Tag Archives: James Cameron

Fanboy fiddles

The rules of film publicity went out the window in the late Nineties when fanboy websites like Ain’t It Cool News started publicizing movie-set gossip and the results of the surveys studios distributed among audiences at preview screenings. I remember that when James Cameron’s Titanic was getting that dreaded “bad word of mouth within the industry” buzz, AICN had been reporting that preview audience responses were going through the roof, which made the film’s phenomenal success a lot less startling.

Since then, it seems to me, filmmakers have been responding to Internet fanboy espionage in three ways. Some, like for example George Lucas, tried to block it out completely, with spotty results. Others, like Peter Jackson, welcomed fanboy attention and catered to it with video diaries and on-set visits — when the first Lord of the Rings film opened, there was a remarkable amount of good will in the fan base.

The third, much smaller group, consists — as far as I can tell — of Brad Bird and J.J. Abrams, who are playing the fanboys like fiddles over their upcoming projects. Bird, who directed The Iron Giant and two of Pixar’s best features before moving successfully into live-action films with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, is using selective leaks to generate levels of fanboy analysis that would do Borges proud. And J.J. Abrams is using spinoffs like the comic book prequel to Star Trek Into Darkness to keep everyone talking. It even amuses me, and I couldn’t care less about a new Star Trek movie.        

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Class after death

Aside from an urge to see Titanic and A Night to Remember one more time, I have no great personal interest in the 100th anniversary of the big ship’s demise. But it does bring to mind a trip I took to Nova Scotia in the mid-Nineties, which included a stay in Halifax and a visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. I went to the museum with no particular expectations and was startled to find the permanent exhibit of artifacts taken from the scene of the disaster: deck chairs and more personal items, plucked from the frigid water by the rescue crews that departed from Halifax. The remains of most of the victims were buried in three Halifax cemeteries.

James Cameron’s 1997 film has taken plenty of hits for its sometimes clumsy storytelling and cauliflower-eared dialogue, but even if he did allow the film to be released with Celine Dion dripping all over the end credits, Cameron did plenty of things right. No other Titanic film (and it’s surprising to see how many there have been) deals so unblinkingly with the way class affected each passenger’s chances of survival as the ocean liner went down.

The class distinctions continued even after death. The bodies of first class passengers taken from the ocean were returned in coffins, while second-class and steerage corpses were transported in canvas sacks. I hadn’t known that before visiting the Maritime Museum display, and it’s still one of the first things I think about whenever the disaster is mentioned. A class system so relentless that it could even take away the dignity of the deceased. It does make one a little less patient with all the mythology about stiff upper lips.

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The Fuhrer is furious

I’ve already suggested that James Cameron, who leaned a little too heavily on a Harlan Ellison TV script while writing The Terminator, may get into the same kind of hot water with Poul Anderson’s family over Avatar, his upcoming hypetacular. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who was a bit underwhelmed by the teaser trailer.

Of course, Adolf Hitler’s an excitable sort. Here’s how he reacted to the news of Michael Jackson’s death.

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Call him cribber

The wheels of hype are starting to turn for Avatar, a science fiction adventure, set for release in December, that will mark James Cameron’s return to big-ticket filmmaking after breaking the bank with Titanic in 1997. The advance word has focused on the film’s 3-D technology, which is supposed to be amazing, but now that I’ve seen an outline of the plot I’m afraid there may be a low-tech storytelling problem waiting to trip Cameron up.   

It’s pretty widely known that The Terminator, Cameron’s 1984 commercial breakthrough, got him into hot water with SF writer Harlan Ellison, who accused the director of plagiarizing “Soldier,” one of the scripts Ellison wrote for the original Outer Limits series. Ellison walked away with an undisclosed cash settlement and an acknowledgement on the closing credits of the cable and video releases of the film.

Now here comes Avatar, in which a paralyzed man is telepathically linked to a genetically engineered body that enables him to interact with alien creatures on a planet inhospitable to humans. I can’t help but be reminded of “Call Me Joe,” a classic 1957 story by the late Poul Anderson, in which a paraplegic man is telepathically linked to a genetically engineered body that enables him to live on and explore the surface of Jupiter. The science aspects of the story are pretty quaint now — not a whole lot was understood about Jupiter at the time the story was written — but the focus on the hero’s bitterness over his physical condition, and the joy he takes in his powerful Jovian avatar, gives the story considerable punch.

I like Cameron’s films. I also appreciate the fact that he knows his way around the SF genre and doesn’t try to obscure the fact with hocus pocus about Joseph Campbell and ancient myths, a la George Lucas. The leaked plot details of Avatar show that Cameron has taken the “Call Me Joe” premise in a direction all his own, but that was also true of The Terminator, as even Ellison has acknowledged. Poul Anderson is no longer with us, but a friend tells me Anderson’s widow and daughter are very much so. With the film’s release half a year away, Cameron might want to take the time to do some bridge-building with the Anderson family, and thereby save himself some embarrassment, if not money.

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