James Cameron’s Greatest Work of Art

The headlines recently touted how the release date of James Cameron’s next film, Avatar 2: Still Filming, was delayed “due to COVID.” This is incredibly disingenuous and designed to deflect people away from analysis and allow them to wallow in the “what else could go wrong” narrative that fulfills their days locked away from their regular lives.

Avatar 2: Probably Never Coming Out has been delayed so many times that I am not even sure how to count each instance. The man responsible for so many stunning achievements in cinema history – The Terminator, writing Rambo: First Blood Part II, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Titanic (look, it was, OK?) – has become consumed with the idea of creating a perfect arc of sequels to the billion-dollar blockbuster that people weren’t all that much in love with in the first place, Avatar.

It’s frustrating because I want to see him make something else in the interim. I want to see him direct a music video, or challenge Michael Bay to a cage match, or even just appear in a commercial for deodorant. ANYTHING.

But what assuages that frustration is that I realized he’s actually engaged in the greatest piece of performance art in history.

Avatar | kesseljunkie
For someone who cares about the environment, all these little plastic balls seem…not great.

The Great Work

He’s milking the production pipeline, and now the Rodent Overlord Conglomerate, for all the money they’re willing to spend for him to deliver…something eventually.

Even if he never delivers Avatar 2, 3, 4, or 5, or however many there are now supposed to be, he’s getting paid by Disney®™© regardless. He’s already sitting on a giant pile of cash, and he can just keep adding to his bottom line just filming and toying with effects to no end.

He is single-handedly exposing how to get a giant production house to hand someone endless cash with no pressure to deliver on a timeline.

How many filmmakers bemoan that their timelines affected their vision for a movie?

Ron Howard had to reshoot most of a film in record time, and complete post-production, when the original filmmakers were fired and Disney didn’t want to move the release date. It worked out well because Solo: A Star Wars Story is far better than the cranky nerd-ragers think, and even has a grassroots demand for a sequel simmering online the same way Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League did.

But there are many examples of compromises and shortfalls along the way. Last Action Hero is a famous example of a movie was rushed through production to compete for a summer release, and became regarded as an Ishtar-level disaster.

JJ Abrams had to adjust his production methods to meet an arbitrary release date for Star Wars: [Don’t Say Episode IX:] The Rise of Skywalker, and it was the first of his films to have an overwhelmingly mediocre reception from critics and rational audience members.

But not James “Jimmy” Cameron. He gets paid, is given resources, and gets to deliver his film(s)…whenever the hell he wishes.

He’s a model for other filmmakers to follow, and I have no idea why more can’t follow his lead. He’s showing that you don’t have to be a slave to the release schedules dictated by Disney©®™ and its near-monopolistic dominance of the multiplex.

His greatest work of art will always be this moment in time…

Avatar | kesseljunkie
…because it certainly wasn’t Avatar.

The Aliens Analogy

Recently I had reason to revisit the first and second movies in the Alien franchise. That reason was to show them to my eldest, in an effort to break through the YouTube fog and show an example of what true storytelling is. I was able to use both to show what film looks like when it’s done well, and is a tool for pondering questions and teaching lessons. Little by little, I’ll break through.

Versions and Vicissitudes

Both Alien and Aliens are terrific. They both have two “cuts” available to watch; all four of the first Alien films do. The terribly-misnamed “director’s cut” of Alien isn’t a director’s cut, per Ridley Scott’s own admission on the extras, so just stick with the theatrical version. The fact that Scott worked to make sure the reintegrated footage flowed appropriately is a testament to a master artist, but the theatrical cut is superior here. If you really want to watch nerds lose their minds, though, start debating the merits of different Blade Runner cuts.

Aliens is terrific regardless of which cut you watch. However, I’d always recommend the special edition as it’s James Cameron’s preferred version and it’s even more engrossing. (See what I did there?) If you’re one of the people who doesn’t know if you’ve seen this special edition, ask yourself if you remember Newt’s family. If yes, then you have.

