Voice Cameos of James Cameron

Director James Cameron can often be heard making off-screen voice cameos in his movies.

In the The Terminator (1984), some have speculated that he voices the guy who leaves an answerphone message for Sarah Connor, cancelling their date for the evening.

But although it could be him putting on an accent, it seems more likely he is the motel receptionist later in the film who checks Sarah and Kyle Reese in as they flee the killer cyborg.

At a Terminator promotional event in 1991, Cameron admitted that he provided some of the sounds for the Alien Queen in Aliens (1986), dubbing them at his house near Pinewood Studios.

Near the beginning of The Abyss (1989), he began a tradition of voicing a pilot, as we can hear him ask for clearence to land a helicopter on the Benthic Explorer ship as he drops off the Navy SEAL team.

In Terminator 2 (1991) he went back to voicing villains, providing the screams of the T-1000 as it interacted with molten steel towards the end of the film.

With True Lies (1994), he was back to voicing pilots, as one of the Marine Harrier pilots who fires upon the terrorist convoy on the Overseas Highway bridge.

With Titanic (1997), his voice cameo is easily missed as a faint voice on deck asking a fellow passenger about ‘talk of an iceberg’. (Unusually, he also makes couple of visual cameos in the background of two scenes)

Avatar (2009) saw him return to pilot mode as he can be heard on the radio as Quaritch’s forces begin their attack on Hometree.

I’m guessing he finds voice cameos easier than making a distracting visual appearence and that it’s easier to dub in some dialogue during post-production.

> More on James Cameron at Wikipedia
> T2 fan event in 1991

Box Office Thoughts

The Inflation Adjustment

Should box office grosses be adjusted for inflation?

With the Harry Potter film franchise coming to an end this week there is a dispute about whether or not it is the most successful film series in history.

Wikipedia says it is:

But The Economist report that another British icon, James Bond, remains the box office champ:

But who is right?

It would seem to depend on which information you choose to include or accept.

When people talk about the highest grossing films of all time, there is often a debate about whether or not Gone with the Wind (1939) is still the biggest film of all time.

When Avatar broke Titanic’s record Forbes published an article making this point.


It involves the magical words ‘adjusted for inflation‘, but how exactly is inflation adjusted?

Over at Box Office Mojo they describe their process:

Inflation-adjustment is mostly done by multiplying estimated admissions by the latest average ticket price. Where admissions are unavailable, adjustment is based on the average ticket price for when each movie was released (taking in to account re-releases where applicable).

Essentially what they are saying is that a simple bit of guesswork maths comes up with the following equation:

(estimated admissions x latest average ticket prices)

There is a certain logic to that, but what about the era before home entertainment really exploded in the 1980s?

Films such as Gone with the Wind were re-released at cinemas because there was no home entertainment ‘afterlife’.

Until the advent of television in the 1950s, VHS in the 1980s and DVD in 1990s films like this could only be seen in cinemas.

Box Office Mojo further describe how they account for this in their ‘adjusted for inflation’ box office chart:

* Indicates documented multiple theatrical releases. Most of the pre-1980 movies listed on this chart had multiple undocumentented releases over the years. The year shown is the first year of release. Most pre-1980 pictures achieved their totals through multiple releases, especially Disney animated features which made much of their totals in the past few decades belying their original release dates in terms of adjustment. For example, Snow White has made $118,328,683 of its unadjusted $184,925,486 total since 1983.

So Gone with the Wind and classic Disney movies hugely benefitted from re-releases over the years, simply because there was no home entertainment market.

Dig further and it gets even more complicated.

According to Box Office Mojo weekend box office data was primitive at best, even well in to the 1990s:

many movies from the 80s to mid-90s may not have as extensive weekend box office data and many movies prior to 1980 may not have weekend data at all, so the full timeframe for when that movie made its money may not be available. In such cases (and where actual number of tickets sold is not available), we can only adjust based on its total earnings and the average ticket price for the year it was released.

Still, this should be a good general guideline to gauge a movie’s popularity and compare it to other movies released in different years or decades. Since inflation adjusted sales figures are therefore not widely publicized by the film industry, inflation adjusted sales rankings and ticket sales comparisons across the last 100 years are difficult to compile.

So although we can get a rough idea of the popularity of a particular film, is it really so sensible to claim Gone with the Wind is a bigger film than Avatar based on a series of calculations?

If you go down the mathematical adjustment route, more things have to be factored in and that leads to even more questions.

What do changing ticket prices really say?

Whilst it is true that the cost of seeing Gone with the Wind in the 1930s was less than Avatar in 2009, there are other issues that come in to play.

The most obvious is the fundamental differences of two eras: films were released in a gradual way up until the 1970s and there were no computers or any of the data tracking tools studios now take for granted.

There is also the slippery nature of inflation itself: do the changes in ticket prices over several decades vary?

Inflation is used as a catch all term, but the rate of inflation may be different in 1950, 1970 and 2000 (is your head exploding yet?).

So, the equation which links ticket prices and inflation are on shifting sands.

Even if you compared the number of tickets sold, rather than the amount they sold for, you’ve got the additional problem of older machines and the retention of data from eras that weren’t using computers or keeping any detailed records.

(I would assume that grosses for films in the early 20th century were either reported in trade journals, newspapers or studio records)

What about the last decade? How do we measure the impact of 3D and IMAX prices, as you might argue that the grosses for Avatar and The Dark Knight were ‘artificially inflated’ by these newer formats which have in-built higher prices.

But what happens when you don’t adjust for inflation at all?

It would seem that over the last decade major movie studios have pushed this line, with wider releases on more screens so that they can use the term record-breaking as part of their marketing strategy.

If you look at the current top 10 grossing films of all time on Wikipedia, the list is dominated by big franchises from the last decade.

The only exception is Titanic (1997) at number 2.

But what this list really reveals is that modern marketing and distribution systems are more advanced than ever before.

