You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘James Cameron’ tag.
Following or going back and researching production histories of your favorite movies can often yield interesting stages of development. For more troubled productions like Alien 3, a whole ton of writers submitted drafts, many promising, and many who probably would’ve murdered a then smiled upon franchise. Screenplays are written all the time, but are get the go-ahead much, much less often. In science-fiction, there can be any number of reasons for cooked projects. Budgets, that thing when an executive is replaced and he says “yeah none of these projects go forward,” you know how it is. Crazy world.
There is precedent for this type of thing, though I don’t think Dreck Fiction has enough clout to influence publishers, but Harlan Ellision’s I, Robot is widely available, so who knows. Maybe we will see some of this stuff. I also don’t even know if any of it is ‘lost,’ or just difficult for me to find. I don’t stray far from Amazon.com.
James Cameron’s Mother
Avatar is old, son. Older than me, came about in the days of Xenogenesis and Alien II. At the start of his career, James Cameron was just as much of a work horse as he is now (he does indeed take pretty epic breaks to dive to the Trench and stuff, but hey), at one high point writing three screenplays at once — a Terminator rewrite, an Alien sequel (terrifying I’m sure), and First Blood 2. Alien 2 benefitted from the research he was doing into the Vietnam War for Rambo, but it also happened to be influenced by Mother, a science-fiction movie.
The details are scarce, and if they aren’t I don’t very well remember them, but some of it had to do with Avatar (see, I didn’t mention it for nothing), and the Alien Queen. No matter what it is, it combines two of the greatest things ever, James Cameron and science-fiction, which has yielded some classics (T2, Aliens, The Abyss), and some clunkers (Avatar) — Cameron is definitely a hugely influential name in recent scifi, despite being a filmmaker and not an author.
Unfortunately, Mother has been so cannibalized by other Cameron movies it couldn’t possibly be made today (also taking into account Cameron’s Avatar-only agenda until 2020 AD), which isn’t quite the Planet Terror scenario — in that case, an old Rodriguez screenplay was chock-full of stuff, like Savini’s crotch rocket in From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado, but by 2009 still had enough to make for a crazy-ass zombie movie. Maybe it’s fortunate though, because reading Mother would be a warm, familiar place for any fan.
William Gibson’s Alien 3
I gotta be honest, the premise for this screenplay is pretty absurd. The origin behind the Alien, which I suppose preempts Prometheus by almost exactly two decades, is nano-robots, in true Gibson fashion. We know that William Gibson is a good writer and he’s got a fascinating imagination, but in the film and television realm, he hasn’t had great success. I’ve heard that his two episodes of The X-Files weren’t among the most memorable (or were, but for the wrong reasons), and of course Johnny Mnemonic stands as a shining example of the author at its worst, despite the film’s lasting entertainment value.
It’s hard to know whether the scripts are good and the direction and Keanu “I Want Room Service” Reeves performance are what kills it, but I think that either way it’d be an interesting read.
David Hayter’s The Chronicles of Riddick
You might be scratching your head over this, but for me it goes two-fold. I would love, love to see an earlier draft of The Chronicles of Riddick, which is in concept a fun space romp. Modern pulp fiction with a dash of badass angst. And though I have little reason to be, I’m a huge fan of David Hayter. He’s the screenwriter behind the first two X-Men movies, which I don’t really care for, and The Scorpion King, which is not as good as my beloved first two Sommers Mummy movies but was enjoyable enough to a twelve year old, and the voice of Solid Snake, the mascot for a video-game system I never had until a few years ago.
But I follow him on Twitter and I really like hearing him talk about Watchmen and Lost Planet and stuff. And when I saw that he wrote a draft of The Chronicles of Riddick I was shocked. I’d like to see an unfiltered voice (not audio) for this guy.
Interestingly, David Twohy (writer/director of The Chronicles of Riddick) wrote a draft of Alien 3, another in the long line of screenwriters on that film with such a tortured development history that also includes Walter Hill, the great action director and career producer for the cycle.
