Monday, August 30, 2010

JAMES CAMERON WAGS HIS FINGER... IN 3D!


UPDATED 8/31/10 1:07 p.m.


Always one to be counted on to mistake technological achievement and advances for art, James Cameron got back on his high horse this week regarding his latest fetish, 3D, all in service of the hype surrounding Avatar’s ho-hum big-screen rerelease. The Biggest Movie of All Time has been retrofitted with more Footage of Pandora and some extended Na’vi nookie, in case you didn’t get enough during the original version’s near-three-hour running time. And Anne Thompson reports today on a conversation published online in Vanity Fair in which Cameron wants everyone to know that he shouldn’t be blamed for the pervasiveness of 3D and its relative lack of quality.

I love Anne’s lead-in: “Much like God looking down on Adam and Eve’s bad behavior and saying: ‘I created them, but I am not responsible for what they do,’ similarly, James Cameron continues to argue that he may have led the 3-D revolution but he is not responsible for what other people do.” The entirety of Cameron’s interview spiked my tolerance for blowhard movie directors and their impatience for those who don’t have $300 million to spend on a single project, or the time and/or inclination in between gigs to develop new techno-toys for use in developing said director’s newest budget-busting excesses—in other words, business as usual for Cameron. I was tempted to let Thompson’s account be my entire reference point here, but it turns out the Vanity Fair piece is classic Cameron and as such should be cautiously experienced. The director is rather generous in bestowing praise on movies like Alice in Wonderland (a 3-D conversion) and How to Train Your Dragon (originally authored for 3D), but he wants you to know that the current glut of 3D (and, presumably, the ticket-gouging that comes along with it) should not be laid at his feet. “There are a number of good movies that are being natively authored in 3-D that are coming out,” says the director, “But what you saw was sort of the gold rush. After Avatar, people tried to cash in.” To these ears and eyes, this sounds awfully close to a claim, after having developed a 3-D technology that is obviously meant to resist market pigeonholing as a trend or a novelty, that he did it best and anything that was green-lit as a 3D film in Avatar’s Academy Award-winning wake should be seen as opportunistic and unworthy.

Cameron then pats the audience on the head and offers this jewel: “The consumer needs to be aware that just because a movie is in 3-D doesn’t mean that it’s good.” This may be news to some high-priced film directors, but listen, just because a movie is on film is no guarantee that it’s going to be good. If audience reactions to the glut of trailers for 3D productions that can be seen before any given 3D feature are an indication, there may already be the smell of blood in the water. The flattening out of that market and the increased audience resistance to paying $16 to see a movie while wearing clunky glasses that they probably wouldn’t even pony up for in 2D (I’m thinking Wes Craven’s My Soul to take as an example pulled out of the clear blue) is audible in the rumblings of impatience that greet most of these new previews.

And speaking of blood in the water, one would think that there was not a horse high enough for the Oscar winner to climb upon when pontificating about a certain current 3D hit to which he has the most tangential of connections. The Vanity Fair writer asks Cameron if he experienced any sense of nostalgia upon the release of Piranha 3D, and this is the director’s typically reserved response:

“Zero. You’ve got to remember: I worked on Piranha 2 for a few days and got fired off of it; I don’t put it on my official filmography. So there’s no sort of fond connection for me whatsoever. In fact, I would go even farther and say that... I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D. When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity and at the last gasp of their financial lifespan, they did a 3-D version to get the last few drops of blood out of the turnip. And that’s not what’s happening now with 3-D. It is a renaissance—right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D. Martin Scorsese is making a film in 3-D. Disney’s biggest film of the year—Tron: Legacy—is coming out in 3-D. So it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Hubris, anyone? First of all, Cameron would like you to know that he is one filmmaker who doesn’t treasure his experience in the Roger Corman stable and that he does not consider Piranha 2: The Spawning (full official title) “A James Cameron Film.” Of course it is perfectly within his rights to take that stand. It would be an even more powerful stand to take, however, if Cameron’s subsequent filmography wasn’t, apart from the escalating budget of each new project over the last, rooted in precisely the same kind of exploitation movie rehash philosophy as is Piranha 2: The Spawning. Cameron’s first hit picture The Terminator was dogged by convincing claims of plagiarism launched by Harlan Ellison, and more than one observer noted the clear resemblance of Avatar’s primal narrative to those of Broken Arrow, Dances With Wolves and several others. The recycling remains the same, but the argument Cameron might make, if he were to admit ever watching other movies and thus open himself up to charges that he cribbed from them, would probably be along the lines that the recycling is made more palatable because of the outrageous money spent on each new variant on the same old thing to make it gleam and glisten as if new and original.


