An Open Letter to James Cameron

The following article was originally published on 12ftdwende.com on 19 March 2010.

Dear Mr. Cameron,

Firstly: big fan. Seen most of your movies (have yet to track down Piranha II: The Spawning, but will most definitely get around to it) and have enjoyed all I have seen. I know I am a lowly community college student and you are a two-time Oscar winner but I would humbly like to say a couple of things. First, grow back the beard. Certain people like you and Tom Selleck just shouldn’t be clean-shaven. On to the second thing… I know you have a lot on your plate right now. You have the Avatar sequel and I have read that you are working on a film adaptation of Battle Angel and some project involving the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I know in addition to whatever you are directing in the near future you are also producing a number of projects. In short: I know you are busy. It may seem odd that I am asking you to consider another, but I have never hesitated to request the unreasonable before and see no reason to start now (a strategy that seems to have paid off reasonably well for you, I might add).

Anyone who knows a damn thing about your career knows where it really took off: 1984′s The Terminator. It was the big runaway hit at the box office when I was born. After the great Aliens and The Abyss, you followed up with 1991′s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a movie which still ranks high among my all-time favorites. It was the first R-rated movie I ever saw and one of the films that convinced me that movies were pure magic, a belief I hold to be true to this very day. I do not know if many people’s recollection of their favorite movies in the first grade include Jenette Goldstein impaling Xander Berkeley with a sword-arm, but if not then they are poorer for it. I guess there have been many rights issues with the franchise and I am not entirely clear on them but it was another twelve years until the next installment of the series… which you had no involvement in. I must say that overall I did enjoy Jonathan Mostow’s 2003 entry in the series, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, due to innovative chase scenes and a cast of people like Nick Stahl and Claire Danes. But T3 was missing the James Cameron touch. Arnold’s one-liners weren’t as punchy. The film seemed a distant cousin of the previous two films. I enjoyed the movie but with one exception, there was nothing I loved about it. The one thing I LOVED about Terminator 3 was the ending. I loved the ending because it set up the movie I have wanted to see since I was six: the war between man and machines. The end clearly set it up: the fourth movie was going to be the future war. I could safely say there was no sequel I was anticipating more. Those were more innocent times… before HE came along…

Joseph McGinty Nichol, who for whatever reason goes around calling himself McG, was the director of Terminator: Salvation. When I first heard the news I was taken aback. The Charlie’s Angels guy? He had directed a movie I have not seen to this day called We Are Marshall which was supposed to be somewhere between decent and really good, depending who you asked, but Terminator? Not only Terminator but the Terminator movie I had spent over half my life waiting for! Early casting news was encouraging: Christian Bale was playing the adult John Connor. Batman! Bateman! Christian Bale was riding pretty high at that point and it seemed like a good choice. Then there were the rumors of a digital Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo. Did I dare hope? I saw a very enthusiastic McG at WonderCon along with cast members Anton Yelchin, Common, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Moon Bloodgood. The general excitement and passion for the material expressed by the panelists almost swayed me but it was the preview footage that won me over. A bleak futuristic landscape scored by the awesome and apropos Nine Inch Nails song “The Day the World Went Away.” I was sold. The fact that McG said he was shooting for an R rating helped. Terminator should not be PG-13. A few months later my friend Gabe and I went to see the PG-13 movie. We left stunned. After a bit Gabe said “that wasn’t very good, was it?” No indeed it wasn’t. The plot did not have any consequence and at the end of the movie everyone is exactly where they started off. Bale just shouted his way through the movie which was FUCKING DISTRACTING to say the least [hehe]. The movie I had waited 18 years for… sucked.

The Terminator exoskeleton was created by visionary effects guru Stan Winston, who was also responsible for effects in Aliens, Predator, Pumpkinhead, and Jurassic Park. If the movies were magic, Stan was the wizard who made the magic. Mr. Winston passed away in 2008. Terminator: Salvation was dedicated to his memory. HE DESERVED BETTER.

Now you have just done Avatar. You revolutionized digital film-making, performance-capture, and 3D technology to create a fully immersive experience in a world of your own creation and it was truly awesome (in the literal definition of the word: inspiring awe). Avatar was nominated for several Academy Awards (and won several) and became the highest grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation or rising tickets costs, but still damn impressive). You have the clout to do whatever you damn well feel like doing. Hell, you already had that clout after Titanic. I am begging you to revisit the franchise that started it all for you. Give us that future war that we (and by we, I mean I) have been dying to see for almost two decades now. In fact Avatar, in addition to being amazing in its own right, showcases the technique of a master that would bring that future war between man and machines to the movie-going public in just as phenomenal and immersive a fashion. The one bright spot of Terminator: Salvation was Arnold’s “cameo.” Not because it served the slightest narrative function in that debacle of a movie but because it showed that the technology is there. Imagine Arnold and Robert Patrick doing performance-capture roles for computer-generated younger versions of themselves. Imagine seeing the machines and the humans fighting it out in immersive 3D. Imagine Arnold not fucking with the California state government anymore and going back to action movies where he actually seems to know what he is doing (sorry, I know he’s your friend, but I have to live here). I only speak for myself, but I know there is an army of film geeks out there who want this.

There is no fate but what we make, Mr. Cameron.

Sincerely,

Jake

Post-script: 19 March 2012. During the years between writing this and republishing it, producer Megan Ellison has acquired the rights to the Terminator franchise. She has promised to return it to its R-rated glory. Between the Coen brothers’ True Grit remake, and her rescuing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master from its Scientologist black listing as well as several comments to the media and Twitter, Ms. Ellison has proven herself to be that most rare and beautiful of creatures: a film geek with a shitload of money so I actually have faith that she can do as she has promised. I still hope Cameron will make some kind of return to my most favorite of his creations. As I look back from some of my old articles from 2010 & earlier 2011 I cringe at my writing style and at my high opinions of films I now consider mediocre. However every word in this article I hold to be as true as the day I wrote it.

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