Philip K. Dick’s Ubik
Need I say more? I know I just got through talking how Gibson can’t adapt his own shit or whatever, but that’s only because we do have Johnny Mnemonic on hand. Philip K. Dick didn’t have much experience with movies, but had something of a hand in rejecting the initial drafts of Dangerous Days, or Android or whatever, which were allegedly rather hokey. So from this I shall jump to the conclusion immediately that he’s got good taste.
And Ubik is a nice and rounded story. A Scanner Darkly seems kind of oddly paced and everything, but Ubik builds toward an ending — it’s more cinematic. In fact, Linklater attempted to do Ubik before ‘settiling’ on A Scanner Darkly. So this isn’t the only time Ubik was tried and shot down. Meanwhile Open Your Eyes and Vanilla Sky happen, so I wonder how the near future Ubik movie will bode now that people can guess the ending.
David Cronenberg’s Red
Red or Red Racers. I’m sure if I saw Fast Company I’d have a pretty good idea of what this movie was all about, but this is a passion project for Cronenberg that never got off the ground due to the whole “Cronenberg never ever made money,” thing. Now, David Cronenberg has asserted that screenplays are not art, so he wouldn’t appreciate this post none, but I’d still love to know what Cronenberg thinks about outside of sexual body horror and hardcore violence. In this case it’s formula racing, a peculiar obsession of the man. I wonder what a movie would be like with the Dronenberg thematic eye, but applied to something like… racing.
Official trailer for Prometheus dropped yesterday. I’ve been plenty aware of Prometheus for a while now, being pretty enamored of The Sci-Fi Movie Page because I think that guy does pretty well with the news for movies of years down the line, but I guess it never occurred to me that Ridley Scott’s scifi would actually come out. To me it was similar to Metropolis, the Blade Runner sequel, or James Cameron’s Battle Angel. Too good to be true. But no, it’s actually done and here’s a trailer. I just about peed in my pants when I saw that post on The Movie Blog, and the trailer did not disappoint.
How could a trailer possibly be disappointing? Well, I don’t remember what I said about the first Avatar trailer either recently or in 2009, but that first trailer was pretty underwhelming. It was the art design that didn’t jibe, but because HR Giger’s on board for Prometheus — and it shows — Prometheus was immediately stunning. The cast is also amazing. I had known ahead of time, but Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce and Charlize Theron are in this; that’s great, and really speaks to not only Ridley Scott, but where we are right now in terms of science-fiction film.
These are all incredibly talented actors, and they take this space romp totally seriously. I think that’s one of the good things that Avatar did for our perceptions of the genre in film. I remember seeing one picture from Avatar of Col. Quarritch holding a futuristic looking gun and thinking, man — that could be from anything. That could be a still from Saturn 3… or Virus (note that there was only sky for background). How far we’ve come, that movies like Avatar share the lifeblood of its shameful forerunners, and garner mainstream and critical attention.
2012 is shaping up to be a good year for scifi movies. You got this, you got John Carter, there’s Total Recall… well not much else after that but hey even one is good. Just like this year, and better than last year. But. Prometheus worries me for several reasons. Even though the trailer is undoubtedly Alien-tastic (it’s now very easy to decipher all that marketing speak about having “Alien DNA”) and super wow, this has Avatar written all over it. There’s a reason why I brought that partic title up twice before — not just because it festers in my mind minute-to-minute — this is the return of a great director to a genre he started in.
When Avatar was coming out late 2009, it was James Cameron’s first scifi movie since his best, Terminator 2. It had been over sixteen years, and I know because I was born shortly after T2. That’s a long freaking time, man, but Ridley’s been out of the game for exactly thirty, by the time Prometheus will be released, unless you count that classic Superbowl ad. True, he never took any extended breaks from making feature films, but I have yet to see a movie of his after Gladiator that approached passable. I hated Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, and Body of Lies — they were just mystifying to me. It got to the point where my roommate and I were literally contemplating who was the better director, him or Tony Scott?*
We went with Ridley, because even though Tony’s got… Domino, Ridley does have a holy three that are some of my all time favorites. But it’s been so long. Scott followed Alien, one of the most important movies in science-fiction, and the powder-keg that led to everything from The Thing and Aliens to Event Horizon and Dead Space, with Blade Runner, which is the most important movie in science-fiction, and the powder-keg to everything. Blade Runner is so goddamn good it’s hideous. It did have a source material though, and I wonder now if that’ll help Prometheus…
From where I’m standing Prometheus will be a prequel, but in a weird way. It’ll be like the Alien movies are spin-offs of a much larger property that just so happened to come out ten years later. This is fine, but the Alien movies were very quiet in terms of their mythology. You know, like why robots? What’s Weyland-Yutani all about? And of course that immortal question that inspired this movie — what the hell is that dude in the Alien ship? There’s something poetic going on here, and I like that every filmmaker involved in the Alien series proper handled the world-building the same way, which isn’t to say they didn’t. The universe is in the details, and nobody’s going around talking about FTL and Xenomorph morphology.