It’s a real testament to film when it can find relevance outside its current time. That’s when it’s art. It’s why Star Wars can be eternal: its themes aren’t rooted in a single time, even if they’re inspired by them. The prequels are true art, by the way, and this is your regular reminder that they are.

Likewise, it’s why Alien and Aliens continue to appeal to new audiences.

(As a side note: Alien3‘s “special edition/workprint cut” is substantially better than the final theatrical version. You should check it out if you haven’t.)

David Fincher directs an Alien | Alien 3 director's cut assembly cut special edition deleted footage scenes
David, do we really need a thirty-fifth take? I’m hungry.

The Metaphor at Hand: Who is Whom?

As I thought about Aliens, I started to think about how our social circles are playing out little mini-versions of this drama in the present day. Sure, we have to play it out from about six feet away – even if we live in the same house, according to at least one of the more insane governors – but the parallels can be found.

I started figuring out who, in my circle, is whom. While I might not detail them below, I got all the way down to trying to find a Frost and a Ferro. That seems a bit too in-the-weeds for the purposes of this brief screed, though.

I don’t know that I found any Ripleys, the take-no-prisoners survivor who sees the mistakes of the decision makers and tries to find a real solution. Ripley, in both movies, discovers that motivations other than safety had a lot to do with certain decisions. I suppose time will tell who Ripley is.

In the current climate it would make sense to nominate health care workers as Bishop, willing to sacrifice themselves to the greater good. Bishop is aware of the danger but goes out to confront it anyway.

I wondered who was Hicks, who makes the best go of it even though he knows that the data and evaluation he’s been given is garbage. To be honest, Hicks is a character everyone would love to be. When you can’t control it, sometimes you just do what you can with what you’ve got.

I sought an Apone, who did his best to get through the situation when all he got was bad strategy and conflicting information. His fate still grates on me, to be honest, because he was just trying to follow what he was being told by those who supposedly knew better.

I won’t say how many Hudsons I found. After all, no one wants to be known as Hudson. Hudson melts down and believes everyone is going to die and doesn’t even want to bother trying to live. To be honest, Hudson went from a funny side character to maddening, really quickly.

I looked for Vasquez, whose reaction when confronted with overwhelming odds is just to go out and fight it and accept that there are going to be losses. It might not be the smartest strategy, but she’s a counterpoint to Hicks’ emotional collapse. Instead of retreating in the face of danger, she confronts it and accepts that the outcome is beyond her control.

I even tried to peg down Lt. Gorman, the paralyzed know-it-all who, in a crisis situation, just freezes and when the real world doesn’t follow the statistical models. Gorman keeps giving orders based on how it’s supposed to go, instead of adapting to the situation, and then gets angry when Ripley decides his strategies don’t work and goes in search of another solution. I doubt anyone wants to be known as a Gorman.

Of course, in this analogy the Alien Queen is the Chinese Communist Party. The origin of the trouble who wants to kill anyone who confronts it. There, I said it.

(Who’s Burke, then? Well, likely it’s someone like [Insert NBA player or official name here] who likes to keep sneaker profits tidy, or [Disney movie executive] who just can’t figure out why the latest mega blockbuster isn’t making the money they projected despite the fact that they made creative decisions to appease censors under the guise of cultural sensitivity while anyone from another country who’s offended can go kick rocks. But that has nothing to do with the current world situation, just the collective greed of people who can’t handle the idea of losing access to wage slaves.)

Aliens Queen Confronts Ripley Screenshot | Aliens Screencaps
I notice you like Reeboks. I can make those cheaper.

Who Got Assigned What Role?

I’m not going to name the people I assigned to what role. The reason is that, obviously, pretty much only people I know read these screeds unless I insult abysmally untalented authors. I don’t want really to offend anyone.

