James Cameron and Titanic

Interesting back and forth regarding the merits of the 1997 James Cameron directed mega-hit Titanic, which is being re-released in 3-D:


Apart from being incredibly successful, for years I’ve been intrigued with Mr. Cameron and his movies, even as I find myself less and less interested watching his most current works.

I was first exposed to Mr. Cameron, but not aware of his hand in, such films as Android (where is credited as doing work in the Art Department), Galaxy of Terror (Second Unit Director), Battle Beyond the Stars (Special Effects and Art Director), Escape From New York (Special Visual Effects and Matte Artist), and, finally, his first “full” directorial credit in Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (if memory serves, there is considerable irony in this credit as Mr. Cameron was fired from the director’s job before fully completing it).

So there he was, in front of me in these various films I saw as a youth.  I didn’t really like most of them all that much (the big exception being Escape From New York), but they were part of my early days and I nonetheless had nice memories of watching the films, either in theaters or on the then brand new cable channel HBO.

Fast forward to 1984, and my sister telling me that I just had to go see this film currently playing in theaters.  I heard about it, but for whatever reason hadn’t thought much of it.  Nonetheless, I followed her advice and, with little knowledge of what exactly I was in for, bought a ticket, found a seat somewhere in the middle of the theater, and sat down to watch The Terminator.

I was blow away.

The film wasn’t perfect, mind you.  I thought there were one too many “endings” at the film’s conclusion.  But, for crying out loud, this was one hell of an action film.  It was brutal at times, humorous at others (the film’s most humorous line was uttered by last person you’d expect to utter anything funny!), and so damn entertaining.

I had to know who was behind this incredible work of action/adventure/sci-fi.  The name was unfamiliar to me in those pre-internet days.  James Cameron.  I didn’t know who he was, but I resolved to keep an eye out for whatever works he does.

Two years later, most likely while reading through movie magazines, I found out what his next film would be:  Aliens.  To say the least, I was ecstatic.  I loved the original Alien film and the thought that Mr. Cameron, who did such a fantastic job with The Terminator would follow up that film with a sequel to one of my favorite sci-fi horror hybrids was more than I could bear.

On opening day, I was right there.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The Terminator and Aliens were a potent one-two punch.  Both were action/adventure sci-fi and horror hybrids.  Both were the incredibly great.  With his success, the world at large got to know more about Mr. Cameron.  I realized for the first time around that point his work in the films I mentioned above, including the pretty terrible Piranha sequel.  What was next for him?

Why, another sci-fi film, this one set under the ocean.  !989’s The Abyss.  Like Aliens, I was there opening day, eager to see what wonders Mr. Cameron had in store for us.

I was disappointed.

The film wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t bad.  It was actually pretty good…at least for the first couple of acts.  But somewhere along the way, especially towards the end, the film simply fell apart, and it dawned on me the film really had no ending.  As one movie critic put it brilliantly, watching The Abyss was like seeing a marathon runner have the race of his/her life, but tripping and falling on their face just feet away from the finish line.

Later, when the “special edition” of the film was released to video/laserdisc (eventually DVD), we were presented with a much longer ending to the film.  Some really liked this version and felt this was the way the film should have always been.  To me, it didn’t matter.  Even with the longer, more effects filled ending, the film still felt as if it wasn’t fully developed.  I had the suspicion Mr. Cameron had an idea -a very good idea- for a story but never really figured out where it was going and how it should end.

Despite this, I was still very interested in seeing what Mr. Cameron was up to.  His follow up to The Abyss sounded really exciting:  A sequel to The Terminator.  In 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released.  Again, I was there opening day, eager to see Mr. Cameron return to the property that effectively “made” him.

Again, I was disappointed.  Mind you, I was in a minority.  Most theater goers really, really liked the film.  I, however, found it a decent movie with some pretty eye-popping (for the time) effects…but the story simply wasn’t as breathtaking or action filled as the original.  As with The Abyss, it wasn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but it just didn’t connect with me as well.

His next film, 1994’s True Lies, had me excited again.  Early word was that the film, which featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, was Mr. Cameron’s take on the whole James Bond/super-spy genre, with Mr. Schwarzenegger in the spy role.  Somehow I snagged tickets to an early showing of the film and headed to see it.  The theater was very crowded, the film began…

…and I was disappointed once again.

In fact, more so than with either The Abyss or Terminator 2True Lies, to me, was a herky-jerky film that would wow you with a great scene and follow it up with a terrible one.  The film tried to straddle comedy and action but in the end short changed on both.  There were moments I greatly enjoyed, but there were other moments I was cringing.

I came to the bitter realization, after the release of those three films, that I may never see the James Cameron that thrilled me with The Terminator and Aliens again.

In 1997, Mr. Cameron’s latest film, Titanic, was in the works.  The early word was quite bad.  Incredible cost overruns.  Too long run-time.  Unproven stars.  When the film neared release, there were those who predicted this was the end of Mr. Cameron’s career.

They were wrong.

Titanic, of course, was a not just a success, it was a HUGE success.

But I found myself uninterested in seeing it.  Not that I expected it to be bad, its just that the whole Titanic thing (with or without the romance) never did much for me.  For the first time since Mr. Cameron rose to prominence, I didn’t bother seeing one of his films.  To this day, I haven’t seen Titanic.  I may be one of only a handful of people who hasn’t

Years later, in 2009, word came that Mr. Cameron was at work on another film, this one a sci-fi action/adventure.  My interest perked.  However, the more I heard about the film and the story it was presenting, the less interested I was in seeing it.  It all boiled down to the story being told, which I found way too overly familiar:  “Noble savages” being exterminated so that “civilized” folk can take their land.  That type of story has been used over and over again, most often in westerns such as Dances With Wolves.

Avatar arrived in theaters that year and, like Titanic before it, was a HUGE success.

And like Titanic before it, I didn’t bother going to see it.  To this day, I may be one of only a handful of people who haven’t seen either of those two mega-hits.

So we reach the present.  Mr. Cameron is arguably one of the biggest, most well known directors in the entire world.  He has scores of fans eager to see what he’s up to next.  I may not be one of them, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious.

After all, he wowed me before.  And while it’s been many years since then, who’s to say he can’t do it again?