Category Archives: Directed by James Cameron

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Director James Cameron opens Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a couple things the audience has to think about when watching the film and isn’t going to see or hear again for a while, so they need to have it in mind to recall it later. Because Terminator 2 is an amazing kind of sequel to the original–it’s calculated but to get its characters (and the audience) to certain places. Only there’s only one character from the first movie in it–Linda Hamilton–but there’s two actors back.

Anyway, the opening is a future apocalypse prologue with Hamilton narrating. Her narration is important later on, but only after a number of things happen, both in the plotting and the character development. You have to think back on it opening the film, which has a lot of emphasis on the Terminator robots, sans Arnold suits. Cameron invites comparisons to the original, he requests them of the audience. It’s bold and seemingly pointless; the first half of the movie has almost nothing to do with Hamilton. It’s Edward Furlong’s movie. Cameron has an excellent tone–he’s got this pre-teen lead who needs to do teen things but also be reduced to damsel in distress because he’s a kid after all. Terminator 2 always wants to emphasize the danger. Cameron’s never specific about how it’s directed at Furlong, but it really is just a movie about this crazy metal killing machine who looks like a cop trying to kill a little kid. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the bad Terminator.

But everyone’s generally fantastic. Furlong has some problems, but improves once the character gets going. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher give Furlong expository dialogue he can’t handle for the first half hour or so, but once Hamilton shows up, he gets much better. He doesn’t even need to be better, because all throughout those weaker Furlong scenes, Cameron is still doing amazing things. Terminator 2 is a celebration. It’s a celebration out of there getting to be a Terminator sequel; Cameron and Schwarzenegger get to have a great time, but they still take it seriously enough to turn in a fantastic film. They go out of their way to show off Schwarzenegger’s ability to handle the more difficult scenes after Hamilton arrives.

When Schwarzenegger and Hamilton meet in Terminator 2, the Terminator’s sunglasses come off and it’s a new movie all of a sudden. Even though Hamilton’s got narration–never too much, always frugal–and she’s in almost every scene (except Patrick’s scenes), she’s still something of a wild card character. She’s not just the mom. She’s got to have her moment. Terminator 2’s ground situation takes away Hamilton’s agency. When he brings it back, he demands the audience think about their expectations of what that agency really looks like versus what the audience wants of it in a Terminator movie.

And then he never does anything with it. He gets the story moving, bringing in Joe Morton (and an awesome S. Epatha Merkerson in a small part). Morton ends up on Team Arnold too. There’s a lot for Terminator 2 to do and Cameron is brisk about it. You need to pay attention. If you don’t, you probably still get a great action movie, but if you do, you get all this weird, wonderful stuff. Schwarzenegger and Furlong are cute together, of course, but there’s this great stuff between Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, Hamilton and Morton, Patrick and the audience. Cameron gives Patrick (and Schwarzenegger) these wonderful observation scenes. They can’t be characters because they’re robots, right? But what if they could be.

Technically, the film’s singular. Adam Greenberg’s photography is never flashy, always pragmatic; there’s a blue tint to Terminator 2, which ought to create narrative distance but instead it just makes the performances connect more. There’s no safe space, character development is going to happen in the strangest scenes. Greenberg’s also got some amazing composite shots during the action sequences; masterful work.

There’s great editing from Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris. Three different editors–I wonder if they handled the different phases of the film–but it’s never incongruous, always a graceful cuts. The editors help a lot with creating Schwarzenegger’s presence in the film.

Awesome Brad Fiedel score, awesome special effects. Terminator 2 is an assured, exciting, joyous success. Cameron is his most ambitious in the safest moments in the film. He pushes the action, he pushes the special effects, he pushes the performances. It’s a stunning film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James Cameron; written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Robert Patrick (T-1000), Joe Morton (Miles Dyson), S. Epatha Merkerson (Tarissa Dyson), Castulo Guerra (Enrique) and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman).


