James Cameron

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019, Tim Miller)

Terminator: Dark Fate is the fourth irrelevant Terminator 2 sequel. It’s not the worst of them, it’s not the best of them. But the poor rights owners just can’t seem to figure out how to franchise and Arnold Schwarzenegger just can’t say no. If there’s a Terminator 7 in a couple years… Arnold will be in it if they ask him. It’s not so much he’s shameless, though he’s obviously shameless, it’s about perspective. From Arnold’s perspective, Dark Fate might work. He’s funny in it. Not sure if he’s good. Not sure if Dark Fate would know what to do with actual acting, though there are hints at it occasionally. Well, in the first act. Other than Gabriel Luna doing a really good evil Terminator, none of the performances are really impressive in anyway. Many could be worse.

Even Linda Hamilton’s, even if I can’t imagine how. Not as a dig, just her obvious discomfort acting in the film and the clearly zero direction from Miller—who’s just does a really bad job; full stop, Dark Fate is stupid, but if Miller’s direction were better, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad.

Hamilton gets all these terribly written speeches—David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray do some putrid work (outside the opening in Mexico with Natalia Reyes, brother Diego Boneta, and their sick father, Enrique Arce, which is forced but at least there’s some effort involved)—and she can’t deliver them, partially because Miller can’t figure out how to compose the shot or pace the scene, much less block her. Watching Dark Fate—when it’s not over-homaging previous entries; the sequel slash relaunch slash reboot is positively bored as it rehashes something previously rehashed in three of the previous Terminator 3s. Dark Fate, technically, is rather disappointing. Miller’s bad, sure, but Ken Seng’s photography clashes on all the CG composite shots, making Dark Fate feel even more obviously over-produced. Hero Terminator (or Hero Terminator stand-in) Mackenzie Davis fights at high speed, so does Luna. Dark Fate leans in all the way with the CGI-assisted fight scenes, even though they’ve got no resonance, narrative or emotional. The script spreads out the reveals about the new doomed future—while it feels almost like they’re begging for a Matrix tie-in, it looks exactly like Edge of Tomorrow; Dark Fate’s nothing if not original. But the future stuff’s dumb and obvious. The way they get Hamilton back is stupid and sensational and then never pays off because she’s not good. Like, she’s bad. They needed to do something about the performance. It makes the movie seem desperate in additional to obvious in additional to silly. Dark Fate feels more thrown together than rushed.

What else… oh, Arnold. He’s fun. He’s funny. For about fifteen seconds as they homage Hamilton not being about to play well with others in Terminator 2, you can appreciate how well Arnold works with other actors, contrasting his megastar days. He’s comfortable sitting and playing out a scene with emotion. It’s a nice thing to see. Even if it took decades and the movie isn’t any good.

One funny thing about Dark Fate is how bad it tries to feign woke and gin up some controversy. There’s a whole thing about the Border Patrol, getting snuck in from Mexico, how “Thank You For Your Service” is a dangerous platitude, not to mention the movie having a nice working class Mexican family as protagonists and the first act mostly in Spanish with subtitles. Dark Fate, in all the wrong ways, tries to… I don’t know, strut. It tries to distinguish itself. Actually, thinking about the screenwriters… did they bring in Billy Ray to politicize it a little lefty. Though nothing about Dark Fate suggests anyone involved with the film at any stage of production actually focus tested the film. Dark Fate is very sure of itself, it’s very committed to itself, to its twists and its turns and its terrible third act.

It’s a bummer. Definite bummer. Definite, desperate bummer.

Worse served are Davis and Reyes, who could’ve had—if not a franchise—a good buddy flick. Then maybe Luna, who’s actually good but it makes absolutely no different. Then Arnold, who showed up ready to work and no one put him to work. And, finally, Hamilton, who didn’t need her career-defining role, no question about it, tarnished in such a blah effort.

Poorly plotted script and so on. It’s clearly an ill-advised production, but it could’ve been a far more entertaining and competent one with a different script but mostly a different director. Miller hasn’t got a single good instinct. The way he fades the expository talking head scenes is bewildering. He doesn’t want the movie to show the actors acting. Though

I mean, after all, there’s no Dark Fate but what we make for ourselves.

