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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Time magazine flub: 'Avatar' a $300-million movie?

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

Comments () | Archives (8)

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Who cares how much it cost!? This movie will kick serious butt! For the latest on Avatar, check out what these guys have collected:

Oh, it is definitely north of $200 million. It just happens to also definitely be north of $300 million as well. Heck the estimate was $200 million BEFORE Fox delayed the release from Memorial Day 2009 to December. Add on that many months of intensive, photo realism post processing and see what kinda number you come up with. I estimated $300 million a long time ago and really this just underscores it. Flub yes. Great media fodder? You bet.

For the historical record, during the 1953 3-D boom people were able to buy their own glasses (Polaroid, red-green anaglyph was not used for mainstream features during that period.) They usually cost 25 cents and there were even clip-ons for people who wore glasses.

Rick Mitchell
Film Editor/Film Historian

Patrick -

Let's not cheapen the 8th (?) incarnation of 3-D with Bill Mays hawked glasses. We need to attract name directors to make mainstream dramatic and comedic live action films in Digital 3-D. To get from the computer animated, and live action "Coming at Ya" type 3-D films to Academy Award contender 3-D films, will we have to wait for Prada and Versace to market 3-D glasses? LOL

$300 million has been rumored as the budget for a while now, actually. Although, to be honest, it wouldn't shock me if the total cost, after prints and marketing, came out to north of $300 million. This is a movie that's been in production for years using a whole bunch of experimental technologies, that's going to bust your budget.

If there is this much money to put into a movie, then why do he hear so much about layoffs in Hollywood and the pension plans not being properly funded?

Carl Wiley
The Ring of Knowledge

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Hi All,

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Next Big Picture will be advertised in TIME’s 2009 Person of the Year Issue. (Dec 18th, 2009)


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