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AVATAR: No Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron

Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington in Avatar
Avatar by James Cameron
Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington in Avatar (top)

Fox says James Cameron’s Avatar is its most expensive production ever. That’s quite something, coming from the studio behind Cameron’s own Leviathanesque Titanic in the late 1990s, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Galleonesque Cleopatra in the early 1960s, and Richard Fleischer’s brontosauresque Doctor Dolittle later that decade.

Both Titanic and Cleopatra went on to make a fortune at the box office — Doctor Dolittle was less lucky — but they had Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet and Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Rex Harrison and Eddie Fisher. Eddie Fisher? Well, not on screen. After dumping Debbie Reynolds for Taylor, Fisher found himself being dumped by Taylor, who by then was having a torrid affair with Burton. The scandal-plagued production earned loads of free publicity worldwide — condemnation from church groups, et al. — of the type that Avatar sorely lacks.

Sam Worthington in Avatar

Also, Sam Worthington (above) may have done well for himself in Terminator Salvation, but he’s not Robert Pattinson or Zac Efron when it comes to the teen crowd. And a cast that includes Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and Wes Studi sounds prestigious, but prestige hasn’t translated into big box office figures of late. Neither has 3-D (ask Robert Zemeckis) or blue aliens (wasn’t E.T. a greenish gray?).

Avatar has its world premiere in London tomorrow. It will kick off the Dubai International Film Festival on Dec. 15, and three days later it’ll open in the US. The film will be released in dozens of other countries around that date. No one has any idea how the movie will fare, but I don’t think one has to be a psychic to know that suits at Fox — where the Avatar budget is being kept secret, though outside estimates range from $300-$600 million — are all wet by now. (To date, without adjusting for inflation, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is the most expensive movie ever made as per boxofficemojo.com. Adjusting for inflation, Cleopatra may well remain the most expensive movie ever — that is, perhaps, until Avatar.)

With more than $1.8 billion in worldwide receipts, Titanic eventually recovered its cost and earned sizable profits, but Cleopatra, at least in its initial run, left the studio mired deep in the red. Doctor Dolittle was a disaster.

Century City, aka The Old Fox Backlot, is a direct result of the Cleopatra debacle. Will Los Angeles’ Westside get another new neighborhood if Avatar fails?

Photos: Twentieth Century Fox

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