James Cameron: Leader of a revolution, or egotistical director?

By the time this article comes out, this would already be old news. However this is a topic that I wish to discuss because of my strong feelings towards the subject, but also because this topic will inevitably be brought up anytime a similar incident occurs. It’s a long one.

For those that don’t know, James Cameron did an interview with Vanity Fair, in which he voiced some strong opinions about Piranha 3D. It goes without saying that he doesn’t like the film, but his reasons for it are a little bit peculiar. His main complaint is that this is 3D done wrong (as opposed to his Conan complex, in which he was fired as director of Piranhas 2, and now 20 years later he can get his revenge on the whole Piranha series). By that I don’t mean 3D graphics that have been done poorly, but rather 3D being used in the wrong type of movie. To him he sees this movie as nothing more than a cash-cow with its main feature being 3D. This upsets James because if anyone were to look at how he talks about 3D, one could easily argue that James sees 3D as his child, which for the purpose of this analogy is an 18 year old daughter, who is being used (in James/the father’s eyes) like a 15 dollar whore, raking in customers because of its appeal, and only leaving both the customer and the daughter (and from there the father) with a sense of guilt and shame. Now, perhaps this argument could be true, if it weren’t for two things. First, James failed to realize that the movie (and every component about it) was not trying to take itself seriously.  Now maybe that would still upset James, but it goes without saying that the movie wasn’t using 3D as a cash-in, but rather a part of the comedy seen in the movie, the joke being that 3D isn’t actually that spectacular and is rather kind of pointless. The second reason however is actually more disturbing, as while the first showed that James Cameron doesn’t have a sense of analytical humour, the second reason shows that James Cameron is just as evil as the people he claims to hate. Try as he may, he cannot defend his statement on how “this film is a cash-cow because it’s in 3D” when he himself is rereleasing Avatar in theatres, with an extra 30 minutes of 3D images of Pandora (brief aside here, this hypocrisy is only more disturbing when considering that we have established that 3D is James Cameron’s 18 year old daughter, especially with the whole cash-cow thing…..just think about that one for a second).

Statement aside, the release of this film just shows how egotistical James has gotten. Avatar was an okay film, but it certainly wasn’t good enough to warrant a re-release with extra scenes, especially if all these extra scenes do is show off the 3D rather than add to the story, which would real help this film. Yes, this film has a clichéd story, but not because it’s simply “Dances with Wolves except it’s with Smurfs”, that doesn’t make the film clichéd….well it sort of does, but that wasn’t the most clichéd part of that story. The clichéd part is that since this is a James Cameron film, we already know right off the bat who’s going to live, who’s going to die, who’s going to be good, who’s going to be evil, and who’s going to act evil at first but then switch to good.

Sorry, I got off track there, but it had to be said. There was another part of the interview I wanted to talk about, and that was James’ comment towards the end, in which he describes 3D as the renaissance of film-making, and how every film this year released in 3D has been amazing. This shows us two things about Mr. Cameron, that a) the only 3D movie he’s seen is Avatar (which even then wasn’t terrific) and b) that Mr. Cameron doesn’t understand what a renaissance in film-making means. A renaissance implies that the idea in question is good enough that it’s expected in all movies, but also good enough to change the way one can truly see a movie (not physically, but emotionally). Adding voice to movies could be considered one, as this gave each of the characters a little bit more humanity and character, as through their voice not only do we have a sense of familiarity as someone we’ve heard before, but the tone of the voice as well as how one pronounces words shows what type of person the character is. Color in movies could also be considered a renaissance, if a small one, as the color adds both a little bit of familiarity of things we’ve seen, but also because different colors can evoke different emotions, which shows us what type of tone the movie (or each scene for that matter) is trying to go for. The advancement in both special make-up effects and CGI could be even considered a renaissance, as this allowed us too truly see what type of image or creature the director wanted to create, which in turn shows us how the director’s mind works in these regards. But what of 3D? Does it hold any unique attribute that truly adds to the whole experience of watching movies? One could argue that depth is a feature, and while it’s true this could be used to make us see movies differently, I have yet to actually see a movie that uses 3D effectively (even Avatar’s 3D graphics weren’t that impressive). Perhaps one day someone can find the winning formula for making 3D movies, but this still doesn’t bypass the one problem we have with 3D, and that’s immersion. We can judge how much we enjoy a movie both by its quality as a movie when compared to other movies and also through how immersed we feel when watching the movie. Those movies where we feel like a true part of it can evoke some of the most awe inspiring and meaningful moments we have when looking back at film as a medium for art. If at any point this immersion breaks, then we as the audience member will no longer feel like we have experienced something new (in terms of how meaningful it was) and our general experience with the movie is not going to be that good. When you consider some of the pains one feels when watching 3D (headaches, eye-strain, uncomfortable glasses) then that person may take off those glasses for a second just to orient themselves, and when they catch a glimpse of what the 3D effect really looks like to the human eye, they see how fake and unnecessary it really is.

So, what’s the conclusion I’m trying to get at? Simple, while I have enjoyed most of James Cameron’s films, I still see his interview as a way to simply protect his beloved film-effect, and that his remarks later on was a simple attempt to try to boast the ability and necessity of something that even Cameron himself has yet to truly understand. Maybe a few years from now when 3D has the potential to actually make something of itself then James may indeed seem like the leader of a new wave of film-making, but until then we can see him for what he truly is- a child whose trying to seem tough by saying “Oh yeah? Well, my way of film-making is ten times as strong as your way of film-making!”

-Charles