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'Avatar' overload is just part of the summer movie slog

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 1, 2010 - James Cameron's To-Do List

____ 1. December 2009. Release "Avatar" in theaters. Make quadrozillion dollars.

(Note: Whine loudly when Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" pushes it off screens three months later.Those are my theaters, Tim!)

____ 2. April 2010. Release no-frills home version of "Avatar." Pocket money. (Note to attorneys: possibility of suing theaters for any change found on auditorium floor during theatrical engagement? Hire private cleaning crew for future bookings?)

_____3. August 2010. Find nine minutes of footage that fell behind editing table. Release "Special Edition" to theaters. Make a googillion dollars, at least.

_____4. November 2010. Release home version of "Special Edition" and convince everybody who bought copies in April to shell out another $40. (Note to art department: Change of plans. Please alter cover art to add balloon reading "Featuring a special message from James Cameron.")

_____5. 2011. Release 3-D home version of "Avatar" (in-store financing available?). (Note to art department: Add balloon to cover: "Hello suckers! A very special message from James Cameron").

Even though the P.T. Barnum of 3-D had his plans for multiplex domination thwarted at Step 3 of his list -- by the public's unwillingness to give James Cameron first-run prices for a mere nine minutes of material that could just as easily have been included as a bonus feature on last spring's DVD release -- can you blame him for trying? It's the end of a tedious movie season, and he's just one on many filmmakers hoping that heat exhaustion has momentarily caught you off-guard.

Though the calendar may claim we have a few more weeks until summer ends, increasingly early back-to-school dates and a general sense of seasonal ennui have Vox Media already declaring the End of Summer by the first weekend of August (Halloween items on Aisle 2!).

The film studios, equally fatigued from the ups and downs of another cycle of Summer! Movie! Blockbusters!, acknowledge the change by scraping the very pits of their inventory: Another Jennifer Aniston romance, another humorless effort from the horrible "(Date Epic Superhero Insert-Genre-Here) Movie" franchise, even a sequel to "Nanny McPhee," a family movie that not too many people bothered to see in the first place. Who's going to notice the effort to try to squeeze a few more dollars out of "Avatar" ?

Even in the best of years, there is something deadening and dispiriting about the annual Summer Movie Blockbuster! season, a period that began a few days before Memorial Day - a month early, of course - and popped and burst and careened for about six full weekends before reaching its current sputtering state. If you haven't had your fill of superheroes, video game shooters and cartoon animals in the past three months, you have only yourself to blame.

But 2010 wasn't one of the best years and, much to the chagrin of the major studios, audiences simply weren't interested in much of what they had to offer. Another "Sex in the City"? "Jonah Hex"? Jake Gyllenhaal as a video game hero? Forget about it.

The average movie-goer has no problem with escapism, but spending two hours or more faced with a CGI version of "Marmaduke" or watching a wild-haired Nicholas Cage train a young "star" in a role originally played by Mickey Mouse sounded like slow, mind-numbing imprisonment of the worst kind.

By the end of July, one entered a theater with low expectations, hoping for a pleasant surprise, or at least something that wasn't sheer sensory abuse. Were there surprises to be found, moments of respite from the aggressive assault of high-volume, high-cost and low-IQ would-be blockbusters?

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