Posts Tagged 'James Cameron'

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 7 Titanic

I wrestled over choosing this one.  I first saw Titanic when I was 17, naïve about so much, and deeply effected by the film’s tragic and romantic underpinnings. 

Age and maturity have changed my perception.

Cut together as a narrative tease, the trailer succeeds in providing a strong look at its scope as well the film’s pervasive look at class differences, one of its central and strongest manipulated themes…

The trailer itself bears significance if only for its length, running just over four minutes, a detail that incurred a fine in 1997 for overshooting the two-and-a-half-minute rule.  Cameron pieced it together himself (a chore directors usually outsource). 

The film works on many levels, and fails on just as many (Steven Greydanus has an excellent write up on this).  Visually, even after 12 years, it’s still a stunner.  Taken on its technical merits alone, it is unmatched — the effort undertaken to bring the RMS Titanic to life required significant innovations developed due to the inability to create certain effects digitally, a hurdle today’s CGI could clear with ease.


24 minutes of James Cameron’s Avatar have been seen.

Ain’t It Cool News has the scoop (with art). Cameron apparently showed a portion of the film at CineExpo in Amsterdam.

When I know enough to write more, you’ll have it.

When Trailers Strike Gold – Part 4 Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The Terminator had already achieved a solid place at the cultural water-cooler, and this trailer merely plays on it. Amid all the sparks, techno cues, and Schwarzenegger’s red eyes, there lies not a hint of plot. But James Cameron delivered a sequel that not only left its predecessor in the parabolic ash heap, it achieved something rare for an action movie: thematic meaning.

Avatar, James Cameron and Myth


fan-created place holder poster

Director James Cameron took the stage at E3 this past week to talk a little about his upcoming film Avatar, and the video game that will follow (click here to see video—and look for what appears to be some early promo art).  Cameron talks up the film’s plot and production, and speaks at length on his partnership with game developer Ubisoft.

Production on the game follows similar lines Cameron employed when he commissioned Orson Scott Card to draft the novelization of The Abyss.  As Cameron had given Card freedom to explore the narrative dimensions that a film just can’t put onto the screen, the Avatar game will feature original characters that interact with the world of the film, and follow an original, wholly separate storyline.

Creating an original story that runs parallel to the film allows for enough creative divergence so as not to regurgitate the film, and Cameron’s talk allays any such fears.  What is strange is that, in the months leading up to Avatar’s December release date, virtually all its publicity has skirted the edge of the actual product.

The auteur’s recent comments on the film seem to downplay the story for sake of pushing the technology used to create it, keeping any real look at the film behind a thick veil.  Absent any other promotional material, Avatar’s biggest draw rests on the advent of “Stereoscopic 3-D,” an innovation said to create a fully immersive experience—dreaming with your eyes open, as Cameron said at E3.

Early production art released two weeks ago provided a small glimpse under the hood, but strangely recalls well-established hardware put to good use in other sci-fi productions, including Cameron’s own Aliens.  What’s known of Avatar’s plot, and already noted by others, even appears to follow the rough beats of Dances with Wolves—a wounded soldier takes a mission to the final frontier where he meets an alien race, falls for one of the natives, and is forced to choose sides when the “military industrial complex” moves in to make trouble.

By themselves, plot and production similarities make for poor indicators (how many retreads of Shakespeare’s plays have seen success, and how many retreads did the playwright compose himself?), but taken together with the peculiar lack of promotion, it’s easy to assume the quality of the story may not have the strength to stand on its own terms.  In essence, all indications point to selling the experience of the film over anything else.

Arguably, the experience is the touchstone of any James Cameron film.  His films have consistently delivered iconic thrills and frenetic action, but they rest on something more intrinsic to storytelling and modern mythmaking.  As critic Steven D. Greydanus notes, Cameron is “a master manipulator with a flair for crafting engrossing mass entertainment with an aura of significance and truth.”

J.R.R. Tolkien asserted that all myth contains splinters of “true light”—truth that would otherwise get lost in translation were someone to sit down and try to spell it all out for you.  In other words, stories express the inexpressible; a facet that seasons much Cameron’s work.

Consider, for example, the enormous success of his previous film, Titanic.  The overwhelming popularity of that film suggests that it taps a resonant chord among its audience.  “To be this popular,” writes Neil Andersen, “a story must be touching a mythic nerve.”

Dir. James Cameron and star Sam Worthington

Dir. James Cameron and star Sam Worthington

Knowing how to put skin on themes and ideas goes a long way in selling an old story.  Similar to Titanic, Cameron played with notions of destiny in conflict with free will, and the inherent value of human life, wrapped in a story that literally puts skin on its narrative vehicle—Terminator 2.

Cameron possesses a deft awareness of resonant archetypal themes; Tolkien’s splinters of true light, if you will.  Though a committed humanist, Cameron’s devotion to myth cannot avoid brushing up against the eternal truths that, as Tolkien argued, myths inherently reveal.

