It seems like every year, there’s at least one movie that manages to take fandom by storm. We’re talking about that particular year’s main event moment at the movies; the one that made you forget everything else that happened that year and let you revel in its wonder at the screen. One obvious example of this would be last year’s The Dark Knight, which ended up not so much a movie, but a pop culture phenomenon. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Spider-Man held their own similar moments this past decade, and were the undisputed champions of those particular years.
The difference with 2009 though, is that I think the throne is still up for grabs, even at this late date. Oh sure, Transformers 2 raked in the money, but other than money-wise, the thing was a bit of a travesty to put it lightly. Critically, the movie was met with the same enthusiasm as getting kicked in the face, and I can’t say that word of mouth was terribly positive. I’m just hoping that 2009 isn’t the year of Transformers 2, because what a sad story that would tell about this past movie year.
Of course, the movie that I’m hoping ends up capturing the hearts and minds of millions is Avatar. Now I know early buzz on the movie was mixed, what with the blue cat people freaking some people out and thinking the movie didn’t look good, but low and behold now that some people have seen it, a lot of opinions seemed to have changed. It’s as if people forgot the negative buzz around James Cameron’s last epic, before it actually hit theaters, became the highest grossing movie of all time and won armfuls of Oscar statuettes.
I’m not saying that Avatar is going to make that type splash, or that it’ll even come close to The Dark Knight in terms of impact, but Cameron isn’t a film maker that I take lightly. I mean, directors tend to hit stumbling blocks every once in a while, such as A.I. for Spielberg or apparently Peter Jackson with The Lovely Bones, but with Cameron, the guy’s record is pretty close to spotless. When directors have been consistently making good movies going on three decades, you tend to take notice.
That’s not to say he’s a completely perfect director. His gift for imagination and ideas also comes with a lead foot on occasion when it comes to dialogue, and subtlety isn’t a trick in his repertoire that he pulls out very often, but this is a director looking at the big picture. He wants you to have walked away from his movies with a sense of awe more than just being able to remember dialogue. He wants you to get caught in his films moment by moment, the ebb and flow of his movies taking you to places you hardly ever expect them to. That’s the magic of James Cameron.
So in honor of the director’s first release in 12 years, I present to you my favorite James Cameron moments. Hopefully, I get a truckload of new favorites when I get to see Avatar this weekend.
Rob’s Favorite James Cameron Moments
10. Watership Down
Alright, so maybe this is more than just one scene, but it’s tough to make a list like this and not include Titanic in there somewhere. I’d never name Cameron’s Oscar winner as my favorite of his movies, or even my fifth favorite of his movies, but for all the movie’s problems with character development and dialogue, I can’t say anything bad about the movie’s inevitable conclusion. This is one of the best showstopper sequences ever constructed, and solidifies the movie as a technical masterpiece. This EPIC filmmaking on a scale that few very film makers could truly pull off; he thrills you with the disaster at hand, but also makes you feel the pain in a way that a movie like 2012 is never able to pull off. Now, if Cameron could just combine this giant style of movie making with his more traditional escapist adventure.
9. Close Encounters
When I think of Cameron as a director, this is always one of the first sequences I think of. First off, I can say unequivocally that Aliens is without a doubt my favorite James Cameron movie. The midway point between his two Terminator films in action film making shows a film maker full of intensity, but still having to be creative with what he’s able to do because he doesn’t have all the keys to the kingdom just yet.
Case in point is this sequence.
Walled in a room with only a few survivors of the space marine detachment that originally accompanied her to the planet, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has to help them battle what seems like hundreds of aliens pouring in on them through the ceilings and floors. The siege is an incredibly put together sequence, and shows Cameron at the top of his game when it comes to staging his action and editing it all together. It really looks like there’s this unending wave of monsters coming to devour our heroes, and you could swear you’d seen an entire army of the creatures, but it turns out the director did it all with just six costumed stunt performers.
That’s not just for this sequence; he had six suits for the whole movie. Aliens isn’t just my favorite Cameron movie, but one of my favorite Action films ever, and this scene is a testament to why that is every time I’m lucky enough to sit down and watch it.
8. Jamie Lee
Film: True Lies
Alright, so just to show that Cameron isn’t just about action and destruction, Jamie Lee Curtis’ striptease in True Lies is the funniest scene the director has probably ever put onscreen, but it’s probably one of the most successfully erotic sequences I’ve ever seen. Jamie Lee Curtis is amazing in this film as the mousy wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Harry Tasker, but she virtually steals the movie here, outclassing most of the bombastic moments the film has to offer.
7. Nice Night for a Walk
Film: The Terminator
I’m pretty sure no one really knew what this movie was going to be about when they first saw it. I’m sure the mumbo jumbo about sending robots from the future sounded like good cheesy fun to many audiences, but no one was probably going to take it seriously, especially since this starred the title character from the Conan movies, the second one stinking up the place that very same year. That is of course, until the sight of a naked Arnold walking up to some fierce looking punks and absolutely obliterating them.
Smartly, as much as this movie is an action masterpiece, Cameron constructs a lot of this film as if it were a horror movie, its monster the giant man from Austria with the funny accent. As he destroys these three, you get to see what this monster is capable of, and what our heroes are up against. If the Terminator can do this to these hard street punks, what chance does a waitress have against it? It turns out, quite a bit. This is the first look you get at the destruction to come, not just in this movie, from several to come down the road and our world would never been the same, no matter what time period it was.