And the Junkie XL score is godawful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Miller; screenplay by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray, based on a story by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, Goyer, and Rhodes and characters created by Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Ken Seng; edited by Julian Clarke; music by Junkie XL; production designer, Sonja Klaus; costume designer, Ngila Dickson; produced by Cameron and David Ellison; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mackenzie Davis (Grace), Natalia Reyes (Dani), Linda Hamilton (Sarah), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Carl), Gabriel Luna (Gabriel), Diego Boneta (Diego), and Enrique Arce (Vicente).


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Director James Cameron opens Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a couple things the audience has to think about when watching the film and isn’t going to see or hear again for a while, so they need to have it in mind to recall it later. Because Terminator 2 is an amazing kind of sequel to the original–it’s calculated but to get its characters (and the audience) to certain places. Only there’s only one character from the first movie in it–Linda Hamilton–but there’s two actors back.

Anyway, the opening is a future apocalypse prologue with Hamilton narrating. Her narration is important later on, but only after a number of things happen, both in the plotting and the character development. You have to think back on it opening the film, which has a lot of emphasis on the Terminator robots, sans Arnold suits. Cameron invites comparisons to the original, he requests them of the audience. It’s bold and seemingly pointless; the first half of the movie has almost nothing to do with Hamilton. It’s Edward Furlong’s movie. Cameron has an excellent tone–he’s got this pre-teen lead who needs to do teen things but also be reduced to damsel in distress because he’s a kid after all. Terminator 2 always wants to emphasize the danger. Cameron’s never specific about how it’s directed at Furlong, but it really is just a movie about this crazy metal killing machine who looks like a cop trying to kill a little kid. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the bad Terminator.

But everyone’s generally fantastic. Furlong has some problems, but improves once the character gets going. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher give Furlong expository dialogue he can’t handle for the first half hour or so, but once Hamilton shows up, he gets much better. He doesn’t even need to be better, because all throughout those weaker Furlong scenes, Cameron is still doing amazing things. Terminator 2 is a celebration. It’s a celebration out of there getting to be a Terminator sequel; Cameron and Schwarzenegger get to have a great time, but they still take it seriously enough to turn in a fantastic film. They go out of their way to show off Schwarzenegger’s ability to handle the more difficult scenes after Hamilton arrives.

When Schwarzenegger and Hamilton meet in Terminator 2, the Terminator’s sunglasses come off and it’s a new movie all of a sudden. Even though Hamilton’s got narration–never too much, always frugal–and she’s in almost every scene (except Patrick’s scenes), she’s still something of a wild card character. She’s not just the mom. She’s got to have her moment. Terminator 2’s ground situation takes away Hamilton’s agency. When he brings it back, he demands the audience think about their expectations of what that agency really looks like versus what the audience wants of it in a Terminator movie.

And then he never does anything with it. He gets the story moving, bringing in Joe Morton (and an awesome S. Epatha Merkerson in a small part). Morton ends up on Team Arnold too. There’s a lot for Terminator 2 to do and Cameron is brisk about it. You need to pay attention. If you don’t, you probably still get a great action movie, but if you do, you get all this weird, wonderful stuff. Schwarzenegger and Furlong are cute together, of course, but there’s this great stuff between Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, Hamilton and Morton, Patrick and the audience. Cameron gives Patrick (and Schwarzenegger) these wonderful observation scenes. They can’t be characters because they’re robots, right? But what if they could be.

Technically, the film’s singular. Adam Greenberg’s photography is never flashy, always pragmatic; there’s a blue tint to Terminator 2, which ought to create narrative distance but instead it just makes the performances connect more. There’s no safe space, character development is going to happen in the strangest scenes. Greenberg’s also got some amazing composite shots during the action sequences; masterful work.

There’s great editing from Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris. Three different editors–I wonder if they handled the different phases of the film–but it’s never incongruous, always a graceful cuts. The editors help a lot with creating Schwarzenegger’s presence in the film.

Awesome Brad Fiedel score, awesome special effects. Terminator 2 is an assured, exciting, joyous success. Cameron is his most ambitious in the safest moments in the film. He pushes the action, he pushes the special effects, he pushes the performances. It’s a stunning film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James Cameron; written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Robert Patrick (T-1000), Joe Morton (Miles Dyson), S. Epatha Merkerson (Tarissa Dyson), Castulo Guerra (Enrique) and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman).


