The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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Time magazine flub: 'Avatar' a $300-million movie?

March 20, 2009 |  3:52 pm

Time magazine's splashy new puff piece overview about Hollywood and digital 3-D -- which comes armed with quotes from tub-thumper Jeffrey Katzenberg and cinematic royalty James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson as well -- Monstersandaliens_7was supposed to generate a new wave of interest in the 3-D revolution, especially with Katzenberg's much-touted "Monsters vs. Aliens" hitting the theaters next weekend. Instead, the blogsphere has been full of jokes and conspiracy theories about Time reporter Josh Quittner's little flub: He initially pegged Cameron's upcoming "Avatar" as costing in excess of $300 million. (I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when the Fox top brass, who are ultra-sensitive about any Cameron excess stories, first saw that whopper.)

Time has put up a corrected version of the piece, knocking that figure down to "in excess of $200 million." Of course, with Cameron already being famous for spending around $200 million on "Titanic" more than a decade ago, the $300-million figure got picked up everywhere, with bloggers assuming that the 50% mark-up was par for the course with the perfectionist filmmaker. Time's original budget figure inspired New York Magazine's Vulture blog, always quick with a quip, to run the headline: "James Cameron Determined to Get His Old Record Back."

But my favorite response, which perfectly captures the Web's conspiratorial attitude toward all Old Media events, came from First Showing blogger Alex Billington, whose post confidently assumed that Time's correction had nothing to do with the magazine trying to get its facts straight. Quite the contrary -- he is convinced that darker forces were at work. Or as he put it: "We're sure they made this change under pressure from the studio, so it's up to you to believe whichever amount you think is correct. My gut feeling is that it's really closer to $300." (My 'gut feeling' is that Mr. Billington has no idea what he's talking about, but again -- that's just my gut talking.)

As for Time's story itself? It spent a grand total of one tiny paragraph dealing with the key issue behind all of this 3-D evangelism: the fact that you, the moviegoer, will have to pay a steep $15 to see all these dazzling 3-D movies in the theaters. Otherwise, everyone was full of optimism, whether it was Jackson saying "I believe that almost any movie benefits from 3-D" or Spielberg, noting that he used to close one eye when framing a shot, saying "On 'Tintin' I have both of my eyes open." Not to be outdone, Katzenberg got in this zany plug: "Someday people will buy their own movie glasses, which they'll take to the movies -- like people who have their own tennis rackets."

Let's just call this a gut feeling, but I'm guessing Jeffrey has already hired Billy Mays to do the first TV ad, exclaiming "You haven't really lived 'til you've bought your 'Shrek 5' special edition 3-D glasses!!!" 


Jeffrey Katzenberg in 3-D: Hollywood is rolling its eyes

Jeffrey Katzenberg: The Jerry Falwell of 3-D?

Photo: "Monsters vs. Aliens." Credit: DreamWorks Animation