My favorite nugget re all this is the company line when someone, in this case the VF writer, notes Avatar’s apparent parallels to other big, familiar Hollywood movies. “I’m not really influenced by other movies that much,” Cameron says in the interview. “To me, storytelling is organic to the story you’re trying to tell. Which is not to say that there weren’t movies during that time period that I liked. I’m a big movie fan, but I tend not to be overly influenced by other films.” I think those comments speak plainly enough for themselves (except for that bit about storytelling being organic to the story you’re trying to tell—- Would anyone care to take a crack at interpreting that?) I can't think of another Hollywood director who has so garishly flourished by employing this recyclable narrative philosophy; perhaps the persistent existence of Piranha 2 is too sharp a reminder even for Cameron of where his roots really lie.

But this part is really good: “I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but (Piranha 3D) is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D. The tenor of this “we are not amused” finger-wagging couldn’t be more absurd even if it wasn’t coming from the priest of high culture responsible for True Lies and the avant-garde success d’estime also known as Titanic. What is inherently offensive about acknowledging the cheap gimmickry at the heart of a currently popular technological process whose roots in exploitation cinema were designed to counter-program the offering of a new beast—- television—- over 60 years ago? Cameron avoids such acknowledgment because it doesn’t play into his delusion that he’s reinventing or somehow refining cinema with his bag of tricks. Instead he worries aloud that these kinds of 3D sequels and horror remakes are nothing but the last refuge of the cinematic scoundrel whose only concern is trying to wring a few more drops of blood from a creatively expired turnip (a tack the creator of Terminator 2 would never take). But then he does an about face and describes the current cycle of 3D movies as representing a renaissance— a renaissance which presumably would not include Piranha 3D and the upcoming Jackass 3D. “Right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D,” Cameron claims, and even in the context of mentioning Tron: Legacy and Scorsese’s upcoming 3D film of Hugo Cabret as examples, this comment is notable primarily as a variation on a central theme of his entire career, that being a specious equation of the biggest and the best. Really, it’s hard to conclude much of anything from these self-inflating comments beyond the fact that, on or off the technological cutting edge, James Cameron seems to be a bit of a 3D snob.


When I read the Vanity Fair interview, I immediately flashed on Stephanie Zacharek’s funny and sharp-eyed appreciation of Piranha 3D, a movie to which she neither condescended nor indicated that she had to engage in slumming in order to write about. And I think she offers the best rejoinder to Cameron’s 3D elitism, even if it was written a week before Cameron held court at Vanity Fair:

“And you may be wondering if the 3D effects actually make Piranha 3D any scarier or more fun than your random 2D horror cheapie. The answer is probably not — and yet the 3D effects here work because they’re a joyous exaggeration of everything we go to a movie like this hoping to see. Big boobs coming right at ya, bloody stumps waving hither and thither: Piranha 3D has it all, and it confirms my conviction that with rare exceptions (Henry Selick’s marvelous Coraline being one of them), 3D technology should be reserved for high-quality motion pictures like this one, not trumpeted as the “immersive” future of all moviegoing. Piranha 3D wasn’t 10 years in the making, and it shows. Thank God.”

A.O. Scott may have had one eyebrow arched to the hilt when he ended his review of the 3D fish feast with the exclamation, “Welcome to the future of cinema” (one reprinted sans sarcasm in the newest spate of newspaper ads). But I prefer a market for 3D that risks oversaturation if it can, even for a brief time, make room for such diverse 3D outings as How to Train Your Dragon, Despicable Me, Piranha 3D, Jackass 3D, Joe Dante’s The Hole, Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret and Tron: Legacy, all films I’m either excited about or excited to see. Cameron’s brand of lowest common denominator blockbuster-itis has little or nothing to do with the kind of individualistic visions that are getting these other 3D films realized on the big screen. He’s obsessed with propagating his own legacy of bland, derivative, mass-appeal fantasy and it’s this kind of pandering that will turn 3D into a bore, despite all the fussiness over places like Pandora, faster than any low-budget shocker which has the smarts to remember why 3D was fun in the first place. If a future of cinema populated by upcoming Avatar sequels is the director’s ideal option-- doing his best George Lucas impersonation (“It was always meant to be a trilogy!”), he warns us in the interview they are coming—well, it’s one that will have to go on without my participation. Welcome to the future of cinema, indeed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to e-mail some friends and finalize plans to see Hollywood treasure Jerry O’Connell get his dick chewed off for the third time. Au revoir, summer!

