Essential DVDs: The Terminator (1984); Aliens (1986); Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991); True Lies (1994); Titianic (1997); Avatar (2009)
Oscars: Best Director, Best Picture, Best Editing (Titanic, 1998)
In His Own Words: “Less isn’t more. More is more.”
The future is what we make for ourselves,’ is a refrain repeated throughout James Cameron’s first film, The Terminator, and it’s a phrase he’s clearly taken to heart. But Cameron doesn’t just see the future coming; he makes it happen. He deserves to be known as more than just the master of the big budget, the huge grosser, and the high concept, or even the self-styled King Of The World, but instead as one of the most progressive and important technological innovators in cinema history.
Perhaps, second only to George Lucas, Cameron has been directly responsible for the staggering development in visual effects capabilities over the last fifteen years. The Abyss, Titanic, Avatar, and everything in between featured effects that hadn’t been possible until Cameron pushed the envelope, while he’s recently developed a brand-new 3D camera system. Because he can.
And yet for a man who’s so clearly in love with the possibilities of technology, his movies constantly warn against the dangers of becoming enslaved to machinery (what is Titanic if not a lecture on man’s folly writ large?), while his preoccupation with nuclear weapons (there’s an atomic explosion in every Cameron film, bar Titanic… and yes, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning) burns throughout his movies. As does a great humanist streak, which sometimes gets lost amid the brouhaha about his occasionally clunky dialogue, financial excesses (Terminator 2, True Lies and Titanic were all, at the time of their release, the most expensive movies ever made), and his innate skills with an action sequence (he’s as influential in the action genre as Peckinpah or Woo). After all he took the measure of Ripley and turned her into the font of strong, modern female leads, from which he mined his own Sarah Connor, Rose in Titanic, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ ballsy housewife in True Lies.
Part of Cameron’s appeal is his go-for-broke nature—an enormous personality with a legendary temper (crews on his movies often sport T-shirts having wry pops at his demanding ways), no challenge is too great. You want a great sci-fi movie? He’ll knock out Terminator 1 and 2. A great sequel? How about Aliens, one of the greatest of them all. A great love story? Hell, he only went and made the most successful frickin’ film of all time.
Ah, Titanic. Since its immense success (11 Oscars, $2.2 billion worldwide), some snarly critics have perceived his failure to direct a full-length, live-action movie as a failure of nerve. In fact, it’s given him enormous freedom to do what he wants to do: make hundreds of deep-sea dives, produce films for other directors, and develop technology for his forthcoming fully 3D manga adaptation, Battle Angel. And to cap it all off, he’s planning to shoot a film at some point soon—in space. His career up to now has been brilliant, but Cameron prefers to focus on the future—and right now his is bright as it’s ever been.