If Avatar were released 70 years earlier...

James Cameron is born 70 years earlier. Toiling away in secret, he releases his opus, Avatar in December of 1939. How would the viewing public receive this work? :eek:

What difference, if any, does this make to our society in 2011? I’d imagine there would be fan clubs (a la Star Wars) and people would dress up as Na’vi on Halloween, just as we get a lot of Dorothy, Toto, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lions on Halloween even today.

But how would the film impact our culture today and would it have any effect on the decisions made in that era that would impact historical events?

How would the film affect the course of Hollywood? Will audiences be sorely disappointed when nothing else matches up to the excellence of the advances seen in Avatar? Were audiences disappointed after The Wizard of Oz? Would Citizen Kane have the same reception a few years after the Avatar release?

Assuming this film competes in the crowded 1939 field for Academy Awards, amongst The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind, what awards does it win? Keep in mind that The Wizard of Oz did not win the award for Best Visual Effects that year. (Although it was certainly remembered for its visual effects, and I daresay it is better known for visual effects than the actual winner)

Some points:

  • Cameron does not reveal his technological secrets in creating the film and does not release any other films. The actors are unknowns and the technology used to create the film is never revealed to the public.
  • The film looks as good as the 2009 release can look using 1939 projecting technology.

It’s an insane, unanswerable question because of how absurd it would be to develop all of that technology - down to each microchip - in secret, for a movie.

It’s to the point where I guess people would just say he’s a wizard, but not how we use the term - they’d think he was an actual wizard. But also that the story sucked.

Well, that didn’t change!

It would never have been made. Not for any technical reasons, but because big budget science fiction films were just not done in 1939. None of the studios would have greenlighted it and the economics would have made it untenable.

Assuming it was made, it probably would have flopped. The concept would have been confusing and the story would have been weak. People did not go to movies for flashy visuals; they went for plot, characterization, and seeing their favorite stars. It might have had some interest for film buff and may have become a cult film, but expecting it to be a major hit makes as much sense as expecting** Stagecoach** to become a major hit if it were first released today.

Do you figure STAR WARS could have been a success in '39?

On the one hand, Star Wars was, in many ways, just an upscaled version of a space opera, such as Flash Gordon, which was popular in the late 1930s (note that Lucas did Star Wars after failing to secure the rights to do a remake of Flash Gordon).

OTOH, Flash Gordon was done as serialized shorts, rather than as a feature-length film. I wonder if audiences of that era would have accepted a space opera as a full-length film.

I think the release date impacts the public opinion for a work such as Avatar much more than the responses would indicate. If The Wizard of Oz were released in 2009, most people would say the visual effects were dated and the plot sucked. Released in 1939 and the same film is a seminal work. Same with Citizen Kane.

people would have still bewilderingly become the staunch fans of ferngully they became after avatar’s launch - apparently the first time a film had ever followed a similar plot to another film. ever. in the history of film. (the apparent fact that ferngully itself wasn’t original as it was the same plot as dances with wolves, which probably also wasn’t original and yet because it was more arty and included worthy american indians, scooped millions of oscars and remains rightly revered).

it would have come out, wowed everyone, and then a load of snooty people would have said it was rubbish and cried into their ferngully duvets, despite not knowing what ferngully is.

your objectivity is in question if you are seriously putting forth that a modern day film would flop against something made 70 years ago. the technical achievements alone are remarkable even today, not least a time before anyone even left Earth for outer space.

My first thought was that it would have flopped as well. I just don’t think the plot would have been as accessible nor that the willing suspension of disbelief would have been there. We watch it today with a foundation of science faction that just didn’t exist back then and I think the mixture of incomprehensible “science”, pseudo-spirituality and the technical imagery would have had a hard time resonating on a wide-scale. Even science fiction at the time like Flash Gorden or Metropolis had some anchoring points to their present day. Avatar’s anchoring points are to 2010, not 1939 so even those would be alien.

It might have been some counter-culture or avant-garde hit though among the younger and opium riddled crowd :smiley:

Well, the ticket price in 1939 was 23 cents and the global population was at 2,3 billion. That means even if every man, woman and child on planet Earth went and saw Avatar, it would just about break even.

What is really insane is saying that James Cameron made Avatar. Just him and some tech.
Look at the credits to that, or any, movie sometime.

(no way all that stuff stays secret)


but Avatar’s anchoring points are its visual effects. plus there is no need for suspension of disbelief, it can simply be marketed as a documentary about our distant cousins’ adventure in space and serve as a herald for our new Internet God Eywa. since special effects skills then were at best some saucer thrown from the kitchen into the air, the film would either have to be taken as gospel or be condemned by the Pope as unholy or something.

People were familiar with cartoons in 1939. Just because no one had taken the time or talent to paint each cel at the level of detail Avatar shows does not mean the visuals would have been inconceivable.

It’s not only about the technology behind the special effects. Film editing, blocking and lighting are all part of a language that evolves rapidly. When the first movies came out with counter-shots it made the audiences dizzy or gave them headaches, and many people had to leave the theater.

So it would probably be viewed as though it were animation. Beyond the technology, the film would be as forgettable in 1939 as it was in 2009.

Cameron would probably be called a Red for letting the communal natives defeat the capitalists, or something.

The government may wish to question why this “documentary” has them in space with giant metal suits, looking for special minerals.

I don’t agree with you regardless but that part jumped out.

That was what I thought of, too. In the days before the term “military industrial complex” was coined, I am not sure if a filmmaker could get away with making American industry and the military look so evil. And in 1939 the story would still be crummy.

that was hyperbole, but the point is that it would have been an important physical evidence of something irreplicable. certainly it does not deserve the dismissive attitude based on the distaste for its story which, incidentally, would have been original then.

Nope. See: Tarzan of the Apes, King Solomon’s Mines, et al. Not that lack of originality was the sole reason for Avatar’s story sucking.