Not only would they logically just not be thinking about those things or even know them, the film is a medium quite unlike the novel. In a scifi novel, world-building is key, and sometimes king. Movies only have 90 minutes, not hours of your time. The vaginal and phallic designs on the walls and in the creatures — that’s the world-building. In time, we may have explanations to everything, and it isn’t so much I don’t want to know these things, but the impact this movie will have on the Alien series is yet to be known. Those four movies are very important to me, so c’mon Ridley. Don’t fuck up. Don’t make me wait for the action sequel, Prometheuses…
I’m just kidding. Prometheus looks great, I heart hard for it. And the last time I concerned over a movie, it was The Thing ’11, and that one turned out excellent. Of course, there were low expectations going in…
*I actually do like some of his stuff
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
The Terminator movies had been about one thing: a robot assassin securing the future. It’s a novel idea that’s like many of the best in science-fiction – simple. So brilliantly simple in fact, that our messiah JC would come under fire for plagiarism. Yes, that is just as idiotic as the accusations of the very same thing he dealt with during the marketing for Avatar.
Unfortunately, the simplicity of the plot works well for just one movie, and would take a creative genius to repeat for a sequel. James Cameron has always had passion fuel his every project, whether that be the feature-length adaptation of a short story he wrote when he was sixteen or the various trips he took to the bottom of the ocean. When executives offered him Terminator 2, he wasn’t going to waste the next two years of his life during its production – he was going to own it. Very clearly, he did: not only is it a great film in its own right, it pushed the boundaries of special-effects technology, an act that would inspire him and Stan Winston to push ahead and open their very own effects house in 1993.
Pushing the envelope has always been Cameron’s thing, as seen most obviously with the most ambitious movie ever just two years ago. Jonathan Mostow’s movie on the other hand was a product of pure ‘corporate soulless filmmaking,’ as I feel I’ve heard it described before. They wanted to make a sequel to a franchise, not realizing how very little the franchise could accomplish as a franchise. It was so small, so contained. The first two Terminator movies really would feel like one movie split down the middle (and at one point they pretty much were) if they didn’t look so different, and weren’t so self-contained in themselves.
It’s not even that problematic that Mostow’s picture was born out of a money-hunger, because that’s forgivable and the Terminator series wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Couldn’t hurt it, on some level. The problem extends to the first two movies as not sequel-friendly. Yes, Terminator 2 remains one of the best sequels, and at the time was one of the most profitable sequels, despite its for-the-time massive budget (doubled for Salvation), but that doesn’t mean Terminator 3 has to be a thing.
Regardless, it clearly was, and in 2003 we were treated to a fun, light-weight, action-heavy, comical, and really stupid science-fiction spectacle called Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which was created by several Terminator regulars – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stan Winston, to name a few – but sans the key mind, James Cameron.
Cameron’s ideal Terminator 3 was a movie that doesn’t exist, which makes more sense on a narrative level for the series. Alternatively, it’s T2 3D: Battle Across Time, which is a theme-park ride and early 3D experiment for the director. Not much of a movie, but more of a sequel to T2 than T3 could ever be.
Mostow is, as movie-critic John Scalzi put it, competent but not all that interesting. He’s by this time made two cyberpunk movies that fall under that label – Rise of the Machines and Surrogates, the latter of which was partly filmed near my hometown. With Terminator 3, he tried to do what James Cameron did with Aliens – follow an incredible act. Like James Cameron, he also took quite the departure from the original works, and played up his greatest asset – Arnold Schwarzenegger – for the laughs this time around.