Terminator Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

Terminator Genisys is an inept attempt at turning the Terminator franchise into a young adult series à la The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight or Harry Potter. Only there’s no “literary” source material for Genisys, not even the original Terminator films. Because screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier absolutely refuse to give Emilia Clarke a character. More than anyone else in the film, including Jai Courtney–who’s terrible, but is also ludicrously miscast–or old man Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke doesn’t get a character. Maybe because if the film does acknowledge the importance of Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor, all the other malarky would become even more obvious. It still tries to get away with being a spectacle action movie occasionally.

The first forty or so minutes of the film, which still manages to feel longer at two hours, are a witless reimagining of the first Terminator movie with Terminator 2 technology thrown in. If it weren’t for the terrible acting (Emilia Clarke’s only more likable than Courtney because she gets fewer lines and the script mistreats her something awful), and if director Taylor actually had any regard for the James Cameron’s Terminator films for their filmmaking and not just iconography, this first forty minutes should have been awesome. It wouldn’t have been any good in the long run, since it’s just a preamble to the rest of the film, but it would have been awesome to see.

Well, not with Kramer Morgenthau’s photography or Lorne Balfe’s music. Some of the technical decisions on Genisys suggest a deep hatred for the Terminator franchise, which seems strange because the film has almost no personality otherwise. The entire plot hinges on a failure to understand the importance of not recasting and trying to jump on the cloud computing zeitgeist.

Skynet. There’s an app for that.

I do want to talk about the acting, since almost everyone is aping someone else’s performance. Even J.K. Simmons is sort of aping Earl Boen, just as a different character.

Schwarzenegger’s lousy, but you feel sorry enough for him you almost want to see what he’s going to do. Taylor doesn’t understand what he’s doing, so he doesn’t play up that aspect of it. Schwarzenegger’s the loose third wheel who should be the strongest. But Taylor is terrible at directing fight scenes too.

Jason Clarke is really bad doing an impression of Christian Bale. None of the other characters, not even Schwarzenegger, are written like their previous film versions. Except Jason Clarke’s character, who Bale played in Salvation.

(It’s hilarious how many hands have fumbled the franchise since Cameron stopped doing it).

But Emilia Clarke and Courtney aren’t doing Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn impersonations, which they really should, because neither has anything going for them. Courtney’s always getting these soulful moments and his blank expression–combined with Balfe’s lame score–just drags Genisys down further.

In the end, Terminator Genisys is a movie made by people who don’t care about the Terminator franchise. They aren’t fans. They don’t even pretend to be fans. And, you know what, it would have been fine if they at least cared enough about Genisys to try. It doesn’t even try.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Taylor; screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Kramer Morgenthau; edited by Roger Barton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor), Jason Clarke (John Connor), J.K. Simmons (O’Brien), Dayo Okeniyi (Danny Dyson), Courtney B. Vance (Miles Dyson), Matt Smith (Alex), Michael Gladis (Lt. Matias), Sandrine Holt (Detective Cheung) and Byung-hun Lee (T-1000).


T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996, John Bruno, James Cameron and Stan Winston)

Given his rather infamous history of personal problems, one’s got to wonder what having to humiliate himself by acting like a twelve year-old-when nineteen-did for Edward Furlong in T2 3-D: Battle Across Time. Especially since the short accompanied a theme park attraction, undoubtedly seen by more people than saw most of Furlong’s films at the time.

Furlong does not pull it off. He and Arnold Schwarzenegger reunite to do a greatest hits reel of Terminator 2, complete with familiar lines and action beats, motorcycling around a future wasteland.

Schwarzenegger hands himself admirably; he even has a few good one liners, which is shocking since the writing is so bad. Except on the introductory evil corporation commercial. It’s hilarious.

James Cameron loved this project, turning his most successful franchise at the time into buffoonery.

