but Cameron is absolutely correct. If Hollywood continues to turn out crappy 3D movies they’ll kill development of the technology before it even gets going. They’ll kill the goose that’s about to lay some very golden eggs.

You see, Cameron may rub Hollywood people the wrong way but his films are beloved by audiences around the world. He has truly learned to walk with Kings without losing the common touch. Cameron makes good old-fashioned crowd pleasers. He makes audiences tingle in a way that few filmmakers do. He knows that if you treat audiences well you’ll be rewarded at the box office. Treat them badly and they’ll revolt.

I was watching Terminator 2 the other day and I was surprised how involved I was in the narrative. I hadn’t watched the film in a number of years but it still holds up. The story is economical but it hits all the right beats. It hits all the right emotions. Compare Terminator 2 to the uninvolving Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or the incomprehensible mess that was Terminator Salvation. It’s like comparing Nirvana to Three Doors Down or Steve McQueen to Steven Seagal.

I have to wonder if those Terminator knockoffs are part of the reason Cameron wants to make two more Avatar flicks because he believes his first film vision was tarnished by the work of other directors. By turning Avatar into a trilogy he can create a complete world that is all Cameron, all the time. A world unspoiled by the hands of knaves.

This weekend’s little bump in the road may make some people in Hollywood happy. They may say that people are finally tired of the Avatar experience. But Cameron knows different. He knows he just needs to give them another experience as big as the last one. He’ll give it to them, too.

If you can, trust yourself when all men doubt you…

James Cameron trusts himself. That’s why he wants to complete what he started with two more Avatar films and I’m excited to see how they turn out.