The Terminator is one of the only dramatic roles Schwarzenegger has ever had, and it’s his best without question. The other roles he’s had – John Matrix, Quaid/Hauser, Dutch – have been sometimes self-aware action heroes, echoing the iconic line about being back. The T-800 was the opportunity for the star to be serious, not that jokes weren’t to be had in the first two movies.
I wouldn’t be harping on it too much if the character in Terminator 3 wasn’t so damn stupid. The appropriately intense scene early in Terminator 2 at the biker bar is attempted again in the third outing, but with a much different tone. It’s the same purpose as we’ve come to expect – he needs clothes, NOW – so we expect Bill Paxton to get his stomach punched in or a guy thrown on a super hot stovetop. Instead, a male stripper gets his hand crunched after some ‘hilarious’ sassiness.
That example is telling of the rest of the movie relative to the original movies. It’s a comedy, and it came out of left field. There are good moments, like when the T-800 takes a bullet to the tooth, or when the machines rise, but these are surrounded by some of the most maddening sequences ever committed to film.
Having not seen the film in probably five years, I have nothing to say about this one, despite considering it one of my absolute favorites…
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Terminator 2 in relation to the original is almost like the relationship between the current Clerks movies, where Clerks 2 uses its deconstruction of the first, the undeniable fact of passing time, and as its very presence as a sequel, to highlight loftier themes where the original was unable to. By using the original movie as something of a foundation, it achieves something higher, but not without staying true to spirit. Terminator 2 expands on the cautionary themes of The Terminator by taking the concept a step further.
Essentially what James Cameron was saying with the 1984 film was that machines will bring about our destruction because they are our instruments – and we are super dicks. The prevailing theme in opposition to this premise is hope, which is dramatized here in a pregnant Sarah Connor, unTerminated at the end of the movie.
In Terminator 2, the positive outlook may seem less so in some ways – by the end of the movie we’re following a dark highway and it’s uncertain (certain in 2003, but left ambiguous in ’91 due to a cut ending*) whether the battle’s won. Yet, things are okay on a grander scale than in the first movie because it operates on a larger scope, dealing with humanity. The point of the sequel was to see the villainous, evil T-800 ‘cyborg’ learn about peace and the value of human life. As Sarah says, if a machine can learn such things, maybe we can too. This theme would be echoed later on, to less (in my opinion) success in the year 2009.
The film ends on a note of hope that’s equally as larger than the first movie’s as its budget is; the two seem proportionate, and Terminator 2 is a massive film, much larger than the first and even larger than Aliens and The Abyss, despite the latter being a shoot so difficult and dangerous as to nearly claim the life of our adventurous director. By this logic, Terminator 3 would seemingly be even larger…
*Before the revision post-test screening, Terminator 2 originally ended with a flashforward to a bright future where an older Sarah watches from a park bench the now grown John, a US Senator, playing with his daughter. It was reviled, but closed the book on SkyNet…
Spoilers for The Abyss, Avatar, my life
James Cameron is a champion of technology in film, and his latest thing is 3D. I’m among the majority that tends to scoff at 3D in movies and TV; there’s just too much about it I disagree with. But in the case of Avatar, 3D makes sense, and it is perhaps the only movie where the visually stunning gimmick has thematic significance, aside from maybe Friday the 13th Part III. It’s a movie where immersion is of the utmost import, such that it should stretch beyond the hero and onto the audience. We feel what he feels because it’s our journey of discovery too – he’s our avatar.
The award-winning filmmaker has always upped the ante with each movie in terms of technology, diving into one of the most difficult and technically challenging shoots ever with The Abyss (which nearly claimed the life of Ed Harris), and diving further with those deep sea documentaries and that critical darling Titanic. It’s kind of ironic, seeing as how his iconic Terminator would theoretically make him out to be some kind of creative luddite.
Alas no, and Avatar is the next step in this evolution, and it’s hands down the best-looking film of all time. Best visual effects, besting Transformers and The Lord of the Rings and Pirates 3 and even Terminator 2 by miles. Is it the most beautiful film? That comes down to art design, and I still contend that movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell 2 achieve higher in that department. It’s something that can’t be overlooked or treated lightly – impressive doesn’t even begin to describe the quality of work here, so in the end I don’t think it’s entirely unfortunate that the visuals are the only thing the movie has going for it.