Stories of frontiersmen forced to choose sides enjoy their time in the sun because they touch on shared mythical themes.  In a season of remakes, reboots and retreads, sitting through Dances with Wolves in Space may not seem like a promising holiday movie outing, but Cameron has already shown aptitude for making something old look new again.

A trailer sure would do a lot to dispel any doubt, however.

Avatar opens December 18, 2009.

Coming Soon

-Another editorial on James Cameron, the forthcoming Avatar, and Tolkien’s concept of Myth

-A review on Star Trek (maybe)

-I am putting the final touches on that ten-part look into my favorite trailers.

Now, back to work…

Trailer Watch: Avatar

avatarWarner Bros. put out a teaser to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone about a year before its release.  Columbia did the same with Godzilla.  One film was a hit, the other doesn’t even warrant further mention.  The point is: big movies get promoted.  There’s no real rhyme or reason to it—if the movie is supposed to be an event, it gets promoted. 

So where’s the teaser to Avatar

In the 12 years since Titanic, James Cameron has created a short-lived and forgettable TV show, produced a handful of documentaries, and even supported one archeologist’s assertion that he’d found Jesus’ grave.  Before Titanic, Cameron had directed five feature films within the same span of time, crowning his achievement with the highest grossing film to date.  He’s been hard at work over the last two-and-a-half years with what writer Paula Parisi said in 1998 would be the coolest movie ever made. 

You’d think Twentieth Century Fox would want to promote the hell out of this thing; the film premieres December 18.

Supposedly, this 3D IMAX release will utilize the same technology that brought U2-3D to vivid life last year.  And if so, this would be a groundbreaking release.  A game changer.  A James Cameron film.  Would this not make great fodder for a 90-second teaser, glimpsing the film’s scope and whetting the appetites of nerds and movie-lovers everywhere? 

And yet, eight months out: nothing.  Not even a poster. (Nope, that one up there is a big fat fake)

I recall similar frustration expressed throughout the internets regarding another semi-recent Fox release—The X-Files: I Want to Believe.  Creator/director Chris Carter kept a tight lid on the film’s production.  Fox put out a modest trailer a few months before its July 2008 release.  The entire tone of the promotion was eerily reserved.  And there’s a better than even chance Fox kept it that way because the movie just wasn’t all that good.

On the feature front, even the weakest entry in the Cameron library (excluding his Piranha sequel) is still a pretty good flick.  You’d think after mowing down the box office with his last film, there’d be a degree of fueled anticipation, but someone somewhere apparently feels otherwise.  Which means Avatar may not be all that good either.

Cameron has always faced criticism for putting flare over substance, but his work occasions surprising depth of theme (I’m thinking primarily of The Abyss and Terminator 2).  I imagine Avatar would aspire to the same quality.  Anyone who had a chance to read the Avatar treatment before it was pulled off the internet knows the film has big ideas at the helm.  The treatment, however, has already received criticism for pushing a heavy environmental message, a topic that’s played a big hand to a number of recent sci-fi films, and to varying results. 

This is assuming, of course, the director sticks to his early treatment.  Cameron wrote the outline more than a decade ago, and details inevitably get tweaked given that much time to simmer. 

Besides, this is all just speculation anyway.  Titanic‘s trailer played at ShoWest about eight months before its December 1997 premiere, if I remember right.  Before then, many thought that film would earn a fate worse than its namesake.  $601 million later, and the word “titanic” reclaimed its mojo. 

The role a trailer plays in the success of a film can vary.  Some excellent trailers build buzz for mediocre films; others can thrive with little promotion on the strength of the film alone.  The absence of an Avatar trailer affords few clues as to the quality of the actual product.  But a glimpse, even a small one, at a film that industry insiders claim will change the face of going to the movies, could only bode well. 

Audiences like to get stoked, and getting stoked can only help the film.  They say even bad publicity is good publicity, you know.  No publicity, however, never worked for anyone.

Somebody please reprint Orson Scott Card’s novelization of The Abyss

abyss_movie1Count me among those who enjoy this entry in the James Cameron library. 

I have read maybe two film novelizations, and found them both pretty awful.  I later learned this to be the general reaction to a book adapted from a film–in reading up about them just a little bit ago, the most common adjective, I believe, was “trashy.” 

A few novelizations, however, are reputed to be excellent reads, chief among them is Card’s work on The Abyss.  Cameron had given Card greater creative control over the novel, and the result, say the faceless “they,” was better than all right. 

On a whim today, I checked the local library, and sure enough, they do not carry a copy.  I’ve had good experience with some of the vendors selling used matieral on, and I can score a used paperback copy there for $5 plus shipping.  Thing is, I’m a nerd for hardcover books.  It’s my prefference.  But, upon seeing the $51 price tag, and learning its the cheapest, I may just have to settle. 

Other novelizations said to be better than trashy reads…

Alien, by Alan Dean Foster
E.T., by William Kotwinkle
Amerika, by Baruna E. Pouns