Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

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).

Fogs: Well, in fairness though, I would want to point out why he doesn’t crack my top directors or anything.
His characters can be cartoonish, he paints with this hugely broad emotional brush, and his plots can be pretty simple at times. Not all times, of course, T & T2 were exceptional. But Avatar took a ton of grief for being recycled, and Titanic practically boils down to “Doomed Love”.

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.

Fogs: It’s alright, its nothing that incredible. But again, he was pioneering the use of CGI. The end water tendril sequence was a new benchmark in technology.

You mentioned ranking his filmography, how would you rank them?

Cooper: 1. Terminator 2
2. Aliens
3. The Terminator
4. Avatar
5. Titanic
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
2. Avatar
5. Aliens
6. True Lies
7. The Abyss

Cooper: Interesting. Big Avatar fan huh? What about you Fogs?

Fogs: I don’t know Ian, my list and yours are pretty much exactly the same. LOL. Swap Titanic and Aliens and they’re identical.
1. Terminator 2
2. Avatar


5. Titanic
6. True Lies

7. The Abyss

8. Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

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.

Fogs: I like Avatar a lot, yeah. I saw it at Comic-Con. A 25 minute preview, at least, with Cameron, Weaver, Lang and Saldana… That kind of brands you.
But I’m not immune to the fact that it borrows so heavily on material that came before it.

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.

11 Responses to “Director Talk – James Cameron”

  1. Wow…we don’t have creative blog names, lol.

    Thanks for this Ian, I had a lot of fun on it. Looking forward to more in the future.

  2. That cracked me up. The blog names. I’ll put a post up too, announcing we did this, but I dont think its going to be tomorrow… This was a lot of fun to do, I always love reading these when others do them, and now I get to have done one myself!

  3. […] reading here: Director Talk – James Cameron « Ianthecool's Movie Reviews Share […]

  4. Love this new Director Talk feature, I look forward to more!
    Admittedly, I went through a slight anti-Cameron phase with the chance of Avatar dominating the Oscar race. That’s in the past, there’s no doubt that he really is a great director who always brings high quality work. Ranking his top films, I would put Titanic on top, close behind is T2, T1 and Avatar (it’s been too long since I’ve seen Aliens or True Lies). Great post, guys!

  5. Great discussion between the three of you. I haven’t seen quite enough of Cameron’s work to really weigh in (just the Terminator films and Avatar so far), but I’d have to agree with what’s been said here about him pushing the envelope on visual effects.

  6. […] came out really cool. The plan is to do others in the future, so I hope you’ll check it out! You can find the write up here. Enjoy! Hook us up!FacebookTwitterStumbleUponRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This […]

  7. Great points from all! See, I’m on a strange anti-Cameron kick at the moment. While Avatar might have been groundbreaking with its 3D technology, I believed, it paved the way for 3D conversion after 3D conversion. Which I utterly HATE. And for that, I blame Cameron.

    Avatar itself was fair enough, but I’m with Fogs – the characters were just so cartoony. Your atypical hero, heroine and bad guy. Aside from the spectacle, Avatar’s not very high on my list of Cameron’s best.

    The less said about Avatar 2 the better….

    Titanic was epic and while its characters are similarly cartoonish as Avatars, the “class” kept it from being too trite.

    T2 is my ultimate Cameron film. Everything about it is just perfect. It’s just a beautiful film to look at and the story’s perfect.

  8. Great discussion thread, would love to see more of this type of format. Great job, guys!

    I would like to add my feelings of why Titanic will always be Cameron’s signature movie. I believe it is the length he went through to have this movie made. The size of the sets and models, the fact he supplemented his own money to create this huge specticle and his personal investment not to cut corners. He took big risks, and with big risks comes big rewards, and I think the general public admires him for that.

    Of course I don’t know if any of his other movies were a bigger undertaking, and I think people discount CGI a little, but those facts may not be as well publicized as Titanic.

  9. man! I LOVE this discussion. Reading your thoughts on James Cameron! This should be a regular segment with different topics (imo)

    Really great work. I like James Cameron’s work like the next guy. but his stuff is not addicting like, pistachios (as Abby from NCIS would say). I’m not always a fan of sitting through super long movies but storywise and visually he rarely disappoints.

    It was mentioned in the discussion that he gives each film a great and individual tone. I would agree with that.

    Again, great work here gentlemen. Thank you!

  10. […] directors for a few months now in their Director Talk series.  I’ve been a big fan since their first talk about James Cameron.  Naturally, I was thrilled when they invited me to be a guest in their latest talk.  The topic, […]

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