18 December 2009


Before He Was the King of the World

So James Cameron has a new movie out and I'm not even interested enough to blog its name.

It may be because US$500 million is a big budget for a movie that demonises the kind of industry and technology that make such a movie possible.

It may also be because someone who directs a Da Vinci Code-ish documentary like The Lost Tomb of Jesus can't expect to have any credibility left.

And yet . . . there was a time when all you had to say to get me to watch something was that James Cameron had been involved in its production . . . though, given that he had been involved in so few movies for someone who had been in Hollywood for twenty years, I probably would have seen it already.

My Top 5 James Cameron Movies

1. The Terminator

In this movie, a Resistance warrior from the future travels back to 1984 in order to save the mother of the future's greatest general before the cyborg sent by a self-aware computer system can kill her and thus "retroactively abort" her son. It's one of the most gritty and realistic movies I've ever seen!

Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd coined the term "Tech Noir" for what was then a new theme in the SF genre: the dark and dehumanising side of technology. Then they refused to give audiences a happy ending, instead assuring them that, in the future, machines would launch a nuclear war against their human creators and imprison the survivors in labour camps. The Terminator is a dark movie with a grim ending . . . and yet it has one of the most optimistic messages in the world.

Perhaps it is because Sarah and Kyle are recognisable as "types" of Mary and St. Joseph, which makes the story of John Connor a kind of evangelium. Indeed, I can still recall the sense of wonder I felt after watching this movie for the first time. It was as if it were 1984 again and the future had just opened up for me the way it had suddenly opened up for Sarah. Anything was possible; anyone could change the world; and as yet the only mistake Cameron had made was writing, "The future is not set," when all serious time travel theorists know that it is the present that is never set.

(If you're into FF, you might like to read my slightly cheesy Terminator Fic Nox Natalis.)

2. Aliens

Years after Cameron's development of the character Ripley helped earn Sigourney Weaver an Academy Award nomination, she blithely badmouthed him as the only one of all three Alien franchise writers who didn't quite get Ripley's character.

Of course, I happen to think the twist he created was an act of genius. Ripley as a mother standing up for her child? Ripley going mano-a-mano with the alien queen, also a mother standing up for her children? She may be strapped into a power loader rather than clothed with the sun, but she is the movie's mediatrix of all things good. So how is that not a WIN?

There have been other protestations. Aliens often seems a loud and rowdy middle child, embarrassing to both the restrained Horror that is Alien and the return to darkness that is Alien3. I mean, check out the marines . . .

Years later, Cameron would apologise to real-life marines for portraying them as whiny, undisciplined meatheads. I hope I don't ever have to apologise for enjoying the whiny, undisciplined, slightly meaty Private Hudson so much. Cameron has also since observed that Hudson has proved to serve an interesting function, blurting out exactly what viewers are thinking at significant points of the film--from "Game over, man! Game over!" to "How can they cut the power? They're animals!" (LOL)

So Aliens is loud and rowdy. It also boasts a solid ensemble cast, a story with heart, action sequences which stand up twenty years later, and more quotable one-liners than even The Princess Bride. Again, let me ask: How is that not a WIN?

3. True Lies

There's something really fun about a movie that asks the question, "Just how well do you know your spouse?" and then unfolds the scenario with the greatest likelihood of machine gun fire and random explosions. In other words, Helen Tasker "married Rambo" and didn't know it.

True Lies lacks the classic sheen of Cameron's previous blockbuster hits, primarily because he didn't also write the script. Yet another significant reason is that the heart of the whole film--the scene Cameron poured the bulk of his SF sensibility and detail-oriented perfectionism into--had nothing to do with Harry and Helen Tasker's marriage. I mean, of course, the scene with the Harrier.

A more logical climax would have been the nuclear explosion, which they don't really notice because they're kissing . . . but I guess that a daddy has to save his daughter, too. Hence the high budget Oscar-nominated visual effects that give us the Harrier. Unfortunately, that doesn't make it any less of a non sequitur.

Cameron was making serious plans to film a sequel that would have reunited the main cast members when the Twin Towers in New York were attacked. He immediately abandoned the project, saying that it had become impossible to make Middle Eastern terrorism funny. I'm still not sure how I feel about that.

4. The Abyss

Cameron's last movie from the 1980s made this list primarily because it has a better love story than Titanic does. (Ah, that blue hand!)

So is there anything special about a setting so deep underwater that just getting there can make some people psychotic? That point, at least, is more than the mere plot driver it seems when one character ends up with "the shakes." For as we later discover, the survival of the whole planet may just depend on the rag-tag representatives of humanity who actually thrive under such unnatural conditions.

The Abyss marks the end of the Cold War's grip on Hollywood's imagination. Spotting a Soviet conspiracy is no longer part of the hero's skills set, but a symptom of the villain's psychosis. Another character attempts to draw out a moral by gushing that we have to start seeing things with "better eyes." Well, when you have pink, twinkly aliens who can keep all of humanity safe from nuclear warheads, then I guess it's safe to have "better eyes."

I'm obviously not as impressed as I should be, but there was no way I was going to put a Leonardo di Caprio movie in one of my Top 5 lists.

5. Rambo: First Blood Part II

This movie was directed by George P. Cosmatos. Cameron co-wrote the screenplay with Sylvester Stallone, who has been tweaking scripts ever since he got that Oscar nomination for Rocky.

