Tag: james cameron

Terminator 2: Judgment Day


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Even before the first bullet is shot, we are already convinced that the antagonist, a T-1000 cyborg (Robert Patrick) made out of liquid metal with the terrifying—and convenient—ability to shape-shift, is more advanced than the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent to protect future Resistance leader John Connor (Edward Furlong): it is capable of passing as human even when it speaks. Observe closely when the T-1000 questions various individuals regarding the boy’s whereabouts. Because it is sleeker, more efficient, and more versatile, tension ramps up almost immediately; we are made to understand the stakes without relying on expository dialogue—one of the qualities that made “The Terminator” a successful sci-fi action picture.

Aside from a few throwback lines, the work is uninterested in repeating itself. Notice how quickly it introduces the two cyborgs from 2029 as they are teleported to 1995. Although cheeky humor remains, the pacing is faster and less effort is put into ensuring that the viewers notice the visual effects. Assumption is made that those watching have seen the previous film and so this time around various elements are turned inside-out: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is tougher, rougher, worn-out; the Terminator is now a good guy; action sequences are bigger, longer, and choreography behind them more complex. It is clear that the work has been given more budget. It shows both in what can be seen and felt on screen.

The writing is more ambitious. There is an implied sadness in the relationship between Sarah and John, how their fight against the realization of Skynet in the past has sacrificed so much of their current lives and possibly their future. For instance, when the mother sees her son for the first time in months, possibly years, her instinct is not to embrace him but to check whether he has been shot or is hurt in anyway. The screenplay by James Cameron and William Wisher, the former directing the film, does a neat trick: the more it avoids sentimentality, the more the viewers become desperate for that teary mother-son moment. And I’m not sure we are ever provided that moment. Maybe the Connors isn’t that type of family.

Another interesting relationship is between John and the T-800. It begins as a boy-and-his-dog story as John teaches the cyborg catchphrases, silly banters, and how to give a high five—for the boy’s own amusement as well as for the T-800 to be able to blend in a bit a more. But toward the end of the picture, it explores a sort of father-son dynamic. Most interesting, however, is it does not go all the way; it teases the audience and then leaves us wanting more. These calculated decisions in the screenplay exhibit intelligence, a freshness, and a willingness to take risks. It is not the kind of sequel that is low energy, redundant, simply cashing in on what came before. It is willing to explore new territories and ideas.

Like “The Terminator,” action scenes—as wonderful and eye-popping as they are—do not come into my mind first when considering “T2” as a whole. Every single one stands out, from an early chase between an 18-wheeler and a motorcycle on a spillway to the final jaw-dropping showdown at a steel plant. They are memorable because each encounter is different. The environment almost always impact how the characters must fight and attempt to outsmart the enemy.

It is without question that director James Cameron put a lot of thought in this next chapter. His love for his story, the characters, and creating explosive special and visual effects can be felt in every frame of this movie. Criticisms regarding the bloated middle portion are justified. But the film is so entertaining when firing on all cylinders, the slower sections actually give the viewers a chance to breathe and prepare for the next exhilarating showdown.

The Terminator


The Terminator (1984)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron’s “The Terminator” is known for its muscular action sequences and the pitch-perfect casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg sent from post-apocalyptic 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), mother of John Connor, the man who will lead the resistance against the machines, but let us not overlook that the screenplay is so precise and efficient, it makes modern sci-fi action pictures look saggy, lackadaisical, weak. Here is a movie that offers an experience: it can be entertaining, funny, pulse-pounding, and horrifying at a drop of a hat. It is miraculous that despite the disparate elements that must be juggled, the story’s forward momentum continues to build until the climax. It works from top to bottom.

Right from the opening minutes it is without question that plenty of thought is put into the images on screen. The arrival of two figures from the future—a machine and a human—run in parallel. The former is sinewy, tall, without an identifying emotion his face. The latter, on the other hand, is built but scrawny by comparison, his face plagued by confusion, uncertainty, agitation, perhaps even fear. Similarity lies in their nakedness. But a difference: the machine must blend into its new environment while the man, too, must do the same… on top of avoiding shame for having to go on without them. Another similarity: their mission is find Sarah Connor. The difference: the machine is programmed to kill her, but the man feels the need to protect her. There is minimal dialogue, but our eyes are transfixed on the screen.