If you want a different perspective, consider the following films: The Birth of a Nation (1915), Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), Rear Window (1954), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Godfather (1972) and Blazing Saddles (1974).

What do they have in common?

The answer is that they were the most successful films of their respective years, which Wikipedia have usefully listed under another list of the highest-grossing films by year:

After Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) the list is mostly filled by action or fantasy tent-pole releases, with the 2000s being dominated by pirates, wizards and hobbits.

Wikipedia explains the normalizing of data to individual years:

Normalizing this to the reference year normalizes all social, economical, and political factors such as the availability of expendable cash, number of theater screens, relative cost of tickets, competition from television, the rapid releases of movies on DVDs, the improvement of home theater equipment, and film bootlegging.

For example, in 1946 the per capita movie ticket purchasing rate for the average person was 34 tickets a year. In 2004, this average rate had dropped to only five tickets per person per year, in response mainly to competition from television.

There is a lot to be said for this approach as captures what films meant in a particular social and historical context.

I think it also brings us back to the central question of whether or not we should even attempt to adjust for inflation.

The modern day film industry is structured around newly released films, so they have a vested interest in not doing it.

After all 20th Century Fox don’t exactly want to promote Avatar on billboards as:

“The biggest film of all time – apart from Gone with the Wind!”

At the same time, there is some value in trying to account for different eras and the impact particular films had.

Theatrical box office can sometimes be a little misleading.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) initially failed at the box office, but was the most rented film on video in 1995 and now regularly tops the IMDb 250 (it is currently ahead of its perennial rival The Godfather).

The Bourne Identity (2002) was a decent hit at the box office, but went on to become the most rented film in America on VHS and DVD in 2003, thus paving the way for the greater success of the following sequels.

These are exceptions but show what impact word of mouth can have in an era of home entertainment.

Perhaps a more useful way of measuring the box office over time is a combination of considering what films made the most money in the current era, along with checking what was successful in a particular year.

It isn’t perfect but shows the complications that can lie under what seems to be simple facts.

> Box Office Mojo’s list of the highest grossing films of all time (adjusted for inflation)
> Wikipedia’s list of the highest grossing films of all time
> Forbes article from 2010 on Avatar vs Gone with the Wind

Interesting Viral Video

Everything is a Remix Part 2

Using archive clips and inventive graphics this video essay by Kirby Ferguson shows how different movies influence one another.

There is a particular focus on Avatar (2009), Star Wars (1977) and Kill Bill (2003/04).

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

By the way, notice the use of Clementine’s Loop at the beginning, a piece of music by Jon Brion which pops up in the first three films by Paul Thomas Anderson.

> Kirby Ferguson at Vimeo
> Everything is a Remix Part 1

Amusing Animation TV

The Simpsons Avatar intro

Last night The Simpsons spoofed James Cameron’s Avatar in the opening sequence of an episode called The Fool Monty.

Check it out here.

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition

James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster finally gets the special edition treatment with the Avatar: Collector’s Extended Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) after a barebones release back in the Spring.

In case you didn’t catch what is now the most financially successful film in history at cinemas, the story involves an ex-Marine (Sam Worthington) who to an exotic alien planet where is caught between a battle between the natives and the human colonists.

The image quality of the original Blu-ray transfer was stunning. Even without the 3D aspect, which helped bump up ticket sales in cinemas, the quality of the visuals is exemplary with the live action and visual effects shots integrating wonderfully.

With this extended edition the major selling point is that this package contains three different cuts: the original theatrical release, the special edition re-release, and the exclusive extended cut not shown in theaters.

Added to this are around eight hours of bonus features that exhaustively detail the production of the film.

The three discs break down as follows:

Disc 1: Three Movie Versions

  • Original Theatrical Edition (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
  • Special Edition Re-Release (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
  • Collector’s Extended Cut with 16 additional minutes, including alternate opening on earth

Disc 2: Filmmaker’s Journey

  • Over 45 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes
  • Screen tests, on-set footage, and visual-effects reels
  • Capturing Avatar: Feature-length documentary covering the 16-year filmmakers’ journey, including interviews with James Cameron, Jon Landau, cast and crew
  • A Message from Pandora: James Cameron’s visit to the Amazon rainforest
  • The 2006 art reel: Original pitch of the Avatar vision
  • Brother termite test: Original motion capture test
  • The ILM prototype: Visual effects reel
  • Screen tests: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana
  • Zoë’s life cast: Makeup session footage
  • On-set footage as live-action filming begins
  • VFX progressions
  • Crew film: The Volume

Disc 3: Pandora’s Box

  • Interactive scene deconstruction: Explore the stages of production of 17 different scenes through three viewing modes: capture level, template level, and final level with picture-in-picture reference
  • Production featurettes: Sculpting Avatar, Creating the Banshee, Creating the Thanator, The AMP Suit, Flying Vehicles, Na’vi Costumes, Speaking Na’vi, Pandora Flora, Stunts, Performance Capture, Virtual Camera, The 3D Fusion Camera, The Simul-Cam, Editing Avatar, Scoring Avatar, Sound Design, The Haka: The Spirit of New Zealand
  • Avatar original script
  • Avatar screenplay by James Cameron
  • Pandorapedia: Comprehensive guide to Pandora
  • Lyrics from five songs by James Cameron
  • The art of Avatar: Over 1,850 images in 16 themed galleries (The World of Pandora, The Creatures, Pandora Flora, Pandora Bioluminescence, The Na’vi, The Avatars, Maquettes, Na’vi Weapons, Na’vi Props, Na’vi Musical Instruments, RDA Designs, Flying Vehicles, AMP Suit, Human Weapons, Land Vehicles, One-Sheet Concepts)
  • BD-Live extras (requires BD-Live-enabled player and Internet connection–may be available a limited-time only): Crew Short: The Night Before Avatar; additional screen tests, including Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, and Laz Alonso; speaking Na’vi rehearsal footage; Weta Workshop: walk-and-talk presentation

Avatar Collector’s Extended Edition is out today from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

> Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry

DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 15th November 2010


Avatar: Collector’s Extended Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment): James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster finally gets the special edition treatment after a barebones release back in the Spring.

