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James Cameron: Great Storyteller or Great FX Wizard? 
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Post James Cameron: Great Storyteller or Great FX Wizard?
So in the long discussion generated by Frogster's zero-star rating of Avatar, I noticed a comment by one Firefly stating James Cameron has never been a great story teller. For me this begs the question, with films like Aliens, The Abyss and Titanic under his belt, is Cameron one of todays great storytellers, or just a magician with special effects who ending up controlling the show? This also brings out another question, are the two mutally exclusive or do they run hand in hand? Can you be a good storyteller but not a good filmmaker?


Last edited by JJoshay on Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:33 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Oct 03, 2010 6:28 pm
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
JJoshay wrote:
So in the long discussion generated by Frogster's zero-star rating of Avatar, I noticed a comment by one Firefly stating James Cameron has never been a great story teller. For me this begs the question, with films like Aliens, The Abyss and Titanic under his belt, is Cameron one of todays great storytellers, or just a magician with special effects who ending up controlling the show? This also brings out another question, are the two mutally exclusive or do they run hand in hand? Can you be a good storyteller but not a good filmmaker?

Well, the last question is the easiest, I think--the two are certainly not mutually exclusive. Orson Welles' films, particularly Citizen Kane but also Touch of Evil, were technologically very innovative and brilliant. They were also brilliantly constructed stories. Fritz Lang, DW Griffith, etc. also fit this bill.

If we survey Cameron's films, I think there are a few terrific films--Aliens is a thrillride that rivals Die Hard and a few other elite action films, imo. The Terminator is clever sci fi. Neither of them are what I would call examples of great storytelling, though.

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Sun Oct 03, 2010 6:39 pm
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
I think Cameron is good at immersing the audience. For the most part this is the main pull for his mvoies.


Sun Oct 03, 2010 7:03 pm
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
I would argue that he's excellent at both; more specifically, he understands how to use his prowess in the latter arena to enrich the former, rather than vice-versa. The story lines that he works with aren't always the most original and some of the dialogue in his films could use a little polishing but these limitations are more than offset by his ability to immerse the audience in the world of his characters (as noted by mailedbypostman) and get us to care about their plight. I still need to see the Abyss (and I know now to shy away from the theatrical release, if it's even available anywhere nowadays) but I feel that the statements I made above are applicable to all the rest of his work (and yes, that includes both Titanic and Avatar, bitches). At any rate, Cameron is probably neck-in-neck with Tarantino amongst my favorite modern filmmakers.


Sun Oct 03, 2010 7:35 pm
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
He's best when he steers clear of romance.


Sun Oct 03, 2010 9:13 pm
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
mailedbypostman wrote:
I think Cameron is good at immersing the audience. For the most part this is the main pull for his mvoies.

This is true. Here would be my question though:

Can you imagine Cameron making a great movie without the aid of cutting edge special effects?

I can't. But for any great director, I can.

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Sun Oct 03, 2010 9:23 pm
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
My main problem with Cameron is that he gets too wrapped in his own massive ego and thinks he can do no wrong, he definitely excels at FX to say the least, but in the process of focusing so much on his visuals he shortchanges the story as a result, that was the case for Titanic, I didn't care one bit about anybody in the film due to the horrible scriptwriting and I wasn't moved one bit by the ending because none of the characters were worth giving a damn about. Same case with Avatar though less extreme as it didn't make me want to strangle Cameorn the way Titanic did, the film could've been alot better if the script was fine tuned more(did almost all the humans REALLY have to be portrayed as being ultra-evil? would it have killed Cameron to tone down his "save the Earth" agenda just a LITTLE bit? :roll: ) and if it was 30 minutes shorter. Though on the other hand i'll be willing to forgive Cameron if he does that True Lies sequel next.


Sun Oct 03, 2010 10:26 pm
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
To put in into a music metaphor. I think Cameron is incapable of writing great chamber music; he writes grand operas. So he needs choreography, lighting, huge set pieces, the whole shabang.

Cameron seems to be inspired a lot by by "vintage" Spielberg: all stops out, make 'em weep!