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UPDATED 8/31/10 1:07 p.m.: It's on! Earlier today Piranha 3D producer Mark Canton laid out a 1,400-word response to Cameron's Vanity Fair comments over at Movieline, and it looks to be a rip-snorting read. The tone of Canton's response is most probably summed up by a quote from the letter that Movieline uses as part of their header: “Jim, are you kidding or what?" Gee, it's just about lunch time, and here's something compelling to read over my celery sticks and peanut butter. Thanks, Movieline!

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19 comments:

Dean Treadway said...

I love it. Everything I want to say about this self-carnivorous filmmaker is said here. I listened into Cameron's interview on MOVIE GEEKS UNITED this past week, and was somewhat appalled at his uppity sniveling at doing smaller movies (and by that, I mean, ones that cost less than $300 million to make). He said if he can't do the biggest thing imaginable, he'd rather be out exploring the ocean or inventing some new gizmojigamacraken. I say he should go on right a-damn-head and get out amongst the fishes. Because, for sure, the movies--3D or no--would be better off left to the people who actually LIKE making and seeing them. Judging from that AVATAR script, he's lost his taste for the real meat of the process. Great article, Dennis.

Vanwall said...

Nicely put, and by more than one voice. I'm not a 3-D fan yet, I always have had problems with unusually annoying visuals, but a pre-emptive Cameron-ism about the look of anyone else's film, or film-to-be, is ludicrous in the extreme, coming from one of the most un-original film makers ever.

BTW, I always thought "Terminator" was much closer to Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" sci-fi then Ellison's.

Matt-suzaka said...

Boy, does that man know how to get me enraged. He must not have heard of Beowulf...you know, the first real 3D film that really started the trend. Awesome post.

Greg said...

It is a renaissance—right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D.

Ahahahahahaaaaa. Hahaha... oh my... [catches breath]... [inhales deeply]... bwahahahahaaaaaahaaahaa! Ahaaahaahahahaaha... Oh man... whew... thank you, James, I needed that.

Dave S said...

He truly is the King of the World! So out of touch with the common folk. Among other things, what Cameron forgets is that Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D (when released to theatres in the 80's) was a lot of fun. It was terrible, but it was entertaining. Stuff came at ya... popping popcorn, eyeballs, pokers, whatever, all in the name of giving audiences a good time. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. And it was far shorter than three freakin' hours! And that's what Aja has attempted to do with Piranha 3-D. I've enjoyed Cameron's Terminator flicks and Aliens, but I generally find his stuff overblown, pompous and self-important. Wasting money doesn't make a good movie, but any number of other things do; things like an original storyline, engaging characters, solid direction, effective editing, and any kind of surprise you can offer an audience. That's why, the more I see movies like Avatar, I want to retreat to 70's gialli, Euro-trash, art flicks, and exploitation movies... They at least offer me the unexpected, and that counts for a hell of a lot more than millions of dollars squandered on 3-D technology and self-satisfaction!!! Now all Cameron needs to do is to work with Paul Haggis... Then I can truly be embarrassed to be Canadian.

Joe said...

Terrific post, Dennis. When it comes to 3D, I'm Walt Kowalski hollering at kids to get off his lawn. Wearing glasses makes any movie look like garbage, even a great movie like Up. But for me, the issue Cameron brings up isn't good 3D versus bad 3D, it's cineasts versus fans.

I haven't seen Piranha 3D. I have no plans to. It wasn't made for me, it was made for people who like to see gore and gimmicks. And that's cool. I can't trash it any more than I can rip up Valentine's Day. Its appeal is to a group I just don't belong to.

One thing that makes Cameron unique besides his hubris is that Terminator, Alien and The Abyss weren't designed for the titillation of fans only. There are deeper themes there in addition to the special effects, which were pioneering.

The real test will be in 20 years and whether anybody mentions Piranha 3D as a seminal movie of their childhood, one they watched forty times or the reason they wanted a career in film.

