As Avatar rakes in boffo box-office cash, thanks largely to word-of-mouth among initially skeptical sci-fi die-hards that James Cameron's latest baby doesn't suck, a side controversy has arisen.
Sigourney Weaver in Avatar.
© 20th Century Fox
Surprisingly enough it's not the sharp-tongued Cameron who's in trouble--it's Sigourney Weaver. Or more specifically, her character, Dr. Grace Augustine, and the fact that she smokes like a chimney, thereby setting a bad example for all the alert and excited teens in the audience.
The New York Times reported this weekend that groups working against smoking in youth-oriented movies are targeting Avatar for its portrayal of Weaver's character, an environmental scientist who not only smokes but visibly derives great pleasure from it. But Cameron says Weaver's smoking has a point.
SceneSmoking, for example, rated Avatar a "black lung", its classification for films that depict tobacco use in a positive way. (It rates a 2.42, which is better than the tobacco-free Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel but shy of Sherlock Holmes and his ubiquitous pipe.) The Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco is planning an information campaign to raise awareness about Avatar's pro-smoking message.
Cameron's response to this accusation makes a certain amount of sense: Augustine smokes, and drinks, and generally mistreats herself, precisely because he wanted to establish that she cared more about her avatar body than her own.
Cameron says he meant all this, in fact, to have a real-world message in the opposite direction from the one he's accused of promoting by the cinema-smoke activists: Augustine's behavior is "a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games," he told the Times. So don't be like Sigourney Weaver, young bucks: turn your games off and go out and play some soccer and live a little! Then run to the cinema and sit and imbibe the message about not being passive and self-destructive, all over again.
Meanwhile Avatar is now the fifth film in history to bring in over a billion dollars in worldwide gross, it was reported today. Already the fourth-highest grossing movie internationally, beating The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at $752 million, it's expected to become number 2 in short order. The only question remaining is whether it can beat Cameron's earlier monster hit, Titanic, which took in just over $1.8 billion just over a decade ago.