Monday, 7 December 2009

This Time...It's War: Cameron Vs Cameron

So, if the thought of James Cameron's upcoming Avatar doesn't get your pulse racing, either your adrenal glands aren't working properly...or you're not a true film fan. The much touted release of 'the movies' mad toymaker' (to quote Time's Richard Corliss) has been an astonishing twelve years in the making, costing somewhere in the region of $300 million. Hopefully it can reward our investment and patience with its much hyped mix of 3D CGI action and real actors.

To sate your appetite in the meantime, here's a little Cameron themed contest. Who will win? Will you start the fans, please! (Sorry, that's The Crystal Maze - now, there's a show dying for a Cameron-themed remake...)

Round One: The Women

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) Vs Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)

To be fair, all of Cameron's movies feature spunky female characters (something he attributes to his mother) but the remarkable and pleasing thing is how he never labours the fact. In Cameron's world, women are equal to men and that's an end of it, while also harbouring strong maternal bonds (something Neil Marshall's Cameron-riffing The Descent also highlighted). And you don't get more significant than the mother of the saviour of the human race (Sarah Connor) and tough as nails Ellen Ripley, plugging xenomorphs and overcoming the grief of her daughter's death while in hypersleep.

And the winner is...? Ellen Ripley: This may be a wee bit controversial as Cameron didn't create the character but in terms of expanding on the fierce/fragile heroine of the original, adding both nuance and grit, he transforms an iconic character into something arguably more haunting. Weaver's statuesque, commanding authority was never better.

Round Two: The Effects

T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) Vs The Sinking (Titanic)

One of the true technical pioneers of recent action/sci-fi cinema, Cameron is reported to be ruthlessly exacting in getting what he wants (see the behind the scenes footage of the Aliens shoot for proof). However, the results on-screen are plain to see; it just shows, a lot of hard work goes a long way. Also key to the man's movies is the artistry at work in the effects, blending miniatures, CGI and model-work to seamless effect but always in service of the narrative. The two above examples highlight that beautifully. Are you listening, Michael Bay?

And the winner is...? The T-1000: Titanic may be drawn on a larger scale (astonishingly so) but Robert Patrick's shape-shifting villain giving Arnie a run for his money is still extraordinary after 18 years. For effects to hold up that well after that long, it means they demand special recognition. Truly the only other rival to its 90s SFX crown is Jurassic Park. It's all in the little details: an explosion reflecting off the liquid metal surface; the fluid horror as it morphs into someone you know; a blunt instrument reforming into the shape of a human arm...

Round Three: The Score

Aliens (James Horner) Vs The Abyss (Alan Silvestri)

Forget the sappy melodrama of Titanic; these two soundtracks are where it's at. As tyrannical in the recording studio as he was on-set, Cameron's insistent meddling with James Horner's Oscar nominated Aliens led it to be chopped and changed in the film but it does evoke a brilliantly creepy atmosphere, before exploding in some of the best action work of his career, the London Symphony Orchestra going full bore in cues such as Bishop's Countdown (a trailer favourite). Alan Silvestri reportedly had a less difficult time on The Abyss (if Cameron's glowing album notes are anything to go by), evoking the both the beauty and horror of the undersea fantasy before a magnificent choral climax.

And the winner is...? The Abyss: Not only does Silvestri's score make a bigger impression on the film than Horner's, ranging from the gentle expressionism of The Pseudopod to eerie, watery synths to stupendous choir and orchestra, it's also the highpoint of the composer's career to date. Horner went on to bigger and better things but Silvestri's grasp of disparate musical elements seals The Abyss as his masterpiece.

Round Four: The Wit

You're Fired! (True Lies) Vs Gimme a Cigarette (The Terminator)

Never one to clog up his films with pompousness (OK so the earthy Oirish vs the oily upper class in Titanic comes close), Cameron has always alternated tension with a solid laugh or two, bringing his frequently outlandish concepts down to Earth with a bump. It also engages the audience at heart with the narrative, with the above examples giving reign to either the ridiculous (Arnie rescuing his daughter from Art Malik in True Lies) or the subtle (Paul Winfield's strung out cop drinking fag-strewn coffee in The Terminator).

And the winner is...? You're Fired! No, Alan Sugar's not in a supporting role but the sublimely OTT climax of Cameron's most tongue-in-cheek, humourous film is magnificent in its self-aware stupidity, boasting one of the all-time great baddie dispatches (death by hanging-from-missile). True Lies isn't a complete success but you're compelled to keep watching - and it finally rewards patience with this showdown to top all showdowns.

Round Five: The Set-Pieces

Helicopter Chase (Terminator 2) Vs The Queen (Aliens)

Cameron is a master of the set-piece, staging thrilling extravaganzas of chaos and destruction - see the splitting of the ship in Titanic or the police-station shootout in The Terminator. The above choices are noteworthy in extending narrative tension in wildly opposing ways: T2 all choppers flying under bridges as our heroes try to outrun the T-1000, Aliens, unbearably creepy fear, as the edits build closer and closer to the reveal of 'the Mama', the Alien Queen herself.

And the winner is...? The Queen: It's not viscerally exciting like its T2 rival clip but in terms of generating potent fear laced with uneasy subtext (motherhood; children) and emotional pathos, this is what Cameron's superb sequel to Alien has been building to all along. Be sure to catch the directors cut of Aliens to see the fleshed-out meta-plot in full.

Round Six: The Icons

The Terminator (The Terminator) Vs T-101 (Terminator 2)

Pitting the same characters against one another? Kinda pointless? Ah, well the key lies in the differing audience perceptions of Arnie's status. After all, The Terminator was what established him as the beefcake 80s megastar, whereas T2 both turned the character on its head and humanised it though the T-101's paternal relationship with young John Connor. The sight of Arnie in leathers wielding a shotgun ceased to be scary. Instead, it was damn cool

And the winner is...? The Terminator: But the winner is the one that started it all for Ahnuld, the gritty, 'tech-noir' sci-fi thriller from 1984. Without The Terminator we'd have no Predator; no Total Recall; heck, no Jingle All the Way (OK that's garbage but still)


So where will Avatar rank in terms of music, set-pieces, performances? Only a week till we find out!

No comments:

Post a Comment