Now, for two years I had read every article online about Avatar, seen every production still and followed it closely such that the words Project 880 burned into my eyes; I had never been more excited for a movie. It was James Cameron’s return to feature films after a decade, and his return to science-fiction (more importantly) after nearly twenty years. Also note that the last time he made a science-fiction film, he made Terminator 2. Everything seemed to add up, and this was looking to be the most ambitious magnum opus attempted. It would be his first SF flick I’d be alive to see in theatres, so I was going opening night.
That decision came probably in 2007. Two years later, it was two days after opening night, a Sunday. Me and a friend of mine were able to see it at the IMAX, which was pleasant, as that screen was both huge and three-dimensional. Two and a half hours later I stumbled out. My friend was like, “Yeah that was pretty good. What did you think, Harry?” and I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it.
And I continued to think about it. I recall recording a podcast about it, but don’t remember what I said. Probably that it was good but not nearly as good as it should have been. Well it’s July 9th 2011 as I write this, it’ll probably go up tomorrow, and I’ll tell you one thing: I now understand what people feel when they hear the words The Phantom Menace. They cringe inside, they feel slightly embarassed.
As the months were drawing closer to December 22, 2009, the Internet was ablaze with a storm of “holy shit Avatar trailers… suck?” and I was one pissed off little nerdlet. That’s actually what made me break up with a podcast I had listened to loyally for like two years – Slice of Scifi. It was the very first podcast I had ever heard of, and was kind of a personal stepping stone into further nerdom, but when the first Avatar trailer was underwhelming and one of the guys said, “He should just stick to documentaries,” I couldn’t believe it. To be fair, I remember the other guys wrangling him in like “Hey. That’s too far,” but it was too late. I loved James Cameron. He had done only good for the world, unless you count those many ex-wives and one disgruntled Harlan Ellison (not JC’s fault).
I was like, “Have you people forgotten what this man has wrought?” Apparently T2 wasn’t like the greatest thing ever, and it kind of makes sense. I grew up watching the movie, and would only later discover the general consensus was that Aliens was actually his best film (this is in nerd circles, of course, where we don’t use the T word. No, the other one). My heart was broken; I felt betrayed, but my burning desire to confirm that Avatar would blow my fucking mind, man, burned all the brighter – and it burned for half as long, as the movie was nearing release.
In the aftermath, I still don’t want to hear commentary on Avatar, and fortunately have suffered only a minimal amount. It’s just hard because I acknowledge that it’s a bad movie, but I’m in denial. Also exacerbating my perception of the film is the fact that the visuals are out of this world. They elevate the movie, but it’s still a bad, bad movie. It sucks. Seriously, it fucking blows. Cameron took ten years to write this script? Should’ve been looking over Nolan’s shoulder – and I never thought I’d say that.
Apparently I can say that it sucks, but I won’t hear it from anyone else. It’s like if somebody is self-conscious, they can laugh at themselves nervously and say they’re weird, sure. But God forbid anybody else do the same. If I were in your position reading this (I hope somebody reads this) I’d be shaking my head and thinking, no, nobody should read this. It’s inappropriate.
But like I said earlier. It’s July 9th, 2011. It’s been awhile. I’ve had time to think, and I’ve come to my conclusions. I guess now I should tell you why. (Please God don’t let this be a Scott Pilgrim-lengthed post… it won’t be nearly as fun to write…)
The biggest problem I’ll always have with Avatar, and with James Cameron, is his treatment of the military in his movies. Aliens owes everything it is to Military SF like Starship Troopers – essentially Cameron pulled a Wachowski Brothers and said “I want to do this for real,” (preempting Verhoeven by ten years) referring to space marines, of course, who have never been seen before or since the 1986 movie. The military isn’t depicted unfairly or anything, but their ultimately being criticized in a Vietnam War allegory – situations occur where technologically advanced forces are beaten time and again by the lesser-equipped simply because they didn’t know what they were doing.