Terry McCarty said...

Maybe the ego-driven reissue of AVATAR could be compared to Tom Laughlin's similarly ego-driven reissue of THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK thirty-five summers ago.

Jason Bellamy said...

Dennis: First off, great headline. But having said that, I'm going to do the unthinkable. I'm going to defend James Cameron, a guy whose personality I find tremendously irritating. Let's get right to it ...

Part I
James says: “There are a number of good movies that are being natively authored in 3-D that are coming out. ... But what you saw was sort of the gold rush. After Avatar, people tried to cash in.”

You say: To these ears and eyes, this sounds awfully close to a claim ... (that) anything that was green-lit as a 3D film in Avatar’s Academy Award-winning wake should be seen as opportunistic and unworthy.

I say: I understand how Cameron, of all people, could come off that way. But the thing is, his above statement is 100 percent correct. The Last Airbender, to pick just one (I think Clash of the Titans was another), wasn't developed as a 3-D movie. It was intended for 2-D, conceived in 2-D, shot in 2-D ... and then the studios essentially said, "We could make a lot more in ticket sales if this was 3-D..." and so they modified the film to add 3-D effects. This would be akin to adding color to Manhattan, which wasn't intended to have color in the first place. "After Avatar, people tried to cash in." I think that's a fact.

Part II
James says: “The consumer needs to be aware that just because a movie is in 3-D doesn’t mean that it’s good.”

You say: This may be news to some high-priced film directors, but listen, just because a movie is on film is no guarantee that it’s going to be good.

I say: No argument with what you said, but I take the "it's" in Cameron's comment to be referring to the 3-D itself. This will come up more later, but Cameron invested years and millions to push 3-D to its limit (at least as of the moment he shot the film). For many average moviegoers, this was their initial exposure to 3-D. So what Cameron is telling the average consumer -- the three-times-a-year moviegoer -- is that just because it's 3-D doesn't mean it's high-quality 3-D. Sure, you can call that arrogance. Essentially, Cameron is saying that just because it's painted doesn't mean it's a Picasso. But to the average consumer -- and they're the ones who made Avatar a box office sensation -- that's probably news. Seriously. The average consumer might very well think that something is 3-D or it isn't, simple as that, and not realize that Avatar was meant to be in 3-D and Airbender was perverted into that format.

(To be continued...)

Jason Bellamy said...

(Continuing ...)

Part III
James says: that is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D.

You say: Hubris, anyone?

I say: I'm not going to debate that Cameron is arrogant. But, while he doesn't make his argument well, Cameron actually has a point. Whether folks liked or disliked Avatar in 3-D, hopefully we at least agree on this: Cameron's primary motivation for making that film was NOT to amuse or scare the audience by having things leap off the screen at us. Instead, Cameron seeks to create film on a different plane -- one that's deep instead of flat. He's attempting to make us feel like we're watching something on a stage rather than watching something projected on a wall. Whether 3-D actually does that isn't the point for now. The point for now is that a movie like Piranha 3D is going for those same leap-off-the-screen gags that were popular back in the day. (Note: I'm just guessing here, based on previews and Zacharek’s review. But I think it's a safe guess.)

Cameron is saying -- and he's probably right -- that those gags (and the potential for success at the box office) are the only things motivating the use of 3-D in Piranha 3D and movies of its ilk. Would we really disagree with that notion? I don't think we would. On the other hand, with Avatar Cameron was trying to use 3-D in a different way -- to create depth, not things leaping off the screen. (Oh, and he was trying to make boat loads of money, so that part is still similar.) So that statement isn't arrogance alone. There's some logic to his argument, poorly stated though it is. The guy is invested -- financially and emotionally -- in 3-D and so wants to see more films that seek to maximize the genre's potential, as he thinks he did. Cameron is afraid that the public sees these gag-filled 3-D movies they'll decide it's just another cheap gimmick, when he thinks it's something more. I don't think he's crazy to think that, even though I would be perfectly satisfied if 3-D suffered a swift death.

Part IV
James says: “Right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D."

You say: "Really, it’s hard to conclude much of anything from these self-inflating comments beyond the fact that, on or off the technological cutting edge, James Cameron seems to be a bit of a 3D snob."

I say: Actually, you went too easy on him here. Presumably Cameron hasn't seen many of these movies, so how the fuck does he know that they're the "biggest and best"? This specific comment is pure and utter bullshit. So, there you go. I've defended Cameron to a point, but I can't defend him entirely. In the end, he's still an ass.

venoms5 said...

