Whew! I've been worried that Avatar had sucked up all the special event box office money for the year. As James Cameron's sci-fi epic has galloped along, swallowing hundreds of millions of dollars, I keep hearing from friends who rarely see movies that they've seen Avatar. The biggest movie stars of the past 20 years challenged Avatar -- Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson -- and all went down in flames, out-drawn by the attraction of tall blue people in 3-D on a faraway planet. It took romantic drama Dear John to finally topple Avatar among regular moviegoers.
But with double the gross of Dear John, an indicator that many occasional filmgoers made a special trip to see it, Valentine's Day comes along to restore my faith in the desire of people to see a movie that strikes them as special. As Shawn Levy of The Oregonian points out, critics have 'almost universally panned the thing in harsh terms.' (Our reviewer, Todd Gilchrist, says it has "plenty of wish fulfillment without managing to offer anything remotely fulfilling.") Levy suggests several reasons for the Valentine's victory, then observes: "Buying a movie ticket is a leap of faith."
And that's a reassuring thought. With all the justifiable concern about the economy, with all the entertainment options available nowadays, with all the snowy weather that kept millions home, with all the trailers that made it clear exactly what sort of movie Valentine's Day would be, millions of people took a leap of faith that the movie would scratch that romantic itch or perhaps tickle their funny bone. Obviously, people are hungry for cinematic entertainment. We just have to keep encouraging them to try something else, something perhaps they haven't heard of, after Valentine's Day.