The major selling point for this package is that it contains three different cuts: the original theatrical release, the special edition re-release, and the exclusive extended cut not shown in theaters, along with eight hours of bonus features that exhaustively detail the production of the film. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]

City Lights (Park Circus): The 1931 silent comedy-drama from Charlie Chaplin sees The Tramp fall in love with a beautiful, blind flower girl and form an unlikely friendship with a wealthy man.

Still one of the landmark films of the 1930s, this restoration on Blu-ray comes with some nice features including a documentary and outtakes. [But it on Blu-ray]

The Last Boy Scout (Warner Home Video): Although it criticised at the time, this 1991 action thriller directed by Tony Scott and written by Shane Black is wonderfully slick entertainment.

Starring Bruce Willis as a private eye caught up in the world of illegal sports, it is a surprisingly edgy mainstream film with some hilariously cynical humour and world weary performances. The studio were reportedly upset with the film but the Blu-ray release is a chance to appreciate Scott’s visual tricks in all their widescreen glory. [Buy it on Blu-ray]


An Idiot Abroad (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Charlie Chaplin: The Circus (Park Circus) [Blu-ray with DVD]
Fast and Furious/Gladiator/Wanted (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray]
How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Lethal Weapon Collection (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray]
Spirits of the Dead (Arrow Films) [Blu-ray]
Star Wars – The Clone Wars: Season 2 (Warner Home Video)
The Karate Kid (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray with DVD]
White Christmas (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray]

> The Best DVD and Blu-rays of 2009
> UK Cinema Releases for Friday 12th November 2010


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 27th August 2010


Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Universal): This live action adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic series is the story of a Toronto bass playing geek (Michael Cera) who falls in love with a delivery girl named Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), only to realise he must fight her ‘seven evil exes’.

What follows is an action-comedy hybrid in which director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) throws a barrage of visual artillery at the screen in order to recreate the look of comics and computer games.

Although it will have a devoted fan base, a question mark remains over the mainstream appeal of the material and the hyperactive way in which unfolds.

Although I found the film a colossal disappointment, especially given Wright’s track record, it is likely to find a more receptive audience here in the UK amongst a certain niche.

However Universal will have good reason to be nervous after it opened in the US two weeks ago. Despite mostly warm reviews, huge buzz at Comic-con, the fawning support of leading geeky websites, plenty of tweets and an expensive marketing campaign, it absolutely bombed, leaving many at the studio scratching their heads in disbelief. [Empire Leicester Square & Nationwide / 12A]

Grown Ups (Sony Pictures): Adam Sandler’s latest goofy comedy is about five friends (Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider) who reunite after thirty years to celebrate a Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Despite a torrent of negative reviews this has actually made a decent chunk of money worldwide, although it will probably be swiftly forgotten in the coming months. [Nationwide / 12A]

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Momentum Pictures): The second film adapted from the enormously successful Stieg Larsson trilogy of novels sees Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) return to Sweden after a year abroad only to fall under suspicion for murdering a journalist and his wife.

Although the Hollywood version of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy is under way with David Fincher at the helm, these native versions have done excellent business in Europe and with the novels still selling at a rapid pace, the second film is also likely to prove an art house hit. [Key Cities / 15]

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid (20th Century Fox): A live action (and partly animated) comedy film based on the illustrated books by Jeff Kinney. It stars Zachary Gordon as a kid having a tough time at school and also features Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn, Devon Bostick and Chloë Moretz.

Strictly aimed at family audiences, it arrives with little buzz and seems like it will find a bigger audience on DVD. [Nationwide / PG]

Avatar: Special Edition (20th Century Fox): James Cameron’s futuristic sci-fi blockbuster about an injured marine (Sam Worthington) who goes native on an alien planet gets a full re-release despite already being the most successful film of all time at the global box office.

This version will feature around 10 minutes of extra footage but it will be interesting to see how it does. The target audience appears to be those who didn’t see it first time around in 3D and those who want to see it again. [Nationwide / 12A]


Dog Pound (Optimum Releasing): Based on Alan Clarke’s Scum, this prison drama focusing on youthful delinquents in the US (although actually shot in Canada) by French director Kim Chapiron. [Key Cities / 18]

The Last Seven (Metrodome Distribution): A low budget British thriller which features Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan. [Key Cities / 18]

The Maid (Artificial Eye): A Chilean drama from director Sebastián Silva about a maid (Catalina Saavedra) who serves an upper-middle-class family. [Key Cities / 15]

Wah Do Dem (Picturehouse): A US indie film about a twenty-something drifter (Sean Bones) who ends up travelling to Jamaica. [Key Cities / 15]

The Leopard (bfi Distribution): A re-release for Luscio Visconti’s epic 1963 film about the upheavals in 1860s Sicily, starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon.


> UK DVD and Blu-ray picks for this week including The Gold Rush and Lebanon
> Get local cinema showtimes for your area via Google Movies

blu-ray Cinema DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 26th April 2010



Mad Men Season 3 (Lionsgate): One of the best Blu-ray releases of the year also happens to be the third season of the best show currently on television. Depicting the professional and personal lives of those who work at fictional New York ad agency Sterling Cooper, this series is set during 1963 and explores tensions with the new British owners, the ongoing personal conflicts (and infidelities) in the office and the gradual changes in US society.

The first two seasons touched on events such as the 1960 US election and the death of Marilyn Monroe, but this series manages to gradually combine the serious social changes of the era with the complex emotional situations facing the characters, culminating in brilliantly orchestrated season climax. *Read our full review here* [Blu-ray / DVD]

Avatar (20th Century Fox Home Ent.): James Cameron’s futuristic sci-fi epic about a paraplegic marine (Sam Worthington) who ventures to another planet and becomes one of the alien natives through a host body (or ‘avatar’) was a box office phenomenon that surpassed expectations to become the highest grossing film of all time. After a 12 year absence from feature films Cameron utilised ground breaking visual effects to craft a tale that was a dazzling 3D experience at cinemas and one that resonated with cultures around the globe.