It's amusing that Cameron states here that he only worked on PIRANHA 2 for a couple days, but in others he says he was there for a couple weeks and even somehow managed to sneak into the editing room and cut the film the way he wanted.

Also, he reportedly told Roger Corman that he did the same things on AVATAR that he did with his Corman work, but on a much bigger scale. His opinion and memory seems to change with the tide.

Blaaagh said...

Good lord! I so enjoyed this post...it can now be confirmed that Cameron is as pompous a boob as ever he was, if not more of one.

As Dave S writes, FRIDAY THE 13TH IN 3D was a blast, at least for me; having seen none of the new 3D movies yet (but I'm heading out soon to see PIRANHA 3D), I remember it as the most fun I've had at a 3D movie.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Vanwall: Cameron strikes me as one for whom the box-office take negates any possible objection to how he goes about his business—Could 45 gajillion ticket-buyers be wrong? It makes one wonder what he’d be doing now if the low-budget The Terminator hadn’t been a huge hit. Would his movies across the board been more interesting if he’d had to, as many others have, rely more on his resourcefulness than his budgets? Doubt that necessary trenching would have made him a better writer of dialogue, but who knows? Also, I don’t know that Saberhagen story. I’ll have to take a look!

Greg: A good laugh always does one good, don’t it?!

Dave S: “(W)hat Cameron forgets is that Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D (when released to theatres in the 80's) was a lot of fun. It was terrible, but it was entertaining. Stuff came at ya... popping popcorn, eyeballs, pokers, whatever, all in the name of giving audiences a good time… That's why, the more I see movies like Avatar, I want to retreat to 70's gialli, Euro-trash, art flicks, and exploitation movies... They at least offer me the unexpected, and that counts for a hell of a lot more than millions of dollars squandered on 3-D technology…” I’m sure a lot of people had fun seeing Avatar-- I thought it was fun too… at first. Then the script and its weary militaristic ejaculations and odd homage to naturalism in the midst of a typical GetYerYaYasOut action template wore me down. But I agree with you, Dave, I’d rather see some ingenious, scrappy moviemaker with rather more base intentions have fun with the technology than someone spend $300 million to try to convince me that the technology is so advanced and revolutionary that I’m somehow seeing something that is in inherently superior.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Joe: “The real test will be in 20 years and whether anybody mentions Piranha 3D as a seminal movie of their childhood, one they watched forty times or the reason they wanted a career in film.” Well, I’m sure no one on the set of Piranha 3D, or Jaws for that matter, had any illusions that they were making a film for the ages. And this may be the litmus test that separates me from others of my generation and the generation that came after mine (the generation for whom Cameron’s movies were essential early experiences), but I can’t think of one of his movies—not either of the The Terminators or Aliens, and certainly not Titanic, True Lies or Avatar, that has the meat and vision to genuinely inspire future filmmakers to become anything more than technically or box-office obsessed which, frankly, probably isn’t much of a leap for many of them already. Sure, he deals in some interesting themes, but that’s hardly revolutionary. Jaws was thematically interesting, a rousing send-up of Melvillian macho bluster, but it also felt electrically charged, swift and clean, with a buzz that sustained from beginning to end, despite production conditions that were less than splendid. Perhaps The Terminator is a great example of ingenuity in the face of budgetary limitations, and I have to give points to The Abyss, despite its clunky dialogue and painful exposition, for originality and feeling like a movie made a man driven by something residing somewhere in the world of character-based drama and emotion. That’s a movie that comes down to two people (and eventually one man) trapped in the tightest, most desperate of places, and the drama Cameron wrings from those situations makes up for an awful lot of earnest clumsiness elsewhere, even if the movie is ultimately just an underwater riff on The Day The Earth Stood Still.

Terry: Interesting comparison of two ego-driven stars who basically took Hollywood by the neck and MADE THEM do it their way. I’m right now revisiting all four Billy Jack movies for a future piece, and I’ll keep your parallel in mind.