Seeing it “live” might help 3-D but I kind of doubt it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by John Bruno, James Cameron and Stan Winston; screenplay by Adam J. Bezark, Cameron and Gary Goddard, based on characters created by Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; directors of photography, Peter Anderson and Russell Carpenter; edited by Allen Cappuccilli, David de Vos and Shannon Leigh Olds; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, John Muto; produced by Chuck Comisky and Gary Goddard.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and Robert Patrick (T-1000).


Xenogenesis (1978, James Cameron and Randall Frakes)

Xenogenesis doesn’t just have lengthy opening titles for a twelve minute short, it then has exposition explaining it as directors Cameron and Frakes pan over some sci-fi illustrations.

There are some amazing things about the short, but they’re all related to the stop motion animation. First there’s a giant robot maid, though its size is unclear. After it attacks the good guy, the girl shows up to save the day. Lots of Cameron archetypes pop up in Xenogenesis.

When the girl arrives, she’s in an awesome stop motion vehicle too. Those effects are very impressive but, otherwise, the short mostly bellyflops. For example, the sets are inept, not futuristic. The directors occasionally conceive good shots, but the bad compositing ruins them.

William Wisher Jr. is terrible in the lead; Margaret Undiel is slightly better as his female companion.

It’s a nearly worthwhile short, especially when considering its technical values.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by James Cameron and Randall Frakes; production designer, Cameron.

Starring William Wisher Jr. (Raj) and Margaret Undiel (Laurie).


Aliens (1986, James Cameron), the special edition

I always think of Aliens as a precisely choreographed ballet. Director Cameron moves his large cast–though it does winnow over time–around in these cramped sets and everyone has something to do; Cameron draws the viewer’s attention to one character, but the rest are in motion setting up the next moment in the scene.

Watching the film this time, I noticed how Cameron’s subtle introductions to each character later define them. Sure, there’s a handful of characters who don’t get much focus, but about nine do. It’s like a ballet on wires.

Cameron’s script is also able to keep up its urgency throughout. The titular aliens don’t even appear at the start of the second act; Cameron holds them off as long as possible, which later lets Aliens constantly break expectations. Cameron organically sets up and knocks down various possibilities for the film… all while following some definite horror genre standards.

Aliens is meticulous–Ray Lovejoy’s editing is truly astounding, whether he’s passing time with a fade or perfectly cutting the action scenes. Adrian Biddle’s photography’s excellent–as is the effects work–but Lovejoy’s editing is simply wow.

All of the principals are excellent. Obviously Sigourney Weaver, but Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Paul Reiser are great too. Carrie Henn is fantastic in her difficult, understated scream princess role. I love how the script implies character relationships developing offscreen. It’s wonderful.

Cameron achieves a major success. Aliens is exhilarating. Like most great films, it gets better with every viewing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron, based on a story by Cameron, David Giler and Walter Hill and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Ray Lovejoy; music by James Horner; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Carrie Henn (Newt), Michael Biehn (Hicks), Paul Reiser (Burke), Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Hudson), Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez), William Hope (Lt. Gorman), Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone), Mark Rolston (Drake), Ricco Ross (Frost) and Paul Maxwell (Van Leuwen).


Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003, Jonathan Mostow)

What’s interesting about Terminator 3-besides the “I’ll be back” references-is the lack of cheap homage to the first two. It’s an all new Terminator movie.

It’s crappy, but it’s its own thing. Though sometimes being its own thing just hurts it-Brad Fiedel’s awesome Terminator theme isn’t used at all. It’s also way too short. Running 108 minutes, there’s just not enough time for it to make any real impression. The second one established the franchise as epic; this one is only a minute longer than the first one (with twenty-six times the budget).

Speaking of budget, while director Mostow had the highest one ever greenlit (at the time), he’s an indifferent director. He brings no style or vision to the film whatsoever. I guess the car chases, while stupid, are pretty well-handled.

It’s sort of funny to see Claire Danes in the film; I remember when she was an indie actress. Though I guess Terminator 3 is actually an indie production.

The writing’s terrible. The revelations of how the franchise’s events come to pass are idiotic. The plot moves on serendipitous events and not much else, except some dumb revisions of what was going on in the second movie.

While it’s terrible, I do hope Nick Stahl kept a picture of himself in awful old age make-up as the scarred future leader, who’s really dumb, which is kind of funny.