Although some of the dialogue didn’t match the eye-popping visuals, there was something pleasing about the way in which vast technological resources of the Hollywood machine were used to create a film with a simple anti-war, pro-environmental message. Because the Blu-ray release is so hotly anticipated, it is worth stating that there are no extras at all on this version. Cameron said he didn’t have the time to do them right and there will be a fuller package later this year with extended extras. Also, for this release Cameron has opted to use go for the 1.78:1 version (that was screened in IMAX cinemas) and not the 2.35:1 version that most people saw in 3D at the cinema. Despite that, the Blu-ray transfer is stunning and the visuals (including the live action sequences) are rendered with stunning detail and depth. [Blu-ray / DVD]

The Kreutzer Sonata (Axiom Films): Based on a story written by Leo Tolstoy in response to Beethoven’s eponymous composition, director Bernard Rose dissects a modern marriage between a wealthy philanthropist (Danny Huston) who becomes possessive of his pianist wife (Elisabeth Rohm). Following up his superb drama Ivansxtc, Rose continues his reworking of the great Russian novelist’s work, and this is the second part of a planned trilogy.

Danny Huston, who was outstanding in Ivansxtc, returns with another excellent performance, and the film is an interesting exploration of fairly juicy themes including love, sex and obsession. Whilst not quite as good as its predecessor, it represents another interesting chapter in Rose’s career outside the Hollywood mainstream. [DVD]


Prince Valiant (Eureka) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Saving Private Ryan (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray]
Smokin’ Aces (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray]
Sword of the Stranger (Beez Entertainment) [Blu-ray]
The Girlfriend Experience (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Mad Men: Seasons 1-3 (Lionsgate UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Carriers (Paramount Home Entertainment) [DVD]
Dillinger (Icon Home Entertainment) [DVD]

> The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
> UK cinema releases for Friday 23rd April including Date Night and Centurion


James Cameron vs Glenn Beck


Director James Cameron had some strong words for Fox News host Glenn Beck yesterday calling him a “fu**ing a**hole” and a “madman”.

At a press event for the home entertainment launch of Avatar in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Cameron let rip when asked about Beck:

“Glenn Beck is a f***ing a**hole. I’ve met him. He called me the anti-Christ, and not about Avatar. He hadn’t even seen Avatar yet. I don’t know if he has seen it.”

The Hollywood Reporter has noted that Cameron’s beef with Beck goes back to 2007 when the talk show host was working for CNN and criticised the Cameron-produced documentary ‘The Lost Tomb of Jesus‘ by saying:

“Many people believe James Cameron officially has tossed his hat in the ring today and is officially running for anti-Christ.”

Cameron was less than thrilled with Beck’s comments:

“He’s dangerous because his ideas are poisonous. I couldn’t believe when he was on CNN. I thought, what happened to CNN? Who is this guy? Who is this madman? And then of course he wound up on Fox News, which is where he belongs, I guess.”

He later backtracked a little saying:

“You know what, he may or may not be an a**hole, but he certainly is dangerous, and I’d love to have a dialogue with him.”

Interestingly, both men have made a lot of money for Rupert Murdoch as Avatar was mostly funded and released by 20th Century Fox whilst Beck is one of the stars of Fox News.

In the same session Cameron also attacked climate change deniers:

“Anybody that is a global warming denier at this point in time has got their head so deeply up their ass I’m not sure they could hear me.”

The environmental themes of Avatar are forming a big part of its home video release, a point which Cameron was keen to emphasise:

“Look, at this point I’m less interested in making money for the movie and more interested in saving the world that my children are going to inhabit. How about that? I mean, look, I didn’t make this movie with these strong environmental anti-war themes in it to make friends on the right, you know.”

The DVD and Blu-ray release date for Avatar is April 22nd, which is also Earth Day.

> Avatar at the IMDb
> Find out more about James Cameron and Glenn Beck at Wikipedia
> Pre-order the Avatar Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK


James Cameron at the NRDC Event

An interesting and lengthy interview with James Cameron for a special online edition of KCRW’s The Treatment, recorded live at a benefit for the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Amusing Awards Season Images

The Oscars in one image


If there is one image that sums up this year’s Oscar race, it is this hilarious shot of Avatar director James Cameron and The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow from last night’s ceremony.

They were once married, but contrary to a lot of lazy media coverage in the build up to the awards, remain friends and even consult each other on their respective film projects.

Cameron urged his ex-wife to do The Hurt Locker after reading the script and even screened Avatar for Bigelow several times in post production to solicit her opinion on the sci-fi blockbuster.

Also, both films were – in their different ways – about the Iraq War as Cameron pointed out in an interview with CBS recently.

Someone has also done a nice Muckety map of the connections between the two directors.

In a way, it all worked out nicely as Avatar scooped the technical awards it deserved, as well as becoming the biggest grossing film of all time.

Meanwhile The Hurt Locker went from a film that almost no major studio wanted to make or release to a  Best Picture winner that also made Bigelow the first woman to get a Best Director Oscar.


Avatar vs Pocahontas Mashups

Some people have got creative mashing up Disney’s Pocahonatas with James Cameron’s Avatar.

Amusing Viral Video

Team Avatar: Pandora Police


Box Office News

Avatar beats Titanic to break all-time box office record

James Cameron has conquered the worldwide box office again as Avatar has now beaten previous record holder Titanic to become the highest worldwide grosser of all time.

With weekend figures for his latest film adding up to a staggering $1.838 billion worldwide, this weekend’s expected $15 million US earnings allowed it to do what many thought was unthinkable and surpass his 1997 epic, which had a worldwide gross of $1.842 billion.