Venom5: It is indeed amusing to hear Cameron talk about Piranha 2. In the VF piece he rather vaguely talks about working on the picture “for a few days.” You mention that “he says he was there for a couple weeks and even somehow managed to sneak into the editing room and cut the film the way he wanted.” (He did manage to retain full directing credit and a screenplay credit under a pseudonym.) And Mark Canton, in his famous rebuttal from earlier this week, claims that he was actually fired from the project. An awful lot of stories swirling around here, none of which goes too far in convincing me that Piranha 2 isn’t as good a place to start in assessing the arc of Cameron’s career as any. He wants to disavow Piranha 2, but he’s willing to take credit for that other ‘80s sequel he penned, Rambo: First Blood Part 2? Jim, I think I’d stick with the fish!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jason: As I said to you in an e-mail, I really appreciate your coming in here and defending Cameron with your usual zeal and thoughtfulness and, above all, civility. It’s so much fun to be prompted to think and reassess one’s point of view about stuff like this by someone who disagrees but isn’t in the discussion to score easy points off of everyone’s observations. I just apologize that the week has insisted I take this long to get into the fray myself.

Re Cameron’s statement about the quality of 3D movies being “100 percent correct,” I still wonder. Yes, it’s hard to characterize the 3D conversions of movies like The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans as little more than sheer opportunism. (Though I maintain that in 2D Clash was perfectly keen, excepting perhaps the Sam Worthington Problem.) Again, these were movies that were converted to 3D, as was Alice in Wonderland, a movie Cameron praises. This may just be a matter of semantics, and certainly Piranha 3D, that movie currently tumbling under the wheels of Cameron’s bus, doesn’t have the greatest (converted) 3D in the world. But Cameron statement sounds like, if not a haughty dismissal, then at least a sniffy placing of other films in their proper post-Avatar, Uncle-Jim-knows-best-and-he-says-they-did-it-‘cause-we-did-it context, which seems to me at the very least a bit too general and self-serving. His statement implies that movies green-lit as 3D projects, whether those movies originated in the process or not, are simply attempts to cash in on Avatar’s success. This may in fact be true, but James Cameron is not exactly an independent voice railing against the tide here. He is a filmmaker who has benefited most royally from the capitalist system of Hollywood, a filmmaker who has three sequels under his belt, is planning two more, and is about to rerelease the second-biggest hit of all time in 3D just to show ‘em how to do the conversion process right, and to listen to him complain about others crassly cashing in is, in my estimation, laughable.

(Part two coming next!)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jason, here's part 2:

(Italics are mine—DC) “For many average moviegoers, this was their initial exposure to 3-D. So what Cameron is telling the average consumer -- the three-times-a-year moviegoer -- is that just because it's 3-D doesn't mean it's high-quality 3-D. Sure, you can call that arrogance. Essentially, Cameron is saying that just because it's painted doesn't mean it's a Picasso. But to the average consumer -- and they're the ones who made Avatar a box office sensation -- that's probably news. Seriously. The average consumer might very well think that something is 3-D or it isn't, simple as that, and not realize that Avatar was meant to be in 3-D and Airbender was perverted into that format.” Cameron’s “it” could very well have been a reference to the 3D process and not the film, and it would be perfectly in character if it were, because, well, we know what happens when we start talking about Cameron’s movies beyond their state-of-the-art technological credentials. But really, what else you’re describing is the marketplace—Jim Cameron’s marketplace—at work. People are going to get suckered by movies like The Last Airbender (I keep wanting to call it The Last Airstreamer) and I, for one, am already sensing, with discussions like this and with reviewers and consumers willing to engage with the quality of the 3D process as part of the storytelling, that fewer people are getting snookered by the carnival jobs based solely on the fact that it’s a 3D movie. The “event pricing” is too high for audiences to buy into the hype for too long—eventually (hopefully) they will start rejecting badly rendered 3D in a way that they sometimes seem resistant to rejecting badly rendered storytelling. But I think it’s rather presumptive and specious for someone so wholly invested in renovating and marketing 3D to be out there separating the wheat from the chaff for us. And I think he would like us to make exactly the kind of comparison you made: Just because it's painted doesn't mean it's a Picasso, or a Cameron. Trouble is, he can’t seem to understand why anyone would choose an Aja over a Cameron, and frankly that’s his problem.

(Part 3-- jeez!-- coming next!)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

And now, without any further commercial interruption, part 3! (SHUT UP, ALREADY!!!)