In The Abyss, the military once again dons the face of Michael Biehn, and they are spoilers the badguys. The Terminator actually offers an interesting view, one that I agree with – the marriage of technology and warfare seems to breed something we won’t be able to handle in years down the road, and here it’s depicted as Skynet. Isn’t it interesting that in order to fight this ungodly child we have to resort to warfare as well? That could have made an interesting study, but unfortunately that’s never what Terminator was about, and instead of something where we destroy ourselves with combat, we get Rise of the Machines.
And finally in Avatar we have the space military in all their glory – but they’re assholes. We have one qualifying line in the beginning where hero Jake Sully notes that these are sort of the rejects, a PMC squad working for a capital-c Company, think Weyland-Yutani. Alright, fine, they’re not really America’s military or Space America’s marines or anybody we should be rooting for, but the end product is still space marines are the bad guy. And that really rides me. I’m not some gun-nut who unconditionally praises American’s army, it’s just that my feelings about the military seem to conflict with Cameron’s various depictions, and goddamn it – it wouldn’t be so bad if the heroes of the tale, the Na’vi, weren’t so goddamn insulting.
I’m not even saying they’re disrespectful towards Native Americans – I’m saying they’re disrespectful towards me because they use the fact that they’re Native Americans, and nakedly so, to draw sympathy rather than use actual characterization. What does Zoe Saldana want? I don’t know, to save the trees. Oh so her character coincides with the message of the film. That means she’s a blank slate to which Cameron can paint his environmental theme – she’s like Mr. Exposition for the moral of the tale, and that’s bullshit. That’s not writing; the themes should come about in a more organic manner. We shouldn’t be tricked into getting the message, we should just get it.
Let’s look at these goddamn things, these Na’vi [from Zelda]: they’re interesting looking, but I don’t like them at all. Not only do they look like taller versions of Asari, they’re somehow worse, if that’s even imaginable. They’re cliche because they’re Out-to-Save-the-World Native Americans, and they’re uninteresting because Cameron thought that he didn’t have to write anything beyond that. Was that seriously your selling point? Did you actually think that that made these things compelling? That they liked nature? Are you fucking kidding me?
And we haven’t even touched upon the alien sex. I guess the most poetic way to show our hero becoming one with nature was to have him bump uglies with a nine foot tall cat, and (actually, does that even happen in the movie? I forget) I guess it’s just consistent enough with the other garbage going on that we don’t notice how zoophillic that is. It’s okay though – she’s hot. Look at that sexy tail… Well, at least Zoe Saldana is in real life actually very attractive, and – fun fact – another extremely good-looking woman, Yunjin Kim (Lost, Shiri) screentested for the same character. But anyways…
He tries to draw us into an unconventional romance through conventional means, and nothing could be more inappropriate or miscalculated. It’s true love and it has to be, as the message to stress with Avatar is be cool with everything and everyone. Cross-cultural boundaries should be breached, but more generally and more significantly, we need to have open minds if we want to save the world(s). Makes sense on paper, but in the film, it just does not work. Let’s look at some other unconventional relationships in movies, and the two that come into my mind maybe aren’t obvious examples of this which is itself not an obvious thing: JSA: Joint Security Area, an old standby on Dreck Fiction, and The Yakuza.
In JSA we have, and I hate this term, a bromance. What’s more, it’s a forbidden bromance, but let’s just call it a friendship. These guys aren’t supposed to be friends – it should be shocking that they’re even talking to each other. Their relationship develops very naturally throughout, and when it all comes crashing down, like they anticipated, it’s tragic. It works because we get a feel for these characters and we don’t want to see them fail.
With The Yakuza, we have an interesting relationship between two guys, Harry Kilmer and Tanaka Ken. What they have is both weaker and stronger than a frienship, because they share something important but can never just chill and hang out. Dialogue between the two is alternatively tense and poigniant, and it’s handled just as we should expect from such writers with pedigrees as Paul Shrader and Robert Towne.
So the fact that Cameron treats his odd relationship with normal terms – courtship, which is bizarre – is embarassing and kind of naive. There even could have been an interesting discussion there about cross-species relationships, but as it stands the Na’vi just persist in being no different from us afterall. This really is like Mass Effect, but that title – a video-game, mind you – makes up for it with surprising levels of characterization and a cool SF story.