‘Titanic’ still remains the highest grosser domestically in the US with $600.8 million, but it only seems like a matter of time before Cameron’s latest film catches up after already earning $551.7 million as of Monday.

It is a remarkable achievement, as Titanic seemed a one off that would never be repeated, but the combination of multiple repeat viewings and the higher ticket prices for 3D screenings helped turn it into a tsunami of cash for 20th Century Fox.

Part of the key to its mainstream success lies in the fact that this is the first live action 3D film for a mass mainstream audience. Although 3D has become the norm at cinemas for animated films over the last 18 months, live action films such as The Final Destination were gimmicky and few and far between.

But Avatar was designed from the beginning as a spectacular and immersive 3D experience which would be shown on as many new digital screens as possible.

It was a calculated gamble for Fox and Cameron to push this technology on such a high profile film, which wasn’t an established property or sequel, but it has paid off handsomely.

Another aspect worth noting is how well it has done in markets such as China and Russia, which were harder to tap back in the late 1990s and this certainly helped its global box office numbers.

Why has it hit such a chord with audiences?

The combination of ground breaking visuals and a universal story line that fits neatly into many global cultures would appear to be the primary reasons but we should also bear in mind the Christmas box office, which features less competition than the summer.

Can it break the $2 billion barrier? At this point few would bet against it.

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Visual Effects in Avatar

James Cameron’s Avatar is currently dominating the world wide box office and one of the stand out features is the visual effects.

Here are some behind the scenes videos which explain how they were created.


James Cameron’s Pocahontas

Someone has done a quick rewrite of Disney’s version of the Pocahontas story with some Avatar influenced notes.

(Click the image for a larger version)


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 18th December 2009

UK Cinema Releases 18-12-09



Avatar (20th Century Fox): Director James Cameron’s sci-fi epic is finally here. Set in 2154, the story is about a paraplegic war veteran (Sam Worthington) who travels to the distant planet in order to understand and become part of the native humanoid race, which is at odds with human settlers who want to mine the planet for precious minerals. Co-starring Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana and Stephen Lang, it breaks new ground with some extraordinary visual effects, innovative use of 3D and a surprisingly subversive story line.

Given the enormous cost of the production (reportedly around the $300 million mark) Fox will be anxious but given the positive buzz and critical praise since it premièred in London last week, they can be hopeful for a huge gross over the Christmas period as the must-see factor really kicks in. [Nationwide / 12A]

* Read my longer thoughts on Avatar here *

Nine (Entertainment): A famous film director (Daniel Day Lewis) struggles to find harmony in his professional and personal lives, as he engages in dramatic relationships with his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his muse (Nicole Kidman), his costume designer (Judi Dench), a journalist (Kate Hudson), a prostitute (Fergie) and his mother (Sophia Loren).

Directed by Rob Marshall, The Weinstein Company were hoping that this musical with an all-star cast would deliver awards season glory, the mixed reviews may hinder the box office appeal. Entertainment are the UK distributor and they are going for a platform release, showing it exclusively at the Odeon West End in London for a week and then rolling it out nationwide from Boxing Day and January 1st. [Nationwide from December 26th and 1st Jan / Cert 12A]

St Trinian’s: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold (Entertainment): The girls of St. Trinians are on the hunt for buried treasure after discovering headmistress Miss Fritton is related to a famous pirate. Given that the first St Trinian’s hasn’t even come out in America yet, prospects for this sequel in a busy Christmas period don’t look too good. [Empire Leicester Square & Nationwide / PG]



Humpday (Vertigo Films): One of the more notable US indie releases this year is the tale of two guys (Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard) who take their bromance to another level when they participate in an art film project.

Directed by Lynn Shelton, it could do good arthouse business given the blitz of high profile releases at the multiplexes. [Curzon Soho & Key Cities / 15]

> Get local cinema showtimes for your area via Google Movies
> UK cinema releases for December 2009
> UK DVD & Blu-ray picks for 2009


Cinema Thoughts


Neyteri (Zoe Saldana) and Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in a scene from 'Avatar' / Photo credit: WETA & 20th Century Fox

The long awaited blockbuster from director James Cameron is a remarkable visual achievement and a thrilling sci-fi drama.

Anticipation over what Avatar would be has reached fever pitch in recent months as speculation mounted: Would the 3D change the way audiences see cinema? Why did it cost so much? What’s with all the blue aliens? And why is it called Avatar?

The less than ecstatic reaction in various quarters to the trailers and preview footage in the summer, combined with some sluggish tracking numbers, were probably enough to make folks at 20th Century Fox a little nervous.

But the simple fact is that Avatar really delivers. For the 163 minute running time it takes you on an adventure and into a different world with all manner of thrilling sights and sounds.

Set in the year 2154, the story and centres on a wheelchair bound US marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), sent on a mission to the planet of Pandora, replacing his recently deceased twin brother.

It has been partly colonised by humans who are trying to mine it for rare minerals because Earth is on the bring of ecological collapse.

Sully’s mission is to mix with Pandora’s native aliens the Na’vi by becoming an Avatar, a hybrid alien which he ‘becomes’ under lab conditions, as if in a dream.

Aided by the chief scientist (Sigourney Weaver) in charge of the project, he finds a way of blending in with the natives after the hawkish military commander (Stephen Lang) recruits him to be a spy.

But he soon comes to fall in love with the planet and its people after being rescued by Na’vi warrior Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and finding himself at home on amongst their culture.

This causes inevitable tensions with the human colony’s desire to exploit their land.

Avatar poster

The most immediate thing about experiencing the film is how quickly you settle into the world of Pandora.

Forget all the Gawker-led hipster jibes about the Na’vi looking like smurfs – once you are  inside the cinema they look and feel like real characters, which is a major tribute to the CGI artists and actors who brought them to life.