I think this unlikely triumvirate worked together very well and that the movie they made together makes an unusually picturesque story, given that it's also about betrayal, bullets, blood, and badass 80s excess.

It probably shouldn't be on this list, though, as I would have watched it with or without Cameron's involvement. (You'll understand why someday, when I do my Top 5 Stallone Characters.) It makes the list because it's something else better than Titanic.

Image Sources: a) The Terminator poster, b) Aliens poster, c) True Lies poster, d) The Abyss poster, e) Rambo: First Blood Part II poster


Gory said...

Great post and great list of movies.

Not sure what has happened with Cameron over the last few years. He was someone who always seemed like an outsider in Hollywood. Someone who didn't care what the cocktail party elites thought. He did his own thing which is what his stuff so great. I think now he cares what they think by evident of his latest film. I hope it's just a phase because I would hate to think that I would dread, rather than get excited by, a James Cameron film.

ninjapeps said...

Sigourney Weaver badmouthed James Cameron for Ripley in Aliens? evolving from the one who just happened to survive to being the most iconic and first ever action girl in cinema is "not getting the character"? what the hell?

Enbrethiliel said...


Gory: Thanks! I know what you mean about why we get excited about Cameron, and I, too, hope that his Oscars for Titanic didn't (permanently) turn his head.

Ninjapeps: I exaggerated for effect! =P What Weaver did say (before Alien: Resurrection came out) was that only Dan O'Bannon and David Giler had ever written Ripley's character perfectly. So she didn't "badmouth" Cameron, but by leaving out his name like that, she might as well have.

The idea that Cameron didn't do a good job with Ripley is, as you've pointed out, patently bizarre.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

hey, is tagalog the language you speak over there?

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Back on topic:

So Cameron was the one who did da Vinci code?

Corruptio optimi pessima, as they say in Latin.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Hans. =) Yes, the national language Filipino is really just Tagalog. (The Cebuanos are still not very resigned to that. Someone told me about visiting Cebu and not being able to get any service when she spoke to people in Filipino. As she didn't know any Cebuano, she had to ask in English.)

What Cameron directed was The Lost Tomb of Jesus, a "documentary" about a certain archaeological discovery that "proves" that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

I recommend the contrary correct story of How the Holy Cross Was Found by Stephan Borgehammar (my friend on FB). Out of respect for antimiraculous bias of Historical research, he does not in the book pronounce that the miracles when St Helen opened calvary really happened, but he argues the stories go back to when it is supposed to have happened and cannot be a later forgery.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Calvary with capital C, of course.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...


I enjoyed Terminator. Aliens is too scary for me.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for the recommendation!

It warms my heart to know you are another Terminator fan. ;)

antiaphrodite said...

Well, I saw it. My reaction is pretty much meh. I found the characters, action and plot extravagantly one-dimensional.

Curiously, for a film supposedly denouncing Western imperialism, most of the key points and/or action are said, done, or told from the Western point of view. The lead character, Jake Sully, is accepted into the village, gets the local princess, and effortlessly leads warriors from all the tribes in the fight against the bad guys. (Apparently the local folk pay tribute to some alien version of Mother Gaia, but as far as I can tell, it is the humans using the term "deity." I don't recall any Na'vi actually saying she is a goddess.)

Enbrethiliel said...


It doesn't even sound like a James Cameron plot at all! =(

I won't be seeing it because the trailer alone put me in mind "the world's biggest, most expensive screensaver," to borrow an apt description from one reviewer!

antiaphrodite said...

Oh, I've totally seen better screensavers. (I was wondering if I was the only one who thought that!)

Kardash said...

ok so i saw Avatar last night. I enjoyed it and i thought the visual imagination it took to create that world was amazing. Yet, it was a very I guess 'New Age' propoganda, pushing a type of Monism. The thing I don't like about liberalism is that their ultimate sins are always the same, basically don't do anything to harm mother earth. Now I'm all for taking care of the earth, we know that God put us here to be gaurdians. But the problems with these people is that they don't see us any different from any other creature, in other words humans aren't special creations gifted with reason to take care of and rule over creation. In the movie their pagan Goddess Erywa, you might as well call Gaia, was said not to decide what was right and wrong but to only bring balance of life. In other words, preservation of human life was not important if there were too many humans. If there were more humans than a certain type of animal or such, than Erwya would take care of the humans and do away with them through some kind've natural disaster. That's the problem with these monist world views, man gets demoted while animal and plant get elevated, Man gets de-divinized while creation is divinized. And what happens when you build an ethical system on that? Exactly what's happening now, Euthanasia, Abortion and a world where the mortal sins are littering and where virtues are unabashed self indulgances.

antiaphrodite said...

...not to decide what was right and wrong but to only bring balance of life.

Yep. And yet people are a little disturbed when the village gets destroyed, and Princess WhatHerName wails quite loudly when her father dies.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hello, Kardash! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment! =)

I did get a very "Disney's Pocahontas" vibe from the trailer, but I hadn't thought the New Age propaganda actually ran so deeply! (Mr. Cameron, what are you thinking???)

As for monism and "balance" . . . I suppose it's the next step after George Lucas' dualism in the Star Wars franchise.