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James Cameron's 'Avatar': Another Leap in the Building Blocks Of Cinema

Updated on May 8, 2012

I find it extremely ironic that the only person that was able to beat out Titanic's box office record in twelve years was none other than the same director himself. In 1997, Titanic grossed 2.175 billion dollars. The highest grossing film in cinematic history, at that time (of course, adjusting for inflation, Gone With The Wind would still be the highest grossing, since it was made in 1939). Twelve years later, Cameron came out with another movie, Avatarin 2009 that not only matched Titanic's gross, but surpassed it. With 2.782 billion dollars, Avatar found its place in movie history, topping the worldwide box office gross list for the first time in 12 years.
**Fun fact: Top 10 highest grossing movies are as follows for those interested**

  1. Avatar - 2.782 billion
  2. Titanic - 2.175 billion
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 - 1.328 billion
  4. Transformers: Dark of the Moon - 1.123 billion
  5. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - 1.119 billion
  6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - 1.066 billion
  7. Toy Story 3 - 1.063 billion
  8. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - 1.043 billion .
  9. Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace - 1.026 billion
  10. Alice in Wonderland (2010) - 1.024 billion.


So the question to be answered is, quite obviously, HOW did Cameron do this? If everybody in the 12 years before it wasn't able to surpass his voluptuous Titanic, then how in the world did he do it?

The answer is 3D cinema.

3D is, as we all know, becoming an ever increasing part of our lives as each day passes by. And I think I stand with the majority of the world when I say, "STOP". I do not like 3D, and I have yet to meet a person who does, to the extent that they'd want to see every movie in 3D anyway. Sure there are movies out there that do well with 3D imagery, like Despicable Me, for example. But there are far too many who do not need it, like Shyamalan's newest flick, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Unfortunately for us all, I don't think 3D will be going away anytime soon. Just like any other innovation throughout our generations, (Cinema especially) 3D is new, advantageous, and catching on quick. Before we know it all movies will be in 3D, and I think it's time to start trying to embrace it, otherwise we'll ruin movie experiences for everybody.

--Let me give you all a quick history lesson in cinema --

1895- The birth. Auguste and Louis Lumière were, considered by many but not all film students, the first people to invent the cinema with their invention the 'cinèmatographe', that was used to record, develop and project films for the public. One of their first movies was L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat, otherwise known to Americans as Train Arriving into the Station. The clip is around 50 seconds long, and is one long take of...guesses anyone? A train stopping to pick up passengers at a station. Watch it here: This new invention literally had people in the theater jumping out of the seats and running for the doors when the train was pulling in. They thought it was real! They thought a real train was coming after them and was going to pull right into the theater! Nobody had ever seen moving images like this before, everything was still photography until this point.

1915 - D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation - So it's been about 20 years since the Lumière Bros did their thing. Now a new generation of filmmakers comes in, and one of them - Griffith - invents what's known as 'shot scales' and 'continuity editing'. Shot scales are simple, it all depends on how close the actor is to the camera. For example, a CU (or Close Up) would be basically just a head shot filling the frame. A LS (or Long Shot) is the whole body of the actor standing, or sitting a ways away, and so on and so fourth. Here's the problem, however; for audiences at the time, going from a LS (Long Shot) to a CU (Close Up) right after it, was extremely jarring. How did they get from seeing the actor 10-15 feet away in one shot, just to have the actor's HEAD be floating right in front of them in the shot after it?! Nobody liked it, however, it paved the way for 'continuity editing' basically, editing to the beat of time. If an actor starts one motion in one shot, and it cuts to the same action in the next shot, you can be sure the actor will finish that motion in the second shot we see, which, again, jarred the audiences.

1920 - George Meliès's Journey to The Moon - often credited with the first science-fiction film, this was a HUGE stepping stone for science fiction artists like George Lucas, Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne. All it shows is 20 minutes or so of astronauts going to the moon for the first time (mind you we hadn't had the space race yet, so nobody had actually been to the moon at this point in time). **Fun Fact - The movie Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, has ties to this 1920 flick.

1939 - Citizen Kane - A must see for any aspiring filmmaker. Orson Welles was credited by the American Film Institution for making the "best film ever made", and this is it, so remember it! The film combines aspect of Griffith's continuity editing with amazing cinematography skills that have yet been unmatched by any contemporary filmmaker, or previous ones either.

So those are basically the roots, very simple roots, anyway. The point I'm trying to get across is this: No matter what, changes will happen. And no matter what, the public will end up enjoying them. What would we, as audiences today do without Meliès' science fiction story? Or what if the Lumière brothers never found out how a camera works?!

**Fun Fact Thomas Edison was also a filmmaker. And a VERY rude one at that!**

3D Imaging software is just another step in the Cinematic process. And yes, it is still in it's infancy, and gives us headaches as we leave the theaters, but I believe, just as cinema has angered the previous generations with its new technology, that nothing but good will eventually come of this new technology. James Cameron's Avatar just started another revolution in this age of technology. We are now in the 3D era of cinema (as well as the sequel era - another hub on that coming later). We won't run out of the theater screaming because we're afraid a train's going to hit us because we know it's fake. We know all it is is an image projected onto a screen. However, give it ten, maybe fifteen years, and we'll be ready to watch 3D movies all the time.

Do I want it to happen? No. But at least I can say I'm keeping an open mind about the process... Can you say that?

-LJD 2012.


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    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      6 years ago from New Jersey

      I think the reason James Cameron is obsessed with the Titanic is that he must have been on it in his last incarnation. Plus he has the money to pursue the obsession.


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