But it is the stunning vistas and trippy details of Pandora that will really wow audiences.

Cameron waited a long time for technology to catch up with his expansive, psychedelic visions and the result is another landmark in cinema visuals, up there with the water in The Abyss, the T-1000 in T2, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and various landmark steps over this decade such as Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Benjamin Button.

In utilising new advances in technology, Avatar goes in further in pushing the envelope: alien landscapes, major characters and various creatures are rendered with astounding detail and richness.

If you stay and watch the end credits you’ll see an unbelievable amount of visual effects artists and several different houses, although the primary credit goes to the WETA Digital team led by Joe Letteri.

At times it is so good that that you begin to take it for granted, which in a strange way almost makes it a victim of its own brilliance.

Another important aspect of Avatar is that it was filmed with the proprietary Fusion digital 3-D camera system (developed by Cameron and Vince Pace) which are stereoscopic cameras that ‘simulate’ human sight.

I saw it in 3D and was struck at how seamless it was. There was no obvious pointy images, but a visual design that draws you subconsciously into the screen. It will also work in 2D but I think 3D will prove the richer experience.

There’s been a lot of talk about this film being a game changer for 3D in mainstream cinema. I’m not sure every film at a multiplex should (or needs to) be shown like that, but for tentpole movies Avatar is a big leap forward.

Certainly it could influence writers, directors and producers to be more imaginative in how they approach the visual design of a blockbuster.

But what of the themes and subtext? For such a high profile film from a major Hollywood studio, it is a fairly stinging critique of US militarism and imperialism, firmly on the side of the indigenous insurgency with a pro-environmental message to boot – at one point a tree is literally hugged and spoke to!

Avatar ticketThe sight of futuristic US helicopters landing on jungles and firing incendiary bombs on the native Na’vi echoes Vietnam and the arc of the story carries more than a whiff of Dances With Wolves or even The New World.

There is also a certain irony that it was mostly funded by Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp and makes you wonder if the Aussie media mogul got the memo about hundreds of millions of his dollars being spent on a film with such a liberal message.

It could certainly be interpreted as a big, middle-fingered salute to the Bush-Cheney era – a critique of US imperialism that embraces empathy with other races and respect for the environment.

The irony of course is that this is likely to wash right over the heads of Fox News junkies and Sarah Palin fans.

It isn’t exactly subtle, but props must go to Cameron for being so on the nose with the issues.

Just weeks after more US troops were sent to Afghanistan and the week global leaders meet in Copenhagen to discuss the environment, it could hardly be more topical – impressive for a sci-film set in the middle of the next century.

There are some minus points: the script contains some clunky dialogue; some sequences appear trimmed to keep the running time down; the originality of the visuals isn’t matched by the story; Leona Lewis singing over the end credits and at times the villains and their motives are a little one-dimensional.

I’d be wary of talking about Avatar as another Titanic. For various reasons it will be hard to ever crack the runaway box office success of that film and I don’t feel it will sweep the Oscar race this year (although the technical and visual effects awards are in the bag).

But if word of mouth catches fire, there could certainly be a slow-burn must-see effect – like with Titanic – that turns it into the kind of film people have to see in order to talk about it.

From The Terminator through to Titanic, James Cameron has always been a great technical director, even if his films have had their downsides.

By pushing relentlessly at how films look on screen he has helped raised standards of how we view movies and for that he deserves great credit.

Avatar demonstrates again that he understands one of the basic truths about cinema, which is its ability to lift audiences out of themselves for a couple of hours and make them feel giddy in the process.


Avatar premieres in London

James Cameron’s Avatar premièred in London last night.

There have been some press screenings around the globe (London, LA, New York) with an embargo on reviews – that is, journalists sign a form saying they won’t publish a review until a certain date.

Given that a lot of journalists respect this process, it was therefore suprising to hear a critic on a UK national radio station review it yesterday afternoon, see The Guardian website run a half-hearted non-review and The Hollywood Reporter publish a full review.

Some might argue that if embargoes are broken like this, why have them in the first place?


UK Cinema Releases: December 2009

UK Cinema Releases December 2009


  • The Box (12A)/ Icon
  • Cracks (15) / Optimum Releasing
  • Me and Orson Welles (12A) / CinemaNX Distribution
  • The Descent: Part 2 (18) / Warner Bros/Pathe
  • The Girlfriend Experience (15) / Revolver
  • The Merry Gentleman (15) / The Works
  • Planet 51 (U) / Entertainment


  • Carriers (15) / Paramount
  • The Red Shoes (R/I) / Park Circus / Selected Key Cities
  • The Step Father (15) / Sony Pictures
  • Unmade Beds (15) / Soda Pictures
  • Where The Wild Things Are (PG) / Warner Bros.


  • Avatar / 20th Century Fox
  • St. Trinians 2 / Entertainment
  • Nine (Entertainment)


  • Alvin And The Chipmunks 2 / Fox


  • Dogging: A Love Story / Vertigo Films
  • Nowhere Boy / Icon


  • Sherlock Holmes / Warner Bros.

Get local showtimes via Google Movies (just enter your postcode)
Find out about films showing near you at MyFilms

Directors Interviews

James Cameron on 60 Minutes

Watch CBS News Videos Online

James Cameron was on 60 Minutes over the weekend where he discussed his career and the upcoming Avatar.

Look out for the bit around the 9 minute mark when he discusses The Terminator and the original studio’s choice for the main role.

“The head of Orion, who were gonna release the film, called me up and said, ‘Are you sitting down? I’ve cast this movie’. I was at a party, and it’s, ‘are you sitting down? It’s O.J. Simpson for the Terminator!’

And I said, ‘This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,’ you know. I didn’t know O.J. Simpson, I had nothing against him personally. I didn’t know he was gonna go murder his wife later and become the real Terminator”

There are also some other web extra videos which didn’t make the broadcast edit.

