On the front cover of the 2010 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die exists a single picture from a single film. It’s not Citizen Kane, and it isn’t The Godfather, nor is it Seven Samurai. All of these films were made over 40 years ago and people are still talking about them. The same most certainly cannot be said for the film which makes it on the front cover of this aspiring cinematic bible. It was made 8 years ago and no one is still talking about it. It is, of course, James Cameron’s Avatar.
One can perhaps forgive the mistake of placing (or, rather, misplacing) such an average film as such an important one. In 2010 Avatar had become the highest grossing film of all time (and it still is), and despite not being at all interesting in terms of plot or narrative, its use of computer-generated imagery was simply revolutionary. Not even a decade later, however, the images the film has to boast are pretty… average.
The excuse for its inclusion in the big book of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is probably pretty fair. It concedes that the plot has been seen 1001 times before; copied, almost, from the ilk of Dances With Wolves and The Thin Red Line. Avatar, apparently, “will remain beloved, but will someday, no doubt, look antiquated.” At least half of that sentence is right, but I doubt the writer of it anticipated just how soon their prophecy would be fulfilled.
“how can the highest grossing film of all time be so unimportant to cinema”
Maybe it is I who is speaking too soon, alas, as there are plans to make Avatar into a franchise with four more films having been announced. Four more films. Four. That’s insane!
But in 20 years time once we’ve sat through them all, Avatar will most certainly hold a different (whether elevated or not will remain to be seen) place in our pop culture vernacular. And maybe I’ll have to pretend I never called it an irrelevant piece of cinema.
Avatar 2 will be released in 2020, and though over a decade is a long time (emphasis on the long) to wait to release a sequel in the everything-from-Hollywood-that-makes-a-profit-is-franchised age (emphasis on that whole bit which I don’t want to type out again), one would certainly expect people not to be uninterested in seeing the follow-up to the highest grossing film of all time. And you can count me as one of those people. Though nothing interesting was done with the first film, the universe is more than accommodating for potentially stellar (get it? because it’s a space movie) sequels.
For now, at least, Avatar remains an odd case. When looking up the definition of irony, one should find Avatar, as how can the highest grossing film of all time be so unimportant to cinema? The overly clichéd and paint-by-numbers plot added nothing new to filmmaking, and while the CGI was outstanding for 2009, it has been outdone and outdone again by now.