In Theaters: Avatar
There is a Christmas dinner debate that lives in infamy at my house: It's 1997, and Titanic had been released a few days earlier -- should we go? My brother was almost ecstatic in his derision: James Cameron was a buffoon and no one was going to go see a movie where everybody already knows the end. Nix. I was sure, and looking back I don't even remember why, that the thing was going to be huge, and everybody knew the end to the Civil War too, jerkhole. We didn't go see Titanic. You know the rest. But the fact that people were still shit-talking the prospects of what went on to become the biggest grossing film of all time even after it hit the theaters (but before the first returns came in) says something about the boulder-sized grudge the zeitgeist seems to hold against Cameron. History repeated with Avatar, which the blogging classes seemed only too happy to relegate to the shitcan of overweening hubris. Then the thing actually screened. If whiplash has a sound, last Thursday evening it was reverberating through Cineplex lobbies on either coast, as critics and the commentariat hit the streets, shaking their heads free of three hours on a planet called Pandora and managing only the occasional expletive as they went.
Because his films make tremendous bank and occasionally press a little too firmly on our cinematic pleasure points -- sex, violence, blowing shit up -- Cameron is often lumped in with lock and loaders like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, despite the fact that he keeps reminding us, if only every ten years or so now, that his are usually passion projects in elaborate disguise. Avatar, a story which Cameron has been stewing over for decades and actually working on for at least four years, is as heartfelt as it is spectacular; and while it's all too easy to tangle with the political and situational gauntlets he lays down, as a showman Cameron will not be denied.