Archive for January, 2010

 The Big Box Office Bamboozle

It looks like my prediction about Avatar is on track to come true, but the box office reports today reminded me just how pointless box office reports are. I already know the answer to this question, but why do these reports still use dollars instead of gross tickets sold? Hey James Cameron! Since you’re trying to revolutionize the movie industry with your work, how about doing something really revolutionary — how about you demand that your box office receipts be reported in numbers that actually mean something? Because, if you look at Titanic‘s box office take, it’s based on the cost of tickets in 1997 (about $4.50). Tickets on average today are about twice that much, so when Avatar‘s take exceeds that, it’ll be on half as many tickets. On the other hand, Titanic sold about 95 million tickets in 1997. That number still has meaning today. For example, the original Star Wars in 1977 sold over 160 million tickets in total. So if bragging rights are going to mean anything at all, everyone needs to be using the same standard of measure. Otherwise, just stop bombarding us with meaningless numbers!


I’ve been a Netflix user for many years. I was intrigued when they began offering some of their movies in streaming format directly from their web site — I think it’s easy to see that this is the future of entertainment content distribution — but I’m personally not a fan of sitting in front of my computer to watch long videos. One of these days I’ll get around to either building my own HTPC, or upgrading our TiVo, but in the meantime, Santa brought a fancy new gadget that bridges the gap quite nicely.

It’s called a Roku and it started life as nothing more than a set-top box that allowed streaming of Netflix content. It works with either a wired or wireless internet connection, and automatically adjusts the video quality based on the connection speed that is available, but even over wireless a high quality picture is possible (even HD). This latest incarnation of the device has expanded the number of sources from which streaming content is available. Netflix is joined by several other providers, including Amazon’s Video on Demand service, as well as Major League Baseball. There are several other lesser-known providers available in the Roku “Channel Store” that one can subscribe to, including one of my favorites (that I already subscribe to through TiVo) Revision3.

The only gripe I have with the box is that I wish it allowed you to point at any internet-based content source, perhaps by entering an RSS feed, or something similar. Maybe this will be offered in a future version of the firmware. Apart from that, I’ve been very happy with the ease of the initial configuration (and the linking to my Netflix account) and the quality of the video streams. I also like that if you have to stop a movie in the middle, it remembers your place so you can resume watching later. If you are already a Netflix subscriber, there are few reasons not to buy this box and bring the mailbox shuffle to an end. Shipping movies by mail is soooo last decade.


I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Avatar will soon be the biggest-grossing movie of all time — and even if it doesn’t, it probably deserves to be. Living up to most, if not all, of the hype surrounding it, the film is visually stunning, and the story is compelling, if a bit formulaic. Director James Cameron has spent literally decades developing this project, and it is obvious that this is the work of someone with great attention to detail. The technology behind the production is simply staggering, and is likely to change how movies are made for decades to come — not just the 3-D gimmickry, but the innovative motion capture techniques he has created. The CG graphics are impressive, but like any good movie, they support and enhance the story, they don’t detract from it.

Many have criticized the movie for being too political, as it draws obvious parallels between the war portrayed in the movie and the current war in Iraq. The anti-imperialist message is undeniable, of course, but the movie succeeds at delivering that message without coming across as preachy, which is not an easy task for any storyteller. Most notable for me is that the story is also surprisingly spiritual, invoking our own indigenous Native Americans in describing the people and cultures of the fictitious world of Pandora. That spirituality ultimately plays an active role in the story’s outcome, and is not just an afterthought.

Overall, Avatar is exquisitely made eye candy that is also emotionally satisfying. I would recommend it.