Besides, if we’re all locked in our homes we have plenty of time to do introspection. I know who I think “I” am in this situation, but I continue to ponder. Maybe you can discover who you think “you” are as well.

Suffice it to say that you’re all the well-adjusted heroes and heroines who never made asinine assumptions or gave in to panic. In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?

What About the Character Study in Alien?

The first Alien is a horror movie (a slasher movie really), and these sorts of personality quirks play out as well. I’m sure I could draw parallels there, except for the fact that I didn’t want to do that.

If you want to do that, you can knock yourself out. I’m not your boss. I don’t care.

And that’s why I should be class president.

The Alien Surprises Dallas | Alien Screenshots
Maybe he just wants a hug? Did anyone try giving him a hug?

A Colossally Bad, and Therefore Inevitably Inescapable, Thing for Franchise Fans to Do

My recent blogging respite has refreshed me, and left me…on fire with a great idea! Let me explain.

Recently, someone spoke out in my presence about their desire to “see #AvengersEndgame one more time, to help it beat Avatar.” They wanted to see it again just to help push it over the edge, so to speak, and give it the all-time record for global box office ticket sales.

I responded with my typical sort of zinger, “You know you don’t get any of that money if they hit number one, right?” The thought was reiterated that they “just can’t stand” that “Avatar is number one” because they “hate” that movie and love #AvengersEndgame.

I can’t believe people say Fandom is broken!

As a quick aside, I also remember how desperately fans wanted Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace to “beat” Titanic. They also wanted Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens to “beat” Avatar.

I don’t know the specific beef that Star Wars fans have with James Cameron, but it’s pathological at this point. I half-expect to see voodoo dolls with miniature Kylo Ren lightsabers sticking in them, in these peoples’ houses.

As I kept thinking about the box office “championship,” and later while speaking to a friend about it, I realized that there’s an idea brewing in our times of crowdfunding and fan tribalism.

Fans should just buy tickets and not bother going to the movie. Just buy a ticket a day. Go if you can, or don’t go. The important thing is just to purchase the ticket.

I mean, think about it. If it’s that important that the movie you “love” is number one, there’s no reason not to do that. Then you get to have the bragging rights that you helped the movie in some way, and so part of that “victory” is yours!

A Glorious Victory

Imagine, if you will, a glorious day when someone remarks that [Insert Movie Title, Most Likely One Released by a Disney©®™ subsidiary] is “Number One in the World!” You’d be able to remark that they “couldn’t have done it” without you.

They’d ask, “How many times did you see it?”

You’d reply, “Oh, only three times…but I bought tickets for fifteen shows!”

To make it even more serious, the Studio Execs could set up an online pledge form for fans to promise to buy tickets for a certain number of shows. This would help with gross box office projections, and enable the studios to send emails with campaign appeals to remind people of where they are on their pledges.

People could upload photos of their tickets to prove their fulfillment of the commitment; like Rotten Tomatoes, we want to keep things “verified.”

As an added enticement, they could then send out limited edition pins to those who make the commitment. People love collectibles, and then they could walk around with a pin declaring that they “helped” the movie they enjoy “hit number 1”!

Imagine the treasure trove of exclusives possibly branching out from there. You could make it a tiered system where there’s a pin for the lowest level, a shirt for the next, and a special hat for those who pledge to buy tickets at the “premiere level.”

I mean, this isn’t really that far a step for people who buy tickets to four showings on opening weekend without even having seen the movie. They don’t even care about reviews or enjoyability. They just want to see it four times so they can…I don’t know…see it four times in three days for whatever reason.

One Last Alternative

Alternatively, you could just like what you like and not care whether a movie makes $2.6 Billion, or $2.7 Billion. Either way, you can rest assured that it’ll make it that much harder for a smaller film to get noticed as every multiplex makes sure to book every screen for Franchise Blockbuster Movie 12: The End of the Era Before the Next Era Starts.

And isn’t that the point?