The lack of words or critical dialogue goes on for minutes as the director racks up the tension. Even when we meet Sarah, as words are exchanged among colleagues and friends, there is nothing important to be said or expressed. These are played for chuckles or laughs. Instead, we pay attention to what is being reported on television. Because the work shows that the background elements can be important in this story, we are trained to pay attention to every small detail. In other words, the work tasks us to participate. And because we are engaged, it must be established early on that the heroine be intelligent. It is a mistake for this character to be dumb when we meet her only to get smarter later on. Screenwriters James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd anticipate this pitfall and so they find ways to be two steps ahead of expectations.

There is excellence in easily overlooked moments. For instance, when our protagonist gets on her bike and looks both ways before driving off, there is great tension to be felt. The funny thing is that she is not aware she is being hunted… yet. But we already have this knowledge. To Sarah, to look both ways is the sensible, ordinary thing to do. But to us, it is a life or death situation: a figure approaching from a distance in either direction could mean that the cyborg programmed to kill has found her and she could be dead in seconds. These moments of pause, of inhalation, elevate the action film toward a more visceral territory. It cannot be denied there are horror elements in the work outside of the relentless, highly physical, seemingly unstoppable villain.

Here we are at the end of the review and I have not even detailed the high caliber action scenes. And I don’t feel the need to because they must be experienced to be appreciated fully. But notice the sound design: immediate, forceful, sharp; they tend to jolt the viewers into paying attention that much more. Yet at times the approach is minimalistic: the pulsating score is enough to hasten our heartbeats.

There is certainly a few dated special and visual effects (the CGI cyborg in its rawest, metallic form running from the background toward the foreground quickly comes to mind) and obvious cosmetics (Schwarzenegger donning a most unconvincing, chuckle-worthy mask since technology that allowed seamless blending of two faces—man and machine—was not yet available). But I consider these to be negligible technical shortcomings because the rest of the work functions on a high level. There are two or three lines of mawkish dialogue, but this is overcome by daring to turn the story’s core into a love story.

Deepsea Challenge


Deepsea Challenge (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

I think of human knowledge as being our headlights and they’re shining out into the darkness, and right beyond those lights is something else. And all we have to do is move forward a little bit more and that truth will be revealed, or that new discovery will be revealed. — James Cameron

Having the heart of an explorer ever since he was a child, filmmaker James Cameron decides to take on a project that involves exploring the deepest place in the ocean—specifically, going seven miles underwater. To put this into perspective, if Mt. Everest’s base were at the ocean floor and four Empire State Buildings were placed right on top of it, the top of the combined structures would still not reach the surface. To do this, he and his team must design and build a machine from scratch that can withstand intense underwater pressure. They named it “Deepsea Challenger.”

Directed by John Bruno, Ray Quint, and Andrew Wight, “Deepsea Challenge” is ultimately about small victories that build up to a result that widens our pool of knowledge. A response that surprised me, one that I read after seeing the film, is when Deepsea Challenger has reached the deepest ocean floor, nothing much is shown other than a whole lot of sand and water. This person completely missed the point. The picture shows a part of the earth—real images sans special and visual effects—that very few people have seen. Somehow, the reaction is disappointment? Do not make the same mistake.

If I were to point out at the documentary’s weak spot, it is the point where behind-the-scenes footage from “The Abyss,” “Titanic,” and “Avatar”—all directed by Cameron—are shown. Other than to remind the audience that Cameron is a very successful filmmaker, certainly imaginative and has an eye for images, the footages do not say much about him as an explorer. To an extent, they show his curiosity due to his interest in telling science fiction stories. At its worst, these footages give the impression that Cameron is an important director—but we already know that so there is no need to remind us more than thrice.

I enjoyed that the film is blatant in showing the challenges Cameron and his team must face to get to their goal. At one point, the Challenger is barely able to dive more than a meter without everything going wrong. If the vertical torpedo cannot even make it one meter, how is it possible that it will dive thirty-six thousand feet successfully? Worse, there is a tight schedule. The winds change depending on the time of year. The unexplored terrain may be bigger than North America, but there is an exact entry point to get there.

I wished the picture had shown more of Cameron and his team meeting and discussing what and when things need to be done. Notice that although Cameron gives credit to his team, there are no personalities or characters that is immediately memorable. I was not able to pinpoint who is in charge of what, what training or experience one has had, or what one expects to get out of being a part of the mission.

An image that I will take away from the picture is that of a raw chicken eaten to the bone by deepsea creatures—not by sharks or anything with sharp teeth or claws, but by those that are completely unexpected. Sequences such as this are likely to inspire awe. It goes to show that we are still ignorant of many of the things that are down there, in the dark and waiting to be understood.

