Has ‘Avatar’ Backlash Begun?

The geeks love it, the Vatican hates it — we take a look at the film's backlash and examine a few key combatants.

Welcome back to the world of blockbuster filmmaking, James Cameron. As your “Avatar” continues its record-setting course past a billion box-office bucks and into a stratosphere previously occupied only by, well, yourself in 1997 with all-time champ “Titanic” … it’s time for the backlash to begin.

These days, anything that successfully harnesses the public’s imagination — from “Twilight” to Kanye to “American Idol” — faces a rapidly deteriorating honeymoon period followed by an extended frame spent defending itself against the haters. Now, as “Avatar” continues to accumulate #1 weekends, we take a look at a few key factions of society and where they stand on the film that is reshaping moviemaking as we know it.

The Geeks – After a lengthy period spent obsessively critiquing advance trailers and making endless “FernGully” jokes, the geek media has come to embrace “Avatar” as one of its own. These days, most talk online is of the supportive variety, from eager speculation over deleted scenes to hopes for “Avatar” sequels. Boy, things sure can change quickly in just a few weeks.

The Vatican – The home of the Roman Catholic Church and its billion members recently gave a big thumbs-down to James Cameron’s sci-fi epic. Both the official newspaper and radio station of the Vatican have slammed the film, singling out the film’s worship of ecology as paying too much attention to a false god. “[The film] cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium,” explained Vatican Radio. “Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship.” Meanwhile, newspaper L’Osservatore Romano wrote that the film “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.” Sure, they don’t hate it as much as “The Last Temptation of Christ,” but the message is clear: “Avatar” won’t be playing in the community center at your local church anytime soon.

The Awards Voters – Although few had been mentioning “Avatar” in their awards-season previews as they instead spent early 2009 focusing on such now long-gone Oscar bait as “The Informant!” and “Amelia,” Cameron’s blockbuster has followed in the footsteps of “Titanic” in more ways than one. The film will compete for four Golden Globes this weekend and seems virtually assured of a Best Picture nomination now that Oscar is choosing 10 nominees this year. Considering Hollywood’s desire to get mainstream audiences to tune in for their “stuffy” awards shows, don’t be surprised if the momentum continues to build.

The Old-Schoolers – Sci-fi plotlines, big blue people and the notion that 3-D technology will save Hollywood are all easy to make fun of — a billion dollars, however, is not. So, folks who like their movies with human actors reflecting everyday society and staying on the screen are understandably a bit defensive these days. If the entire industry continues leaning toward films like “Avatar,” what does that do for the next “Before Sunrise”? It’s an interesting question — and one that can be heard being debated in theater lobbies nationwide.

The FilmmakersSteven Spielberg has called “Avatar” the “most evocative and amazing science-fiction movie since ‘Star Wars.’ ” Jon Favreau compared Cameron to “P.T. Barnum in the sense that he likes to put on a big show.” The Directors Guild of America recently nominated the filmmaker for Best Director for 2009. Love it or hate it, the filmmakers have taken notice of what they think might be a from-the-future phenomenon, and thinking about what some of our top directors could do with the tools of “Avatar” is absolutely mind-boggling.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Avatar.”

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