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T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996, John Bruno, James Cameron and Stan Winston)

Given his rather infamous history of personal problems, one’s got to wonder what having to humiliate himself by acting like a twelve year-old-when nineteen-did for Edward Furlong in T2 3-D: Battle Across Time. Especially since the short accompanied a theme park attraction, undoubtedly seen by more people than saw most of Furlong’s films at the time.

Furlong does not pull it off. He and Arnold Schwarzenegger reunite to do a greatest hits reel of Terminator 2, complete with familiar lines and action beats, motorcycling around a future wasteland.

Schwarzenegger hands himself admirably; he even has a few good one liners, which is shocking since the writing is so bad. Except on the introductory evil corporation commercial. It’s hilarious.

James Cameron loved this project, turning his most successful franchise at the time into buffoonery.

Seeing it “live” might help 3-D but I kind of doubt it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by John Bruno, James Cameron and Stan Winston; screenplay by Adam J. Bezark, Cameron and Gary Goddard, based on characters created by Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; directors of photography, Peter Anderson and Russell Carpenter; edited by Allen Cappuccilli, David de Vos and Shannon Leigh Olds; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, John Muto; produced by Chuck Comisky and Gary Goddard.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and Robert Patrick (T-1000).


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Xenogenesis (1978, James Cameron and Randall Frakes)

Xenogenesis doesn’t just have lengthy opening titles for a twelve minute short, it then has exposition explaining it as directors Cameron and Frakes pan over some sci-fi illustrations.

There are some amazing things about the short, but they’re all related to the stop motion animation. First there’s a giant robot maid, though its size is unclear. After it attacks the good guy, the girl shows up to save the day. Lots of Cameron archetypes pop up in Xenogenesis.

When the girl arrives, she’s in an awesome stop motion vehicle too. Those effects are very impressive but, otherwise, the short mostly bellyflops. For example, the sets are inept, not futuristic. The directors occasionally conceive good shots, but the bad compositing ruins them.

William Wisher Jr. is terrible in the lead; Margaret Undiel is slightly better as his female companion.

It’s a nearly worthwhile short, especially when considering its technical values.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by James Cameron and Randall Frakes; production designer, Cameron.

Starring William Wisher Jr. (Raj) and Margaret Undiel (Laurie).


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Aliens (1986, James Cameron), the special edition

I always think of Aliens as a precisely choreographed ballet. Director Cameron moves his large cast–though it does winnow over time–around in these cramped sets and everyone has something to do; Cameron draws the viewer’s attention to one character, but the rest are in motion setting up the next moment in the scene.

Watching the film this time, I noticed how Cameron’s subtle introductions to each character later define them. Sure, there’s a handful of characters who don’t get much focus, but about nine do. It’s like a ballet on wires.

Cameron’s script is also able to keep up its urgency throughout. The titular aliens don’t even appear at the start of the second act; Cameron holds them off as long as possible, which later lets Aliens constantly break expectations. Cameron organically sets up and knocks down various possibilities for the film… all while following some definite horror genre standards.

Aliens is meticulous–Ray Lovejoy’s editing is truly astounding, whether he’s passing time with a fade or perfectly cutting the action scenes. Adrian Biddle’s photography’s excellent–as is the effects work–but Lovejoy’s editing is simply wow.

All of the principals are excellent. Obviously Sigourney Weaver, but Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Paul Reiser are great too. Carrie Henn is fantastic in her difficult, understated scream princess role. I love how the script implies character relationships developing offscreen. It’s wonderful.

Cameron achieves a major success. Aliens is exhilarating. Like most great films, it gets better with every viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron, based on a story by Cameron, David Giler and Walter Hill and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by James Horner; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Carrie Henn (Newt), Michael Biehn (Hicks), Paul Reiser (Burke), Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Hudson), Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez), William Hope (Lt. Gorman), Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone), Mark Rolston (Drake), Ricco Ross (Frost) and Paul Maxwell (Van Leuwen).


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