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Avatar: Behind the Scenes Featurette

Avatar Movie Video – Exclusive Featurette: Human Hardware

A behind the scenes look at the upcoming James Cameron film Avatar.


New Avatar Trailer


Slightly more narrative in this new trailer for the James Cameron sci-fi epic that opens worldwide on December 18th


Avatar Day in London

Avatar logo

Yesterday at 10am I went along to the free Avatar Day screening at the BFI London IMAX.

This was part of Fox’s marketing effort to build buzz for James Cameron’s first film since Titanic and what is reportedly one of the costliest productions of all time.

An unusual promotional event held at cinemas around the world, it saw about 100,000 viewers, who had signed up for free tickets online, get shown an extended preview of the film on IMAX screens in 3-D.

But what exactly is Avatar all about?

It is a sci-fic tale set in the future that has been filmed on cutting edge 3-D digital cameras that produce stereoscopic images that simulate human sight.

James Cameron and Sam Worthington on the set of AvatarThe story centres around a former marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who was wounded and paralyzed in combat on Earth and is selected to participate in the Avatar program, which enables him to walk and travel to Pandora, a jungle-covered extraterrestrial moon filled with different life forms.

It is also home to the Na’vi race, a tall humanoid species with tails and blue skin. As humans encroach on the planet in search of minerals, Jake becomes part of a program by which he can live through the genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrid known as Avatars.

The Avatars are living, breathing bodies that are controlled by a human “driver” through a technology that links the driver’s mind to their Avatar body. On Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can walk once again through his new alien body.

Sent deep into Pandora’s jungles to scout for the soldiers that will follow, Jake discovers more about the planet and meets a young Na’vi female, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who he soon becomes attached to.

Amanda Nevill of the BFI and Chris Green of Fox UK gave short introductory speeches before they started the presentation.

A 50-foot-tall version of James Cameron appeared in 3-D, welcoming us to ‘the 22nd century’ and said that he wanted to offer more than just a trailer, explaining that we were about to see 15 minutes of the film (all taken from the first half of the film, so there were no major spoilers).

Here is how it broke down (if you don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading now):

1. The first shot was of boots walking along the ground whilst a voice says “You’re not in Kansas anymore” and we quickly see that it is a military officer (Stephen Lang) talking to his cadets. The music accompanying this is Journey to the Line from The Thin Red Line soundtrack by Hans Zimmer – which I’m guessing a temp track whilst the score has yet to be completed. The officer tells them that they’re about to be deployed on the planet Pandora, where “everything that walks, flies or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for jujubes.” While he’s speaking, we see the wheelchair-bound soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) enter the room. My initial impression was that the depth of the image was something I hadn’t seen before and it took a little getting used too.

2. The next sequence showed Jake lie on a machine that looks like a futuristic sunbed which is then inserted into what looks like an ultrasound machine. A scientist (Sigourney Weaver) is talking him through a procedure that will see him wake up in the body of his Na’vi avatar: a tall blue alien and he seems pleased that he can walk again.

3. The third sequence cuts to the planet and follows Jake (in his alien body) on a jungle-like planet as he’s told how to deal with the planet’s free-roaming population of strange dinosaur like creatures. The environment is pretty rich in detail and reminded me a little of the landscapes in a previous WETA creation – Skull Island in King Kong (2005).

4. A night time sequence on the same planet, we see Jake, separated from his group, get rescued from a dinosaur attack by a female Na’viwho fights with a bow and arrow. I’m pretty sure this character is Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana). Jake thanks her but she is angry and dismissive.

5. A daytime sequence with Jake and a group of native Na’vi, including Neytiri, on a mountain by a steep waterfall, where a flock of winged creatures are nesting. Jake tries to tame it and has to wrestle one to the ground and puts something in its mouth which calms it down. The female warrior shouts that he must take his first flight on its back to bond with it. Jake and his new creature then go tumbling off the side of the waterfall in a giddy sequence. This was impressively cut and shot and gave a glimpse of the epic feel Cameron is going for.

The very final images were a shortened version of the trailer before it all ended.

My initial impressions were that the scenes were a little too short to make any kind of sweeping prediction about the film.

I was perhaps expecting slightly sharper image quality (along the lines of The Dark Knight in IMAX) but then this was shot on digital cameras rather than on IMAX film, so perhaps that was an issue.

However, there was definitely enough to pique people’s interest and I suspect Cameron is saving the really juicy sequences for the proper theatrical release.

On the subject of the trailer, it was released on Thursday and seemed to be the main talking point in the queue beforehand. I wanted to avoid watching it before I saw the IMAX footage, but here it is in case you didn’t catch it.

According to a press release from the studio, it is now the most viewed trailer of all time on the Apple Trailers site, with over four million streams in its first day, shattering the previous record of 1.7 million (and this isn’t taking in to account the official and unofficial plays on YouTube).

The online buzz – from what I can gather – hasn’t been that positive with some people saying out that they think the alien design is a tad goofy (Jar Jar Binks and The Dark Crystal have been mentioned) and others have pointed out visual similarities to Ferngully, Delgo and even Dungeons and Dragons.

My guess is that this backlash (of sorts) is something to do with the way Avatar has been ‘pre-sold’ in marketing terms with hype about how it will revolutionise cinema with its astounding never-seen-before visuals.

Given the buzz and publicity the 25 minute preview at Comic-con got, Fox were presumably hoping that all was well in the long Avatar marketing campaign.

But selling a movie isn’t what it used to be and given the quick, online global dissection of anything produced by movie studios it was perhaps inevitable that the first Avatar trailer would struggle to live up to expectations.

However, let’s just hold it right there. The Avatar trailer is (or is perceived to be) struggling to live up to the hype. It says something about the modern movie business that this is the case.

The major studios have been willing to embrace this pre-release hype as we have seen in recent years when genre films (like Iron Man, The Spirit and Watchmen)  have all had big pushes at Comic-con.