Titanic


Titanic (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) and his crew of treasure hunters found a safe under the wreckage of RMS Titanic, the supposedly unsinkable ship that perished, along with about 1,500 people, on April 15, 1912 while on its way to America. They expected the safe contain a diamond known as the Heart of the Ocean, but what they found instead was a drawing of a topless woman wearing the jewel of interest. Rose (Gloria Stuart) saw the drawing on television and called Lovett to inquire about the artifacts. Rose, as it turned out, was one of the survivors of the doomed voyage. Written and directed by James Cameron, “Titanic” was a great achievement because it was able to transport its audience to a time that was and allowed us to experience what could have happened on that ship as the ocean slowly, then quickly, swallowed it whole. One of the most engaging scenes, perhaps only about minute long, was when one of Lovett’s crew explained the physics in terms of how, after hitting an iceberg, the iron giant began to sink and why it broke the way it did. By giving us a picture using images on a computer, we had an idea of what to expect. Yet when it actually started to happen, the suspense and thrill reached an apogee and wouldn’t let go. The manner in which the picture switched from silence, to musicians playing joyful music in order to distract the passengers from reaching total panic, to the angelic hymns of the score made the images of people falling and jumping off the ship, out of fear and desperation, haunting and exhausting. It’s difficult to forget, once the ship was completely submerged, the sounds of people crying, screaming, splashing, and begging the lifeboats, most having plenty of space, to come back turn into complete silence. Cut to sea of corpses floating on freezing water. The heart of the picture was the romance between Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose Bukater (Kate Winslet). Jack won his tickets to Titanic on a last-minute poker game. Along with a friend (Danny Nucci), the two were ecstatic for the epic journey. Rose, on the other hand, was incredibly unhappy because she was to marry Cal (Billy Zane), a pompous, boring, and self-important son of a steel tycoon. While most people tend to blame the romance for being the picture’s Achilles’ heel, I thought DiCaprio and Winslet had a winsome chemistry, benefiting from classic stories of a young man and woman torn by a demarcation of class and disapproving authorities. The dinner scene when Jack was invited to sit with Rose’s rich and snobbish company was a turning point for the two lovers. Despite pointed comments by Rose’s fiancé and mother (Frances Fisher), Jack proved that was comfortable with who he was and what he could offer. Rose looked at him like he was the richest and most desirable man in the room, the way we perhaps tend to do when we’re convinced that a person is exactly right for us. The script needed less cornball lines but they weren’t egregious enough to distract from the collective experience. “Titanic” was very extravagant. From Rose’s stylish clothes to the intricate designs of the ships’ doors and spacious private rooms, one could argue that the lavishness was necessary, even required, in order to highlight the horrors of destruction and lives being taken.

I, Robot


I, Robot (2004)
★ / ★★★★

Detective Spooner (Will Smith) was assigned to investigate the suicide of Dr. Lanning, the main scientist in charge of commercialization of robots on 2035. Spooner suspected that the murder was staged to look as a suicide by a robot named Sonny (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and it was only the first step of the robots’ plan to take over the world. “I, Robot” completely missed the mark to make an intelligent film about humans’ increasing dependence on technology. Much of the movie was a predictable set-up to make the main character run after or shoot at something. The uninspired false alarms were transparent. For instance, early in the movie, Spooner saw a robot running with a purse. He thought it was trying to steal the purse. Naturally, smart audiences would most likely surmise it was simply delivering the purse to its rightful owner because no tension was established regarding rogue robots yet. Spooner looked like a fool because his fear was only in his mind. The scene would have been more effective if placed after the murder of the prominent scientist to serve as a small rising action, regardless of the pettiness of the crime, to make us believe that perhaps the robot was up to something more devious than it seemed. Another scientist that jumped into the mix of the mystery was Dr. Calvin (Bridget Moynahan) who, despite all the reasonable doubt placed in front of her, could not seem to make up her mind where to place her loyalty. For a character who was supposed to be the voice of reason regarding the advantages of having robots in the home or at work, her logic was flawed. Her character was tantamount to those horror movie characters who decided to look for something in a dark room during the most inopportune times. Her eventual acknowledgement that the detective was right to be suspicious of the robots felt too forced. Granted, I did admire the special and visual effects. There were two action sequences that I thought were exciting to watch. The first was when Spooner had to face about a hundred robots in an underground freeway while going about 125 miles per hour. The second was when the robots climbed on their manufacturer’s building in an attempt to stop Spooner and Dr. Calvin from ruining their revolution. I do have to say, however, that there was another glaring inconsistency concerning those two scenes. In the first, the detective had a very difficult time destroying the robots. He had to use his car, gun, and high speed to survive. But in the latter, he was able to use his hands to rip the robots apart. Finding out that Alex Proyas, who directed the slightly brilliant “Dark City,” directed this film was all the more disappointing. If the film’s special and visual effects had been stripped away, not a thing would have kept it afloat because it lacked heart and intelligence. I found it ironic that Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” and Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron’s “The Terminator” were far more convincing robots despite the fact that they were played by actual humans.

