Expectation plays a huge role in the movie going experience. Whether or not you think you’re going to like a movie has a direct impact on whether or not you actually do like a movie. It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised by a flick you thought was going to suck, but it’s awful to be disappointed by something that seemed like it was going to be great. But what creates these expectations?
Rabid fanboys feed on any scrap of information about an upcoming movie, then make a snap judgment about the movie and post it on the web. After a while, these separate decisions meld together to form one collective opinion, commonly referred to as “buzz.” Buzz is what sets expectations for a movie and, like it or not, it has become the lifeblood of the modern popcorn movie. Most of the time, buzz is built as a movie is being made, but sometimes buzz can be created through anticipation. In the 20 years between Star Wars movies, fans grew so itchy for new Star Wars that it didn’t matter if the new movies weren’t very good.
Once upon a time there was a filmmaker who beat bad buzz. It seems hard to imagine now, but James Cameron’s Titanic was purported to be a colossal flop. It was over budget and over schedule. But Cameron had the last laugh when the movie was seen by everyone who could take in oxygen and made just over a kabillion dollars.
It’s been a decade since James Cameron’s last movie. He’s been out of the limelight for so long that there is a generation of young movie fans who think that McG directed Terminator. But those of us fanboys who are old enough to know better have been eagerly anticipating his next move.
In the aftermath of Titanic, Cameron wanted to make this movie he’d written called Avatar, but technology wasn’t good enough for him to be able to pull it off. At this point most filmmakers would move on to something else, but Cameron, in his interminably stubborn way, said ‘screw it’ and set about inventing the technology he needed to make his movie.
Three years ago, it was announced that Avatar was finally going into production. The project was shrouded in secrecy. The only thing that was known was that it was destined to be spectacular. We were told it was going to change movies forever.
That last statement is a dangerous one. It set the bar for Avatar impossibly high from the very beginning.
Last summer at Comic Con—the current birthplace of movie buzz—Cameron unveiled 10 minutes of footage from the movie. Fans waited for 4 hours to get a glimpse of the “future of movies” (which is a long time for anyone to spend in stuffy convention hall squeezed into a Stormtrooper costume). The immediate reaction to what they saw was…”meh”. The bad buzz began to build.
James Cameron is nothing if not a master showman and he’s always said that Avatar is meant to be seen in as large a format as possible in 3D. So a few months ago, 15 minutes of the film where screened for audiences in Imax theaters around the country. Reactions were again mixed.
At this point, it’s unclear if Avatar is going to revolutionize movies, like Star Wars, Terminator 2 or The Matrix, or go down in history as another overpriced, bloated flop alongside Waterworld and Ishtar.
I say let the fanboys throw barbs behind the shield of anonymity that is the internet. Let them debate if the aliens in the movie look as if a Thundercat mated with a Smurf. I don’t care. I’m in. Bad buzz or not, you had me at “a film by James Cameron.” I’m trying not to create expectations for the movie because the only way I will know where it belongs in the annals of cinematic and pop culture history is by planting myself in front of an Imax screen, strapping on a pair of 3D glasses and experiencing it for myself.
After 11 years of buildup, Avatar opens in theaters this weekend. My ticket is bought and I am anxiously waiting for my chance to see it.
To be continued…