This is the bizarre but now fully accepted practice of having a press conference, screening trailers and doing a full schedule of press about a film that isn’t even finished.

My guess is that Fox will be a little disappointed with some of the online reactions to the Avatar trailer but I think Cameron deserves to be cut some slack – shouldn’t we wait to see the actual film before passing judgement like this?

You know the one with the proper story which gives proper context to the images seen so far?

In this current age I guess keeping everything top secret until opening day isn’t an option but part of me wonders if movie studios could learn a trick or two from Apple.

They keep everything secret and by the time Steve Jobs unveils the latest i-Whatever the fever pitch has built to a frenzy bordering on the religuous.

Would it be impossible to release a movie like an iPhone? And is the current drawn out cycle of hype a help or a hindrance? Does it even matter given the many millions of dollars Fox will use to blitz conventional media outlets (TV, print & radio etc) in December?

It will be interesting to see what Fox does from now until the release. Aside from geeky community complaints, I’m guessing the major issue they have to address is what Avatar is (or means) to the wider public who don’t follow the minutiae of fanboy buzz on Twitter.


Trailer: Avatar

The trailer for James Cameron‘s upcoming sci-fi film Avatar, which is released worldwide on December 18th.


First official Avatar photo

It seems the first official photo from Avatar has been released by Fox.

Avatar photo

(Click here for a higher resolution image)

Next Friday (August 21st) there will be special preview footage (lasting around 16 mins) screened at cinemas around the world with an introduction from director James Cameron, including some stuff not shown at Comic Con.

I’m going to the 10am screening at the BFI London IMAX and I’ll report what I see as soon as I can.

> Official site
> James Cameron talks about Avatar at Comic-Con


Avatar poster inspired by Stephen King novel?

It is probably a coincidence but a comment on Hollywood Elsewhere by LexG points out that the new Avatar teaser poster (which I’m guessing is official, despite previous fake posters and trailers for this film) looks a lot like the 1980 paperback cover of The Stand by Stephen King.

Avatar The Stand

> James Cameron talks about Avatar at Comic-Con
> More on The Stand at Wikipedia


James Cameron talks Avatar at Comic-Con

James Cameron on Avatar set

James Cameron screened about 25 minutes of his new sci-fi film Avatar at the Comic-Con in San Diego yesterday.

Budgeted at a reported $240 million, the 3-D computer-generated epic is probably the most hotly anticipated film of the year.

It has an added aura due to the fact that it is Cameron’s first proper feature film since Titanic (1997) and that so many details have been kept under wraps.

According to Wikipedia, here is the basic premise:

Avatar is set during the 22nd century on a small moon called Pandora, which orbits a gas giant, and is inhabited by the tribal Na’vi, ten foot tall, blue humanoids that are peaceful unless attacked.

Humans cannot breathe Pandoran air, so they genetically engineer human/Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars that can be controlled via a mental link.

A paralyzed Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) volunteers to exist as an Avatar on Pandora, falling in love with a Na’vi princess and becoming caught up in the conflict between her people and the human military that is consuming their world.

Cameron introduced the footage by asking “Who wants to go to another planet?” before screening a few expositional sequences.

Apparently they showed the main character Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, becoming an avatar (a blue-skinned human-alien hybrid) before segueing into a series of jungle battle scenes in which Worthington and co-star Zoe Saldana fight with prehistoric-looking creatures.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere was one of many observers in the hall impressed with what he saw:

…it should come as no surprise to report that this taste of James Cameron’s 3-D action fantasy, set on a foreign planet and involving a primal conflict between militaristic humans and a race of ten-foot-tall aliens called Na’vi, played serious wowser.

As in “Jesus, this is something…oh, wow!…crap, this is new…oh, that’s cool…this is so friggin’ out there and vivid and real…love it all to hell.”

Cameron announced at the end of the presentation that the rest of the world will have a chance to sample Avatar in a similar way on Friday, August 21, which he called “Avatar Day.”

On that day IMAX theatres coast to coast (and, I presume, in various foreign nations) will show about 15 minutes worth of 3-D IMAX footage of Avatar to the public for free.

This is an ingenious way of spreading buzz – almost like drug dealers giving out free samples.

Anyway, Wells goes on:

I guess the footage will be shown at successive shows all day and into the night, and that some kind of ticket reservations system will be set up.

20th Century Fox will open Avatar all over on 12.18.09.

The 3-D photography that I saw this afternoon is clean and needle-sharp and easy on the eyes, and the CG animation looks as realistic and organically genuine as anything anyone might imagine, and which certainly seems to represent the best we’ve seen thus far.

6,000 people watched the show inside the San Diego Convention Center’s great Hall H, and then sat for a brief but informative presentation by Cameron, producer Jon Landau and costars Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang with a video apearance by costar Sam Worthington.

He also shot some footage of the presentation with Cameron and the cast:

Lewis Wallace of Wired reports:

So, what did Comic-Con attendees see in between the oohs, ahs and applause?

A first look at a movie formerly shrouded in secrecy; a film that builds on Cameron’s impressive cinematic track record (Aliens, Titanic, the first two Terminator movies); and a project that boasts the kind of big-budget, mind-blowing sci-fi with a conscience that a new franchise could be built upon.

In other words, Avatar could be Cameron’s Star Wars.

Avatar is a mind-expanding adventure on a beautiful world filled with plants and creatures both ferocious and whimsical.

Giant, dinosaur-type beasts; jellyfishlike creatures that float through the air; and all manner of other imaginatively bizarre beings that fight and fly through the bioluminescent, black-light forest Cameron and his talented artists have brought to life.

Perhaps the most amazing creatures are the avatars themselves: 10-foot-tall, slender blue beings, genetically engineered to look like the planet’s indigenous people, the Na’vi.

It is hard to say how well this film is going to do, but if Cameron really delivers the eye-popping visual goods some are expecting, then it could be something really special.

Avatar opens on December 18th later this year.

> Official website
> LA Times on the presentation