I think Cameron is a decent story teller (even tough not a great one) but, like Spielberg (in some of his movies) he very easily borders on kitsch and cheezyness. I also think he is definitely losing his edge (which still was kinda there in Aliens and The Abyss).

It is too obvious that his main goal is making money - tons of it. That's why he goes for the grand opera while making sure to be talking to the cheap seats at the same time. AND he is way too politically correct (T2: don't kill people, Titanic: 3rd class are "real people with a big heart", Avatar: spare me... ).

No, the two don't exclude each other: you can tell a great story even if you go for a Wagner opera with a 130 piece orchestra plus 70 piece choir and soloists. Peter Jackson did it - but I'm not sure if Cameron will ever go for great depth and substance - or complex stories.. or edge.


Sun Oct 03, 2010 10:56 pm
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
Cameron's not a great storyteller. He may have been at one time, but as the years have gone by, he's become lazier and lazier as a writer. The Terminator was tight, exciting, and very, very well written (with some help from Harlan Ellison, of course). By contrast, Avatar is bloated, predictable, and a lazy rehash of ideas that were tired 20 years ago.

Cameron is a technical wizard. But he's definitely lost his edge as a storyteller.

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Sun Oct 03, 2010 11:44 pm
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
Sexual Chocolate wrote:
Cameron's not a great storyteller. He may have been at one time, but as the years have gone by, he's become lazier and lazier as a writer. The Terminator was tight, exciting, and very, very well written (with some help from Harlan Ellison, of course). By contrast, Avatar is bloated, predictable, and a lazy rehash of ideas that were tired 20 years ago.

Cameron is a technical wizard. But he's definitely lost his edge as a storyteller.

Exactly right, Avatar's pro-Earth agenda was arguably even more heavy-handed then Michael Bay's pro-America agenda, which is quite a feat in itself.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:05 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
Sexual Chocolate wrote:
Cameron's not a great storyteller. He may have been at one time, but as the years have gone by, he's become lazier and lazier as a writer. The Terminator was tight, exciting, and very, very well written (with some help from Harlan Ellison, of course). By contrast, Avatar is bloated, predictable, and a lazy rehash of ideas that were tired 20 years ago.

Cameron is a technical wizard. But he's definitely lost his edge as a storyteller.

I largely agree with this.

On some levels, Cameron’s movie is a great achievement: the effects are beyond anything I’ve ever seen; it’s the only movie to really make full use of the potential of 3D; and the film’s cinematography plays as much a role in drawing the viewer into the world of Pandora as the effects do. That said, the writing is beyond terrible. And the badness stems from more than just the fact that Avatar is derivative. If Avatar was the first movie to use that structure, those character archetypes, and that plot, it would still be a terribly written movie. There’s a character in that movie called “Grace Augustine.” Grace Augustine! That’s worse than having a character with the initials JC die for the sake of saving others. Avatar is also a movie where a biologist delivers the line, “There’s something really interesting going on there, biologically.” If George Lucas had written that line, people would be all over it.

There’s nothing wrong with liking Avatar; it’s a piece of cinema that does certain things really well; but the writing is almost inescapably bad.

Vexer wrote:
Exactly right, Avatar's pro-Earth agenda was arguably even more heavy-handed then Michael Bay's pro-America agenda, which is quite a feat in itself.


And yes, it's very, very heavy handed. I agree with the film’s pro-environmentalist agenda, and even I left the theater after seeing Avatar with the desire to buy a fuel guzzling SUV, stock it with weapons made from non-biodegradable materials, and go panda hunting.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:10 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
Ratel wrote:
Vexer wrote:
Exactly right, Avatar's pro-Earth agenda was arguably even more heavy-handed then Michael Bay's pro-America agenda, which is quite a feat in itself.


And yes, it's very, very heavy handed. I agree with the film’s pro-environmentalist agenda, and even I left the theater after seeing Avatar with the desire to buy a fuel guzzling SUV, stock it with weapons made from non-biodegradable materials, and go panda hunting.


*Sigh* What exactly is ham-fisted about Cameron's "message" in the film? Trust me, there have been far more egregious examples of ham-fistedness in modern American films then this. It seems to me that many peoples dislike for this film (and Titanic) is more indicative of their overall feelings for Cameron then the quality of his movies.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:30 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
JJoshay wrote:
Ratel wrote:
Vexer wrote:
Exactly right, Avatar's pro-Earth agenda was arguably even more heavy-handed then Michael Bay's pro-America agenda, which is quite a feat in itself.