Dante’s Peak


Dante’s Peak (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

One of my first memories was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. I saw the destruction of our home, felt rocks falling from the sky, panic beginning to grow, and sky being so dark because the ash was so thick. Pierce Brosnan stars as volcanologist Harry Dalton who visited a small town led by Linda Hamilton as the mayor. Harry believed that the volcano was going to erupt soon because classic signs began to emerge, but his fellow volcanologists thought there was no scientific evidence to warrant immediate evacuation. Predictably enough, just when everyone finally agreed on a course of action, Dante’s Peak began to unleash major destruction. Evacuation became complicated for romantically entangled Harry and the mayor because the mayor’s kids (Jeremy Foley, Jamie Renée Smith) stupidly drove up the mountain to rescue dear old grandmother (Elizabeth Hoffman) who wouldn’t leave her home. I understand the negative reviews incited by this film. The acting was thin, the script was mediocre and the story was cliché. However, I admit that I enjoyed watching it because when I see a disaster flick, some of the elements I look for are destruction, visual and special effects, and a struggle for survival. This picture had those three elements. I thought the movie was at its best during the more silent moments where we were led to believe that certain characters were about to meet their demise. I don’t bite my nails (I think it’s a filthy habit) but I felt the urge to do so during the boat scene. The characters had no choice but to take a boat because lava was everywhere. But little did they know that the lake water had been turned into acid and it was eating away the boat’s metallic structure. In a nutshell, the boat was slowly sinking and touching the water meant a painful death. I’m most engaged when characters are trapped and I can’t find a solution for their predicament. Admittedly, some scenes did bother me such as Hamilton’s lack of leadership. As a mayor, I expected to see her making difficult decisions in times need–not just her own or her children’s but also the town’s. Instead, we saw her passing out coffee and going head over heels when she was around Harry. I felt like she wasn’t a very good leader or a role model which was a shame because I knew she was capable of delivering strength because she starred in James Cameron’s first two “Terminator” pictures. “Dante’s Peak,” written by Leslie Bohem and directed by Roger Donaldson, had its weaknesses because of its adamancy to stick with the formula but as a popcorn blockbuster, it had its moments of genuine suspense.

Aliens


Aliens (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Aliens” picked up as we made the grim discovery that our heroine named Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) had been in hypersleep and wandering in space for 57 years. The second surprise was the fact that humans started to colonize the planet where the aliens had been incubating. To no surprise, the human colony, which included a brave little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn), had lost contact with the scientists and a request was made that Ripley join a crew to investigate the strange happenings. The feel of this installment felt considerably different. While the first one was more about the concept and horror of being abandoned in space, this one was more action-oriented and more concerned about the gadgetry such as the weapons and the vehicles used by the characters. That wasn’t necessarily a negative as long as the tension remained relatively equal or greater than its predecessor. And, in some ways, it was able to surpass the original. A definite stand-out was the alien’s ability to learn via trial-and-error. We learned about the aliens such as they tend to hunt in packs and there was a sort hierarchy among them. By learning more about the enemy, we understood their capability but at the same they became that much more terrifying because we now had the knowledge of their great ability to adapt in order to survive. They showed signs of intelligence, not just creatures that wanted to kill for the sake of killing. Two other elements I noticed about the film were the fact that the aliens were easier to kill and they were much more visible. In Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the organism was practically invincible and we only really saw the creature’s full body toward the end. In “Aliens,” the approach was much more obvious and body parts (along with the highly acidic blood) were flung all over the place. However, that’s what I admired about the sequel: It was different than the original but it was able to make it work for itself and deliver adrenaline-fueled space action-adventure that kept my heart tugging at a frantic pace until the last scene. That is, when Ripley had a duel against the queen of the aliens using a highly familiar-looking robot from Cameron’s “Avatar.” What it did preserve was the feminist undertone that “Alien” played with which was a smart move because the movie was first and foremost supposed to be Ripley’s quest for survival. If I were to nitpick for a flaw, I would say the crews’ interactions toward the beginning had quickly worn its welcome. I especially found Bill Paxton’s character highly irksome and I wished he was the first one to be killed. A redeeming quality was Michael Biehn as Ripley’s potential romantic interest. “Aliens” was not only highly entertaining but it managed to justify that it was a necessary sequel by playing upon existing ideas and expanding new ones.