to watch Avatar today. In the interests of consumer research of course, not because it has been touted as the best film-experience
ever (although, I have to say, the hype is well-deserved). I was expecting a long queue for a ticket
and fully prepared to have to come back another day.
But much to my surprise, only half the tickets for the next showing had been sold. Then again, it
was the Friday matinee, and they were charging 120 yuan (more than ten English "quid') a ticket.
I donned my 3-D glasses and
settled down alongside 100 or so others to watch the film of the decade (okay, so the decade is only a few weeks old, but
it's certainly going to be a hard act to follow).
"What did you think of the film?" I asked a young couple on their way out of the theatre.
"Amazing, it's the best
film I've ever seen," said the mid twenty-something man. His partner agreed, "Fantastic!"
"What about the story?" I asked. Both of them agreed
that it was also a great "love story".
"Will you watch the Confucius film," I enquired. "I don't think so," said the man looking across
to his partner for confirmation, which was quickly forthcoming in the form of a shake of the head.
These comments support the
conclusions I had drawn after reading various postings on Internet bulletin boards:
One, the notion that Avatar is being pulled from screens across China
(tomorrow will be its last showing in 2D form apparently) because the censors worry that it will remind people of "forced
evictions" (something of a political hot potato in recent years here) is way off the mark, although it does
make for an interesting storyline.
Two, the decision to give the locally-produced film about Confucius a free run in the lead
up to and during Chinese New Year (a bumper time for cinema), whatever the motivation in pulling Avatar to make room
for it, is likely to back-fire.
How many of those who were thinking of seeing the film in 2D (cheaper and more accessible in many
parts of China than 3D) will, I wonder, blame Confucius for being denied the pleasure. Not good for that film's
prospects, nor for the Sage's public relations for that matter.
Lots of the high-profile foreign media have already picked
up this story and most are convinced that the decision has been politically-motivated. For what it's worth, I am far
from convinced that this is the case.
No matter who is right, the stage is literally set for Confucius to come riding into town. The
problem is that the film is, according to many who have seen it, a bit of a yawn.
A bad film is a bad film, whichever way you look at it. Or,
more likely the case, you don't look at it. "See this film because there's nothing else to watch" is not and never
will be a compelling reason to make a trip to the cinema.
Which brings me on to my conspiracy theory...
This revolves not around politics, but the far less newsworthy subject of box-office takings. Let's do the
sums: Avatar is the biggest grossing film in China to be sure: according to Fox, the film has already grossed US$76
million here. But, it is the relatively small number (about 900) 3D cinemas that have accounted for the lion's
share of that (US$49 million). Not surprising really, the word is already out that you just have to see Avatar
in 3D. And the decision-makers aren't about to kill the goose that lays golden eggs this big.
Many people who don't or can't see
it in 3D, wouldn't have gone to the cinema to see the 2D version anyhow. Why would they, when they can
buy a knock-off DVD for less than the price of a small bowl of popcorn. The problem for those responsible for the
Chinese cinema industry is, this is also far less than the price of a cinema ticket for Confucius.