And yes, it's very, very heavy handed. I agree with the film’s pro-environmentalist agenda, and even I left the theater after seeing Avatar with the desire to buy a fuel guzzling SUV, stock it with weapons made from non-biodegradable materials, and go panda hunting.


*Sigh* What exactly is ham-fisted about Cameron's "message" in the film? Trust me, there have been far more egregious examples of ham-fistedness in modern American films then this. It seems to me that many peoples dislike for this film (and Titanic) is more indicative of their overall feelings for Cameron then the quality of his movies.

I don't harbor any particular ill for Cameron, I just think his big ego has deluded him into becoming lazier in writing stories, i've got mostly positive things to say about his filmography before Titanic(Abyss being the excpetion, which I found to be pretty forgettable for the most part)Yes i'm sure there have been more ham-fisted examples, but that still dosen't make Cameron's incessant preaching any less annoying.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:51 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
JJoshay wrote:
Ratel wrote:
Vexer wrote:
Exactly right, Avatar's pro-Earth agenda was arguably even more heavy-handed then Michael Bay's pro-America agenda, which is quite a feat in itself.


And yes, it's very, very heavy handed. I agree with the film’s pro-environmentalist agenda, and even I left the theater after seeing Avatar with the desire to buy a fuel guzzling SUV, stock it with weapons made from non-biodegradable materials, and go panda hunting.


*Sigh* What exactly is ham-fisted about Cameron's "message" in the film? Trust me, there have been far more egregious examples of ham-fistedness in modern American films then this. It seems to me that many peoples dislike for this film (and Titanic) is more indicative of their overall feelings for Cameron then the quality of his movies.

Now, Now, Josh, don’t sigh at me. I’m not critiquing Avatar because I dislike Cameron. In fact, he’s one of my favorite filmmakers. You’ve been around this forum for as long as I have and should know that I love the director of the Terminator franchise so much it approaches idolatry. But that idolatry just doesn’t extend to Avatar, which I think does a lot of neat things, but isn’t particularly well written.

As far as your question asking what was so heavy-handed about Avatar, well, that’s a bit like approaching a forest in spring and demanding to know where all the green is: there is so much heavy handedness there I feel silly even having to point it out. But, say, what about the whole “they killed their mother speech.” It’s always a bad thing whenever nature is earnestly referred to as “mother.”

But you’re dead right about there being worse example of ham-fistedness in modern American film. I mean, have you ever seen The Abyss?!


Mon Oct 04, 2010 12:52 am
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
Ratel wrote:
On some levels, Cameron’s movie is a great achievement: the effects are beyond anything I’ve ever seen; it’s the only movie to really make full use of the potential of 3D; and the film’s cinematography plays as much a role in drawing the viewer into the world of Pandora as the effects do. That said, the writing is beyond terrible. And the badness stems from more than just the fact that Avatar is derivative. If Avatar was the first movie to use that structure, those character archetypes, and that plot, it would still be a terribly written movie. There’s a character in that movie called “Grace Augustine.” Grace Augustine! That’s worse than having a character with the initials JC die for the sake of saving others. Avatar is also a movie where a biologist delivers the line, “There’s something really interesting going on there, biologically.” If George Lucas had written that line, people would be all over it.


You've pretty much hit the nail on the head; I don't think I could put it any better.

I've said it before; Avatar is a monumental technical achievement. But it is one of the sloppiest stories committed to film in the past decade.

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Mon Oct 04, 2010 1:23 am
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Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
Ratel wrote:
[quote="JJoshay*Sigh* What exactly is ham-fisted about Cameron's "message" in the film? Trust me, there have been far more egregious examples of ham-fistedness in modern American films then this. It seems to me that many peoples dislike for this film (and Titanic) is more indicative of their overall feelings for Cameron then the quality of his movies.