“Whether folks liked or disliked Avatar in 3-D, hopefully we at least agree on this: Cameron's primary motivation for making that film was NOT to amuse or scare the audience by having things leap off the screen at us. Instead, Cameron seeks to create film on a different plane -- one that's deep instead of flat. He's attempting to make us feel like we're watching something on a stage rather than watching something projected on a wall.” My response to this would have to be, to what end? Avatar was inarguably lovely (depending on one’s tolerance for the color blue, of course), and your characterization of Cameron trying for “deep” depth, not just ViewMaster depth, is spot on. I think he’s largely succeeded, but in the process he’s also largely succeeded in convincing us/fooling us into believing that all those other things, like objects apparently flying out toward the audience, are beneath him. If that is his delusion, then I think there exists plenty of evidence on screen, in Avatar as well as other movies, that would testify to the fact that Cameron thinks they’re pretty neat too, just not in an exploitation format. In other words, the effects tricked up into Oscar bait go down much easier. My other problem here is the one I always have with Cameron—what good is it for a man to have every effect and every element of film style at his command if he hath lost his soul? Avatar’s immersive spectacle is rendered moot for me because the story he has chosen to tell is so bloated and regurgitated and badly written. Any old day please give me over Avatar, the heightened emotion of How to Train Your Dragon, or the superfluous 3D of Toy Story 3 that is in service to a tale of such depth that Cameron will likely never achieve, or the razzy, wild antics of Despicable Me, which combines emotion, rich, sometimes throwaway humor AND a terrific self-consciousness about the 3D form that heightens the experience. And frankly, whether perfectly converted or not, Piranha 3D is three times the fun, at half the running time and about 10% of the cost of Avatar.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Blaaagh, I really hope you find time this weekend to see Piranha 3D. If only I could find time to come up there and see it with you.

Jason Bellamy said...

Dennis: Thanks for the additional thoughts. Without sending us into another multi-comment exchange, a few thoughts back ...

* I think your point about how Cameron has quickly lined up to make Avatar sequels absolutely reveals that he's not above cashing in on the success of Avatar, too. However, again, we have to remember that Cameron truly believes that his level of 3-D technique is so advanced that it's a new artform very little like the 3-D of old. So where we see cashing in, he'd argue that he's just continuing to make the best art he can, because, as you also imply, Cameron thinks that artistic achievement is directly tied to filmmaking technique and cutting-edge technology. Simply put, he thinks bigger (more expensive, more complicated, longer-in-development, etc) is automatically better.

In that, of course, he's wrong. No question about it. I'm not trying to debate that Cameron is misguided. Instead in my previous comments I was arguing that the Cameron quotes you pull out in the original piece actually make sense within Cameron's view of cinema. I wholly agree with you that Dragon and Despicable Me are more rewarding pictures than Avatar (of course, that's subjective). Having that that, I also acknowledge that those films aren't about their 3-D technology, even when they do it well, even when the technique serves the story. Those films succeed first and foremost according to good old-fashioned storytelling and cinematic techniques. In the case of Cameron, I'm almost sure that if it were up to him his films would no longer be offered in 2-D. I'm sure he thinks, but wouldn't say, that those (2-D) are not just lesser versions of his 3-D vision but essentially wholly different films. He wouldn't say this, though, wouldn't back up his '3-D or die' stance, because if there's one thing we've learned about Cameron over the years is that his self-esteem seems to be directly tied to his films' success at the box office, and he still needs the 2-D option to be king of the world. Which brings us back to the irony you indicated: he's criticizing other films for cashing in on Avatar's success even though he's always been about cashing in, too. I'm not suggesting Cameron isn't a hypocrite, just that he's 100 percent right that others have tried to cash in on Avatar's success.

My problem with Cameron and 3-D is the one you mention in your comments: He's yet to make a compelling case for why 3-D movies are superior to 2-D. What I find interesting is this: Cameron uses these upcoming Disney and Scorsese 3-D films as validation of the artform. But I wonder if he realizes that the more technologically high-quality 3-D films we are exposed to, the more these films will be judged by those old-fashioned dramatic and cinematic techniques he seems to think don't count anymore. Which is to say that the acceptance of the 3-D format by a director as skilled as Scorsese probably works against Cameron, not in favor of him.

rex said...

I can't say I'm a 3D fan, to be honest. Do you guys know something about the technology that was presented on Livestation (http://www.livestation.com/videos) a few days ago? Apparently, it should be something in between 2 and 2D. Some of their videos are really impressive.