January 01, 2010

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Welcome to 2010. While most of the world is focused on James Cameron's latest special effects extravaganza ("Avatar," AKA "Dances With Smurfs"), I thought I'd start out the new year by going over some of Cameron's earlier efforts.  Cameron's first film job involved building miniature sets, and supervising process-projection on Roger Corman's "Battle Beyond the Stars".  Not a great movie by any means, but Roger Corman once again launches the career of a future Hollywood heavyweight.  Cameron's first directorial effort was still within the area of low-budget genre thrillers -- "Piranha 2: The Spawning". He was originally hired to be the special effects director, but the director quit before production started, and he inherited the big chair.

From such humble beginnings comes greatness -- or at least, extreme commercial success.  Cameron wrote and directed 1984's "The Terminator," starring a future California Governor.  Not much needs to be said about this, other then the original "Terminator" should not be confused with the big-budget sequel.  The original "Terminator" was a relatively low-budget affair, very much a natural successor to "Battle Beyond the Stars" (remember those cool robotic miniatures scenes in "Terminator"?  Yeah.  Thank Roger Corman for giving Cameron a shot at making miniatures.)  It was a big hit, and gave Cameron the street credibility he needed to step up to the next budgetary rung on the ladder.  Twentieth Century Fox handed off their successful SF/horror franchise to them, and he delivered what many feel is the best movie in the Alien Series of films.  With two big hits under his belt, Cameron continued to push the SFX and logistical possibilities of movie making to their limits.

"The Abyss" was legendary for its underwater sets, underwater shooting, and technology developed specifically to shoot this epic.  It also had some cool "Alien" CGI imagery, which Cameron put to good use in his next film.  "Terminator 2" was a big budget extravaganza . . . the definition of Hollywood blockbuster. Big stars.  Big explosions.  Big budget (Over $100 million . . . the first movie to have that size budget).  It also featured cutting-edge special effects that one year later would be incorporated into music videos and commercials everywhere.  Remember the morphing Terminator and how revolutionary the effects technology seemed at the time?  What really was revolutionary was just how quickly Cameron's morphing technology made it out into the wider world.  After "T2", Cameron had only two other movies come out in the 90's: an Arnold vehicle, called "True Lies," and a little chick-flick that somehow managed to have a budget of over $200 million, called "Titanic".  Now that "Avatar" has "redefined" movie-making, expect to see "Avatar" CGI character technology in every music video and cell phone commercial in 2010 and 2011.  (I'm not jaded or anything.)

But if Cameron's career has proven anything, it's that the new cutting edge FX of his movies quickly become commonplace.  Cameron keeps pushing those FX boundaries, and that's all well and good.  But what holds up over the years?  All of these movies, of course, are available on DVD so you can check them out for yourself. For my money, "Terminator" and "The Abyss" hold up remarkably well.  For some reason, I like "Aliens" less and less every time I see it, so sometime about 5 years ago, I stopped re-watching it. Your millage may vary. "T2," even more so then "Aliens," hasn't aged very well for me.  I loved it when it came out; Linda Hamilton ruled the screen, and was one of the original "chicks who kick ass".  But.  I don't know . . . it's just not doing it for me any more.  "True Lies" has either aged spectacularly well, or horribly, depending on your views of Arab caricatures and thrill rides involving terrorism.  "Titanic"?  Well,  I am one of the only people on the planet who has not watched "Titanic".  I'll let you, the readers, make your own judgments about that one.  Even more embarrassing then "Titanic" . . . I have to admit that I have never seen "Piranha 2: The Spawning".  This is doubly embarrassing because it includes in its cast Lance Henicksen. I need to run out and watch that. Right now.  I'll talk to you next month when the world isn't going crazy about Cameron, and get you caught up on all the new releases of early 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment