The Films of James Cameron
Piranha Part Two: The Spawning
The Terminator (May 14/09)
Although suffused with a myriad of positive attributes and several justifiably legendary images and sequences, The Terminator suffers from a an erratically-paced structure that's ultimately exacerbated by the almost relentlessly dated atmosphere (with Brad Fiedel's synthesizer-heavy score actively impeding the effectiveness of certain interludes). The movie - which follows a pair of futuristic soldiers (Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese and Arnold Schwarzenegger's cybernetic Terminator) as they arrive in the mid-'80s hoping to, respectively, protect and kill Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor - is undoubtedly at its best in its opening hour, as James Cameron's fast-paced, downright propulsive directorial sensibilities ensure that there are few lulls within the narrative. Cameron - along with cowriter Gale Anne Hurd - offers up a trio of incredibly vivid characters and essentially throws them into as precarious a situation as one could possibly envision, with the inclusion of several admittedly enthralling action sequences - ie the Terminator violently makes his way through the police station where Sarah is hiding out - proving instrumental in the film's overall success. The periodic glimpses into Kyle's post-apocalyptic future become increasingly intrusive as the movie progresses (ie such moments, though interesting, ultimately have an adverse effect on the film's momentum), however, yet this isn't quite as problematic as the prolonged downtime that ensues between the aforementioned police-station incursion and the climactic showdown (ie the viewer can't help but grow impatient for another burst of mayhem). These are, finally, minor complaints for an endeavor that's otherwise quite engrossing and perfectly cast, and it's certainly not difficult to see why The Terminator has become an iconic entry within the science-fiction genre in the years since its 1984 release.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (May 17/09)
A substantial improvement over its stirring yet uneven predecessor, Terminator 2: Judgment Day transpires more than a decade after the events of the original and follows a pair of cyborgs (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick) as they attempt to protect (Schwarzenegger) and kill (Patrick) the teenaged version of John Connor (Edward Furlong). John's only human ally in this ongoing battle is his grizzled, downright fearsome mother (Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor), with the heroes' efforts at preventing Judgment Day inevitably leading them straight to the man most directly responsible for Skynet's creation (Joe Morton's Miles Dyson). Though it runs a good 20 minutes longer than 1984's The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day moves at a consistently brisk pace that's almost entirely devoid of lulls within the narrative - although, admittedly, the steel-mill climax boasts a drawn-out vibe that's absent from the remainder of the proceedings. Filmmaker James Cameron offers up a series of increasingly fantastic set-pieces that have justifiably entered the canon of all-time great action sequences, with John and the Terminator's efforts at breaking Sarah out of a mental hospital undoubtedly standing as the movie's high-water mark. It's just as clear, however, that Terminator 2: Judgment Day works just as well in its quieter, more dialogue-based moments, as Cameron (along with cowriter William Wisher Jr.) effectively transforms the central characters into exceedingly compelling figures that the viewer can't help but root for - with the palpable and flat-out irresistible chemistry between John and the friendly Terminator certainly playing a significant role in the film's overall success. The inclusion of a genuinely moving finale only cements Terminator 2: Judgment Day's place as one of the most indelible examples of the contemporary action film, and it seems highly unlikely that the series will ever come close to replicating its seamless blend of violence and drama.
Ghosts of the Abyss (April 8/03)
Sitting down to watch a 3-D movie in 2003 is an odd experience. You just know the technology's progressed beyond the blue/red glasses from back in the day, but to what degree? Leave it to James Cameron to re-invent the format to such an extent that there's no way Ghosts of the Abyss will ever be compared to one of those cheesy '50s 3-D flicks. Running around an hour, Ghosts of the Abyss essentially documents an expedition to the site of Titanic's wreckage. Cameron's brother Mike invented a small, self-propelled camera that's able to venture into places on the ship nobody has seen since it originally went down. As the camera wanders throughout the ship, Cameron inserts much-needed recreations of each section (either using computer graphics or actual actors) - so that we're never confused as to what we're looking at. Though Ghosts of the Abyss is tremendously entertaining, Cameron does have a tendency to talk down to the audience. He simplifies things to such an extent that even small children will have no problem following the action, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. For someone who knows absolutely nothing about Titanic or deep-sea exploration, Ghosts of the Abyss makes for a superb introduction to that world. Cameron couldn't have done anything other than what he did; this is a subject that should've been completely unfilmable. Sending cameras into the murky depths of the Atlantic to check out a ship that sank years ago doesn't exactly make for a visually arresting experience. But Cameron ensures that we're always aware of what we're looking at (through the computer-generated walkthroughs and Bill Paxton's gee-whiz narration), to such an extent that anyone who has even a basic knowledge of the ship will no doubt find this to be an absolutely pedestrian documentary. Still, there's no denying that the film is always completely compelling, if only on a purely visceral level. And that's why, should you have any interest in seeing the movie, make sure you catch it while it's playing on an IMAX screen. Watching it in 2-D, at home, there's a high likelihood that Ghosts of the Abyss will play like a standard Discovery channel documentary.
James Cameron's first full-length fictional endeavor in over a decade, Avatar tells the futuristic story of a paraplegic soldier (Sam Worthington's Jake Scully) who agrees to enter the alien world of Pandora via a 10-foot-tall surrogate - with the film subsequently detailing the battle that ensues between Pandora's natives (the blue-skinned Na'vi) and an American military force bent on acquiring a rare mineral known as Unobtanium. Cameron, who also wrote the film's screenplay, offers up a propulsive opening hour that's heightened by the novelty of the setting, as the completely computer-generated landscape of Pandora is as lush and impressive as one might've expected. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which the familiarity of the movie's storyline effectively begins to impede the viewer's enjoyment, with the almost eye-rollingly predictable nature of the protagonist's character arc exacerbated by a midsection that's been suffused with overlong and flat-out needless sequences (ie Jake and several natives embark upon a rite-of-passage hunting trip). It's worth noting that such problems are generally easy enough to overlook, as Cameron matches the jaw-dropping special effects with a uniformly impressive selection of performances - thus ensuring that the viewer's investment in the ragtag heroes' victory over the sinister soldiers grows considerably in the buildup to the action-packed final confrontation (with Stephen Lang's enjoyably broad work as the movie's cigar-chomping villain only heightening this vibe). The end result is a blockbuster that ultimately manages to transcend the inherent limitations of its genre to become an involving and sporadically gripping adventure, and it's also worth noting that not even the needless (yet admittedly impressive) use of 3D can dampen one's enthusiasm for the proceedings.