Now, Now, Josh, don’t sigh at me. I’m not critiquing Avatar because I dislike Cameron. In fact, he’s one of my favorite filmmakers. You’ve been around this forum for as long as I have and should know that I love the director of the Terminator franchise so much it approaches idolatry. But that idolatry just doesn’t extend to Avatar, which I think does a lot of neat things, but isn’t particularly well written.

As far as your question asking what was so heavy-handed about Avatar, well, that’s a bit like approaching a forest in spring and demanding to know where all the green is: there is so much heavy handedness there I feel silly even having to point it out. But, say, what about the whole “they killed their mother speech.” It’s always a bad thing whenever nature is earnestly referred to as “mother.”

But you’re dead right about there being worse example of ham-fistedness in modern American film. I mean, have you ever seen The Abyss?![/quote]

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, I love The Abyss

...oh wait, I've constantly complained about how the near-perfect film was near-perfect because both the theatrical cut and the director's cut fuckered up the ending. Nevermind, seriously thought The Abyss was perfect until those endings. "The aliens say we need to start getting along." Oh fuck off Ed Harris, fuck off.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 1:59 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
JJoshay wrote:
...oh wait, I've constantly complained about how the near-perfect film was near-perfect because both the theatrical cut and the director's cut fuckered up the ending. Nevermind, seriously thought The Abyss was perfect until those endings. "The aliens say we need to start getting along." Oh fuck off Ed Harris, fuck off.

I know, you've mentioned it in at least two other threads I can remember. Hence the irony.

But all kidding aside, I agree with your point. Very powerful, very focused film...until the denouncement.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 2:07 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storyteller or Great FX Wizard?
Hard to really blame Harris, as Cameron apparently thought it would be a great idea to hold him underater while filming despite the fact that he was drowning :evil: needless to say Harris punched him out and never wanted to work with him again. Uwe Boll may have done and said some dickish things, but he never risked a cast members life just for the sake of enforced method acting.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 2:10 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storytelling or Great FX Wizard?
Ratel wrote:
JJoshay wrote:
...oh wait, I've constantly complained about how the near-perfect film was near-perfect because both the theatrical cut and the director's cut fuckered up the ending. Nevermind, seriously thought The Abyss was perfect until those endings. "The aliens say we need to start getting along." Oh fuck off Ed Harris, fuck off.

I know, you've mentioned it in at least two other threads I can remember. Hence the irony.

But all kidding aside, I agree with your point. Very powerful, very focused film...until the denouncement.


Yeah, and I was ecstatic to see that Jim Emerson adored the film too... until the ending ;)

Also, Vexer, you really need to look what what ACTUALLY happened on the set of The Abyss 'cause that is not it.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 2:16 am
Post Re: James Cameron: Great Storyteller or Great FX Wizard?
I don't think James Cameron excels at either story or storytelling (two very different things!). He might have at one time, but, like fellow tech-head George Lucas, his skills seem to have faded with infrequent use.

Christopher Nolan is a brilliant story guy. His movies, purely on the strength of their ideas, can do what so many movies can't--they can engage you intellectually. He's not a terrific storyteller. His ideas often play out in a purely mechanical fashion that doesn't take advantage of what movies can do as a unique medium.

Spielberg can be a brilliant story guy, but even when he's not, he is always a terrific storyteller. He has mastered the qualities of the medium that bring his ideas across--the art of shot composition, the effects that different styles of editing can have, and so on--so that even his humdrum ideas can maximize their entry into the viewer's consciousness.

The James Cameron of Avatar doesn't particularly demonstrate either of these qualities. What people mistake for great technique seems to be confused with the demonstration of very advanced technology. The Alan Dean Fosteresque scenes--generated by a battalion of entirely competent computer illustrators with state-of-the-art hardware and software--are planned, framed, assembled, and sequenced with not much more creativity or wizardry than you'd see in movies by any of the usual suspects--the Michael Bays and Roland Emmerichs of the world. Not great company to keep if you're supposed to be one of today's best working filmmakers.

Gathering up the best technology and the people who are best at making use of it is a commendable enterprise, but it's not a feat of great directing or great filmmaking technique. It's great production. This is Cameron wearing his producer hat. Avatar is what happens when you apply great production to what is, in every other respect, a by-the-numbers product.


Mon Oct 04, 2010 1:55 pm
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