No, this isn’t an Avatar-bashing blog post, despite the title. Rather I see the following words as an exploration of a missed opportunity.
A few days ago someone asked a bunch of us at work “If you could visit an alternate universe, where would you go?” There were a variety of responses, ranging from visiting a Donald Trump-less society to entering a world where John Lennon had never been assassinated. (Though there was one guy who only wanted to see a world where Oasis never broke up.) My mind, however, couldn’t help drifting to the idea of a universe where Avatar had never existed (or at least had never been made by James Cameron.)
Released in 2009, Avatar was Cameron’s grand return to the big screen after a 12 year break. Quickly making an impact on the world of cinema, the film broke multiple box office records and would eventually beat Cameron’s own film, Titanic, to the spot of highest grossing film of all time. Ten years would pass before that $2.7 billion worldwide gross would finally be beaten by a little known movie called Avengers: Endgame.
But why, I hear you ask, do I want to erase Avatar from existence in the vein of Back To The Future Part II?
First things first though; why is James Cameron considered a great director? Short (and obvious) answer: He makes exceptional films. While that’s true, such an answer greatly simplifies how skilled Cameron is. Not only has the man written and directed some of the most exquisite screenplays ever written, but he does so in genres that are often far removed from each other. On top of that he’s created multiple memorable characters and quotable lines galore; all while pushing the boundaries of technology like no other filmmaker in recent memory. It’s all the more impressive when you realise that, from 1984-2009, all these achievements have been attained with the release of only seven films.
As such, I can’t help pondering… What would the world have been like if Avatar hadn’t distracted James Cameron?
Prior to the release of Titanic in 1997, Cameron had a fairly “normal” journey as a director. From the release of his first film, Piranha II: The Spawning in 1981, he would generally release a film every 1-3 years. But then after Titanic, he (for lack of a better phrase) “went dark.” Twelve years would pass before he would release Avatar. And now, with Avatar 2 penciled in for a 2021 release (and assuming you leave out two documentaries and some TV work), he will have released only one original film in the 25 years since Titanic.
Think about that guys… One of the GREATEST FILMMAKERS of our time has only released ONE film in the last quarter of a century.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Cameron has been sitting on his backside twiddling his thumbs. The man has done more in the past 25 years than most of us could do in multiple lifetimes. Obviously his underwater exploration has been well documented in Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. And he’s hardly abandoned his cinematic mastery, with producer credits on multiple projects and a writing credit on the recent Alita: Battle Angel. In addition his environmental work, philanthropy, and collaborations with organisations such as NASA have yielded commendable results. He also holds the record for being the first solo person to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench. That alone makes him more accomplished than 99% of the people I’ve met in my life!
But from a cinematic point of view, it’s hard not to feel a sense of loss because of his lack of original directing and writing projects. Just think about the memorable lines that we haven’t heard. The feminist icons that don’t exist. The breathtaking action sequences that we will never see. The incredible worlds and original stories that we can no longer visit. Sure, Avatar does fill in some of these gaps. But, assuming that a new movie had been made every three years, can Avatar really make up for the estimated eight movies that would have otherwise arisen from the mind of Cameron?
For comparisons sake, lets look at one of Cameron’s contemporaries: Steven Spielberg. Imagine for a second that someone like Spielberg did the same thing. That he only released one film between 1997 and 2021. Just think about what the world would have never seen. The terrifying assault on Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan, the tear-jerking meeting between David and the Blue Fairy in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, the exploration of post-9/11 fears in War of The Worlds, and the Oscar winning portrayal of the Great Emancipator in Lincoln. Hell, even Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at least provoked debate.
In those 25 years between 1997 and 2021, Spielberg will have directed 17 feature-length films, including Catch Me If You Can, Munich, War Horse, Minority Report, The Terminal, The Post, The Adventures of Tintin, Ready Player One, The BFG , Bridge of Spies, West Side Story (2020) and the adaptation of the novel The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.
Ask yourself, how much artistry and storytelling brilliance would the world have lost if we had only been able to experience ONE of the above films?
It’s because of that I can’t help feeling a little mournful over what we’ve lost when it comes to Cameron’s lack of cinematic work. Perhaps there is an alternate universe out there where, rather than dedicating three decades of his life to the world of Pandora, Cameron has instead created a whole smorgasbord of content that equals the brilliance of the cinematic classics he has already given us.
I, for one, would at least want to visit that universe and pick up some Blu-rays.
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