Avatar has no such thing. Its story is template. Formula. Seen before. As much as those fuckings mountains in the sky are wowing and unprecedented (except for those wonderful Internet comparison photos, courtesy of a dozen beautiful minds), we can’t be entirely swept away because this story is so damn familiar. Story beats seem to be hit like somebody’s checking them off a list, and as a result, everybody is a stereotype or an archetype. There isn’t one original character in the entire movie. We have the tough-as-nails mentor with a heart of gold played by Sigourney Weaver, the tough-as-nails pilot played by Michelle Rodriguez, the guy who starts out antagonizing our hero until he becomes one of the People and then heroically sacrifices himself, the racist old guy (the only good character), the nerdy technician, and the flawless hero.
Star Wars is a similar situation, in that it used archetypes like the gunslinger Han Solo and the Hero’s Journey hero Luke Skywalker. But in the context of what Star Wars is, it makes sense and it works beautifully, which is why that movie is and will be remembered for being a good movie, but Avatar will be remembered for being pioneering. Unfortunately people and things that set the wheel in motion are forgotten when surpassed – think Willis O’brien when Ray Harryhausen came along.
The potential Avatar had was really the thing that pissed me off the most. It’s a science-fiction movie by James Cameron. It’s got dragons, it’s got space helicopters, it’s got war. How do you fuck that up? Big things and littles things. Big things like blank-slate characters, and little things like moments that just feel so out-of-place and immature, like when the rhinos pop out of the forest to victory music and overwhelm the enemy soldiers at the last second.
It’s a beautiful movie, and it will always look good because the art design will hold up, though I do think the mechs were better-looking in The Matrix Revolutions. The casting was good, the technology was in place, but the script needed work – about ten more years. And left in the center is one confused nerd, and I doubt I’ll even seek out Avatar 2 in the theatres. I just wish he’d drop this ‘trilogy’ bullshit and go ahead with Battle Angel. Maybe at this point in his career he needs established characters to work with, but who knows? Hopefully I’ll come to reneg on those words.
I’ve been wrong before.
A look back on the various movies that recall why I like movies any. This week, it’s one of the most important films from my childhood, and easily Cameron’s best directorial outing…
The Dreckulative One Year Anniversary has come and gone, and it has left me thinking about why I had started the site, and why I continue to post on it. The mission statement is at the bottom of the page here, and says something to the effects of: I want to legitimize the genre of science-fiction in film for the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Alright that’s fair – sci-fi gets a bad rap, and maybe undeservedly – but why? Why do I want to do something like that when I could just as easily – or perhaps, as some might say, easierly – not do it?
Because science-fiction is something that is significant to me, and I could never, ever say that to anybody except for you and through this medium of text. Out loud, that might sound strange. On paper, or screen in this case, it could almost be misinterpreted as mild. As a kid, I grew up watching what I consider to be the classics of sci-fi cinema, and this is the reason why I envision my idealized personal film (if ever I was to make them) as a science-fiction one, and why seven or so of my top ten are science-fiction. The other angles of the speculative fiction triangle, fantasy and horror, never appealed to me. Fantasy always struck me as uninteresting, and when Harry Potter came out and I distilled an entire genre down to wizards and trolls, that went doubly so. Fantasy to me was something for kids only. Of course, I never once thought that science-fiction might be too.
And horror never interested me because simply put – I was a pussy. I was afraid of many things that happened in movies: aliens (which is odd*), ghosts (because if they’re real, then that’s the worst thing ever), demons, and dying. I guess the last one is kind of understandable.
So fantasy was for children. Science-fiction on the other hand, was my bread and butter when I was a young youth, and even now as a youth. Movies like Robocop, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and the two Terminator movies convinced me that robots and science were cool and meant violence, which I also liked a lot. It wasn’t until I saw Ghost in the Shell (1995) in mid-high school that I understood the literary potential the genre had on the screen, but you’ll have to wait until the Ghost in the Shell Franchise: An Appreciation post for that story.
Even to this day, probably my favorite moments in movies are the future war sequences in the first two Terminator movies – seeing the field of skulls driven over by giant tank robots, all the pink lasers going back and forth with extremely unthreatening sound effects, the grittiness and the darkness, the overall spectacle – it’s a blast of nostalgia every time I even think of them. These were the moments that crystallized my early love for the genre, and captured my imagination unlike any other movie would until Ghost in the Shell 2.