6. Now FIGHT!!!
Film: The Abyss
So yeah, subtlety isn’t exactly Mr. Cameron’s strong suit. Time and again we see what should be some real emotional stuff on screen, but it doesn’t always work like it should. With that said, I dare you to find anyone that isn’t moved by Ed Harris’ ‘Bud’ Brigman as he tries to bring his estranged wife Lindsay (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) back to life after her harrowing attempt to save the lives of everyone aboard their deep sea disaster. This is emotion as Cameron has never been able to bring to the screen before or since. The Abyss is infamous for being one of the toughest shoots of all time, but getting a genuine human moment like this out of it makes for an experience that’s hard to forget.
5. Aliens Among Us
A woman and a young girl she has become responsible for, tons of water, and two hungry face-huggers. Hitchcock would be proud of Cameron’s work here; pitting two of our unarmed heroines against two puppets in a locked room, and making it look like a million bucks. Perhaps the most tense horror scene in the entire movie, this is a textbook example of how to ratchet up tension and how to make it look awesome by playing on our natural subconscious fears.
4. I Married Rambo
Film: True Lies
Harry Tasker: First I’m gonna use you as a human shield, then I gonna kill this guard over there, with the Patterson trocar on the table. Then I was thinking about breaking your neck.
Samir: And how are you going to do all that?
Harry: You know my handcuffs?
Harry: [hold his hands up] I picked them.
So begins the most kick ass sequence from one of Cameron’s most action packed movies. While I do love the James Bond opening, the horse chase and the awesome jet fighter finale, there’s just no topping watching a machinegun-toting Arnold Schwarzenegger running through some terrorist scum like I hot knife through butter.
Let me tell you folks, as someone that is a bit fed up with PG-13 action movies and how commonplace they are these days, it’s incredible to watch the zest with which Cameron and his star throw some R-rated violence at you. It’s as if Cameron woke up about the same time Harry Tasker did and remember he had some leeway in the violence department and decided to go for it as hard and loud as possible. When all is said and done, True Lies was Arnie’s last truly great ride as the king of action cinema, and it’s too bad we never got to see him go for broke like this again.
3. Have You Seen This Boy?
Film: Terminator 2: Judgment Day
If you say the words “action movie”, “James Cameron”, or “Arnold Schwarzenegger”, it’s tough to find a film more synonymous with any of those than Terminator 2. The movie defined the ’90s Action movie more than any other, and this truck chase is one of its most jaw-dropping moments. You are absolutely pinned to your seat as Robert Patrick’s T-1000 tries to level the dirt bike driven by John Connor (Edward Furlong), only to be enthralled when Arnold’s T-101 comes to the rescue.
This is about as iconic as action movies get; a shotgun-toting, bike-riding Arnold blasting away against the rig driving T-1000 while trying to save the future of humanity. Cameron’s chase is so kinetic it almost makes you come out of your seat. Michael Bay wishes he could make a film this exciting.
2. “I‘ll be back“
You know why this sequence from the original gets the nod from the truck sequence from its illustrious sequel? Because Cameron is able to pack just as much excitement and mayhem into Arnold tearing the house down on a police station full of cops in a film with a $6 million budget as he is with a film that cost ten times as much. You can feel the pain and fear on the faces as the cyborg from the future slaughters all in his path to get to Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), and Cameron doesn’t let you off the hook until Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and Sarah make their escape.
Cameron was a nobody until this picture hit cinemas, and afterward it seemed like the sky was the limit, and he hasn’t looked back since. This sequence is one of the reasons why the director’s stock started to skyrocket so high. With one of cinema’s greatest villains, plucky heroes and wall to wall carnage, Cameron showed promise that would lead him to superstar director status.
1. All Hail the Queen
Remember that promise I told you that Cameron showed when he wowed audiences with The Terminator? Aliens is that promise fulfilled. This is the director at his absolute best; his best hero ever, an epic battle between good and evil, a brilliant fusion of special effects and editing, and more excitement than ten other action films put together. Despite what Oscar or box office receipts may say, this is James Cameron’s ultimate achievement and moment onscreen.
We’re talking about a movie monster that is the stuff of nightmares; a queen alien, 12 feet tall and as scary as these types of creatures come. Designed by Stan Winston, the puppet makes mincemeat out of CGI counterparts in successive films. The queen in Alien Vs Predator is a complete joke and a laughing stock when compared to the images garnered by Cameron’s original incredible colossal monstrosity.
Incredible would also be the word to describe Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. I know there’s a lot of love for the tough-broad antics of Linda Hamilton in T2, but she comes off as one note compared to Ripley, who garnered Weaver a deserved Oscar nomination for this role. Just as it is with Arnold as the T-800, Weaver’s Ripley is iconic stuff, and her moments here as she desperately battles the queen alien in a giant robotic suit is the highpoint of her awesome career.
Putting it all together is a director using the entirety of his gifts, coupled with a score from James Horner that I’ve heard a friend call “The most exciting music in history”, and putting it all together in as exciting a fashion as possible. The battle for her new child has Ripley taking on an alien behemoth out for revenge, and the results could not be more phenomenal.
Alright, so that’s it for this week. Hope you guys all go out and all end up loving Avatar.
Robert Sutton feels the most at home when he's watching some movie scumbag getting blown up, punched in the face, or kung fu'd to death, especially in that order. He's a founding writer for the movies section of Insidepulse.com, featured in his weekly column R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema as well as a frequent reviewer of DVDs and Blu-rays. Also, he's a proud Sony fanboy, loves everything Star Wars and Superman related and hopes to someday be taken seriously by his friends and family.