Director Talk – James Cameron
Welcome to the new feature of this blog, which will be looking at the works and influence of various directors. This feature also involves PG Cooper from PG Cooper’s Movie Review, and Fog from Fog’s Movie Reviews. (Wow, the three of us sure don’t have very original blog names!) The three of us hope to periodically get together for a conversation about each director and then share our thoughts with you!
We start this new series with James Cameron.
Ian: James Cameron has the two highest-grossing films of all time, making him the third-highest grossing director. So I guess the first question to present to the panel is: do his films deserve this sort of box office acclaim? Is he that good of a director to have brought in 2 billion dollars with his movies?
Fogs: Well, I think he’s extraordinarily good at giving people what they want. In terms of questions like – how great a director he is? Those are things that are usually picked apart by cinephiles like ourselves, so we’ll hone in on his flaws, or the weaknesses in his game, etc… but as far as making movies with massive, widespread appeal, Cameron may be the best there’s ever been. I mean, he MAY be better at it than Spielberg. Isolating it to the element of bringing in butts to the seats, taking in dollars at the gate etc. Just on those terms? He’s great at it, yes. He can really really create a movie that will appeal across the boards. That’s a gift.
Ian: You make a good point. He certainly does know what people want. But I don’t think that should detract from his skill. I mean, Michael Bay gives people what they want too, but Cameron is a far better craftsman. But I think he gets more flack than he deserves from we cinephiles. One thing Cameron is very, very good at is creating atmosphere in film. Terminator 2 has a very distinctive tone to it, for example, as does Titanic. I think that one major reason Titanic was so successful, though most people probably don’t realize, is because Cameron was able to make the audience feel like they were actually on that sinking ship.
Cooper: I find most of the criticism Cameron gets comes from people who are angry because his movies have wide appeal and bring in a lot of money. The fact is, you can make a genuinely good film while still appealing to mass audiences. Fogs, you mentioned Spielberg, and he made a career of doing just that. Cameron puts a lot of hard work and craftsmanship into his films and it always shows. So yeah, Cameron does deserve all the box office success he gets. Yeah, his films have what mass audiences want, but unlike the Michael Bays and Roland Emmerichs of the world, he doesn’t let that get in the way of making genuinely good films.
Now I will say, his two highest grossing films (Titanic and Avatar) fall in the bottom half of Cameron’s filmography for me, but that doesn’t mean I think their bad films. It has more to do with the fact that I really love Cameron’s best films (which I’ll get to in more detail later).
That said, it’s not easy to craft a great action sequence and constantly push the bounds of technology. He should get TONS of credit for that.
Cooper: You bring up a good point Fogs. I’d agree that’s more Cameron the writer than Cameron the director, but a good point none the less. The two films it’s most predominant in though are Titanic and Avatar. Not only do The Terminator films not have that problem, but neither does Aliens. True Lies is cartoonish, but that movie is more or less a comedy, so it actually works in the film’s favor. As for The Abyss, I can’t speak for that since I haven’t seen it.
You mentioned ranking his filmography, how would you rank them?
Cooper: 1. Terminator 2
3. The Terminator
6. True Lies
Now two and three are really close for me. I do like all of these films though, to an extent. How would you and Ian rank his filmography?
Ian: My list will probably look differently than yours, as I appreciate the scope and grandeur of his two big films more than most. My ranking looks like this.
1. Terminator 2
6. True Lies
7. The Abyss
Cooper: Interesting. Big Avatar fan huh? What about you Fogs?
6. True Lies
7. The Abyss
Of course, neither of you mentioned Piranha Part Two: The Spawning LOL.
Ian: Well, Terminator 2 appears to be the unanimous choice as our favourite Cameron flick. I’m going to throw this question out to you guys now. What do you think his ‘signature’ film is? In other words, what film is he most often associated with? Or what film would the majority of the population connect him with? I think it has to be Titanic. Avatar made more money, but he’s still always described as “the director of Titanic”, and likely always will be.
In terms of “Signature” movie, I WISH it was T2, but Ian’s probably right, its probably Titanic. Especially seeing as he won the Oscar that year.
Cooper: I think it depends on who you ask. Amongst the average people, I’d say Titanic. Huge hit, Oscar winner, lots of two famous leads, and the film’s become iconic in a lot of ways. But I think among internet film geeks, it’s a toss up between his first three. A lot of people say Terminator 2, but there’s also a pretty strong group championing the first one as the best. And Aliens has a legion of hardcore fans as well.
On the whole though, Titanic has become his “signature” film. It’s almost a shame considering how good some of his other works though that Titanic will be the movie he’s remembered for most.
Ian: Well, Titanic was one of the biggest movies of all time. Its hype level was right up there with Gone with the Wind. So I’m sure he’s fine with being “the director of Titanic”.
Well, I think its time we wrapped up our first edition of Director Talk. any last words on Cameron or the mark he will leave on film-making?
Fogs: I think he’s always going to be remembered as an incredibly successful populist film maker. The fact that he’s made so many enormously budgeted movies, and they all come up aces for him… it’s incredible. And you know that the Avatar sequels aren’t going to change any of that. But I hope he at least gets remembered as well for the innovation he’s brought to movie making. His films have pushed the medium forward in terms of what’s possible, and that’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Cooper: I’m a huge Cameron fan. I’ve enjoyed all his films on some level and the three I love, I really love. I think he’s gonna go down as an important filmmaker, for his ability to make good crowd pleasing films like Titanic, and for his ability to make smart action films like The Terminator, Terminator 2, and Aliens. He’ll also be remembered for being one of the most important science fiction directors of the last thirty years.
Bottom line, whether you like his films or not, it’s hard not to admire the sheer skill that goes into all his works.
Ian: I agree with you both in that he knows what people want. he’s also certainly an innovator in film technology; its no coincidence that 5 of his films won the Oscar for best visual effects. It will be interesting to see where he takes us in the future.