Indeed the first two Terminator movies effected that adoration of science-fiction, and it didn’t hurt that they were such good films, it even got across to an idiot kid they were good. I remember not liking 2001, Blade Runner, Princess Mononoke, even the original Ghost in the Shell, because I was either too young or too stupid. No joke.
The Terminator is an incredible film, a perfectly paced chase movie with great imagery (the middle future flashback with the Terminator infiltrator shooting the mini-gun and all you see is his silhouette and two red eyes is pretty cool) and a memorable ending sequence assisted by robotic stop-motion. Michael Biehn, like Sam Neil, was to me the essential film hero, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was and always will be my favorite star. He’s got it all – the presence, the one-liners, the ability to dual wield a machine-gun and a shotgun – and the supporting cast was also good, especially Lance Henrikson, a fan favorite for his role as Bishop in Cameron’s next movie.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was all this and more. It was a relentless machine-gun hail of set pieces that seemed to be in some fierce competition with each other to be the absolute best. A mindless action movie can be a great movie if the action is good enough. Think Punisher War Zone. An action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think Die Hard, a thoughtful action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think First Blood. A sci-fi action movie that’s mindless can also be great – Doomsday – now let’s take the best of these categories: Terminator 2 is a thoughtful sci-fi action movie with action that is good enough, making it a triply great movie.
Dr. Silberman makes a reappearance as the snarky psychologist or whatever he is, and he’s the first antagonist Sarah Connor must deal with. Ultimately he is overshadowed by the T-1000, one of the coolest special effects and villains to hit the big screen. How could the outdated T-850 from the original film overcome this new threat? Well, plot armor… But also, with the help of both Sarah Connor and young John Connor, a character who’s never been as good as he was in the original T2. The grand sense of adventure in this movie moves the plot along with ease as these characters meet up and conflict, and we learn that the T-1000 isn’t just dangerous because he can be the floor – or you – but because he kills everybody he meets, and the Arnold Terminator is more human than meets the eye. Maybe not more human than human, but he’s only learning. He was designed to kill, and he’s just been told not to. Intriguing…
Maybe not high science-fiction, but it doesn’t need to be. It still makes for one hell of a movie. And the T-1000 is one hell of a villain. Not my favorite, though I do like Robert Patrick. I would throw the T-1000 in direct comparison to another robot villain I’ve been thinking about for awhile now after having seen Star Wars Episode III again recently, and reminding myself just how much I actually liked it – General Grievous. Visually, Grievous is one of the coolest designs for a character ever. But he was written as a coward, and that disappointed me heavily. He was not a threat, he was not imposing – when Obi Wan was going for the showdown halfway through the film, the outcome was a given fact, and there was no dramatic weight behind the spectacle of the fight. T-1000 on the other hand is somebody who you almost don’t want the characters to have to deal with, because you know that he’s capable of so much.
And he does do a lot to poor old Arnold, who loses a limb in his wordless fight with the other robot. They’re programmed against each other, and like computers, they don’t exchange pithy dialogue or play pranks like in T3. The duel at the end of the movie is also superior to the one that ends T3 – the effects are better, the choreography is better – and the environment it takes place in offers a very atmospheric and explosive setting for these two to duke it out in.
This was back when James Cameron was making movies to make good movies. With the release of Avatar, he seems to be making movies to make good money-making movies. Avatar wins the popular vote on financial terms, but it’s as smart as something that is not smart. Terminator 2 is smart, not necessarily intelligent, and succeeds – and exceeds – at everything it attempts. This is truly science-fiction filmmaking at its best.
*For a long time I was terribly frightened of aliens, and especially the aliens from the Alien franchise. I thought that if those things were real, then we were really fucked, and I had never ever seen a single alien movie. I’m sure that would’ve done me in – seeing what these aliens actually did to people. I just didn’t like how they looked, they were freaky. Then one day a switch flipped and I thought these things were so aesthetically pleasing perhaps they were worth a second look. To this day I’ve always considered the Alien franchise the best science-fiction has ever produced.
As though the genre produces movies