Oh, the female Terminator-it’s never explained why they make a gender specific model.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Mostow; screenplay by John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris, based on a story by Brancato, Ferris and Tedi Sarafian and characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Nicolas De Toth and Neil Travis; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by Matthias Deyle, Mario Kassar, Hal Lieberman, Joel B. Michaels, Andrew G. Vajna and Colin Wilson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator), Nick Stahl (John Connor), Claire Danes (Kate Brewster), Kristanna Loken (T-X), David Andrews (Robert Brewster), Mark Famiglietti (Scott Petersen) and Earl Boen (Dr. Peter Silberman).


Terminator Salvation (2009, Joseph McGinty Nichol), the director’s cut

Ok, no joke, what idiot thought adding Christian Bale to Terminator 4 was a good idea? Was it McG? Without the dumb connection to the previous films–if it had just been the adventures of Anton Yelchin’s Young Kyle Reese–it might have been fine. Nichol’s direction isn’t anything spectacular (it’s solid enough, surprisingly), but he doesn’t fetishize the Terminator world. The callbacks to the originals are at least amusing, since they’re trying for subtly.

Sure, it’s a knockoff of Road Warrior with a little Return of the Jedi thrown in but whatever, it’s not complete garbage. It’s at least diverting, more than Terminator 3, in fact.

However, then there’s Bale. Oh, wait, no way. Bale’s got the goatee to look tough (and less like a date rapist?).

Sam Worthington’s wasted. If I hadn’t seen Rogue, I’d have no idea he was good. Though he can’t hold his accent.

The script’s awful, but Nichol’s shoots it so large scale (studio franchise pictures with establishing shots, I’d missed those), it’s like Terminator‘s less about its actual content than that content’s presentation. Brancato and Ferris probably don’t have the writing chops of a good “Days of Our Lives” writers’ room and have some of the most lamely predictable “surprises” I can remember. But I suppose the script’s better than their Terminator 3 script, even if the nonsensical items–the Terminator base, the networked machine base, having manual, physical overrides.

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, this post’s going to be double length, just because there’s so much to talk about. Not the content, of course, but the film as an example of the decline of popular filmmaking.

Helena Bonham Carter is really bad. Laughable. She just gets worse and worse, doing some kind of impression of The Emperor from the Star Wars series.

Common’s awful. Michael Ironside’s embarrassing himself here.

Watching Bryce Dallas Howard act opposite Moon Bloodgood is pretty funny too. I’ve never seen Bloodgood in anything before and haven’t seen Howard in years–I figured the former would be bad and the latter okay. I was wrong. Very wrong.

Still, whoever did the special effects went cheap on the big “old” Terminators, which are clearly guys in costumes. And the thing when Worthington’s walking around half-Terminator or whatever, it looks awful, cheaper than a Halloween mask, even if they are doing some idiotic CG composite thing with it.

Terminator Salvation comes after The Matrix, so there are plenty of lifts from it (though the giant Transformer-like robots are not)–the whole prophet thing with Bale feels directly copied and pasted from The Matrix 2.

Unexpectedly first-rate is the Danny Elfman score. As much of a Brad Fiedel fan as I am, Elfman’s pure action score is great. There’s nothing playful to it, which is somewhat non-Elfman (at least the Elfman I know), but it’s such a solid piece of composing, it doesn’t seem at all lacking.

Maybe most offensively, they dedicated this crap to Stan Winston.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol; screenplay by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Shane Hurlbut; edited by Conrad Bluff IV; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Martin Laing; produced by Derek Anderson, Moritz Borman, Victor Kubicek and Jeffrey Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (John Connor), Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright), Moon Bloodgood (Blair Williams), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Serena Kogan), Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese), Jadagrace (Star), Bryce Dallas Howard (Kate Connor), Common (Barnes), Jane Alexander (Virginia), Michael Ironside (General Ashdown) and Ivan G’Vera (General Losenko).


The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)

I remember The Terminator being a lot better. Even as it started–I think during the first chase sequence (Michael Biehn in the department store)–I thought about the great highway chase sequence at the end. Then, as things went sour during, I kept waiting for that sequence, sure it would bring things around.

But it doesn’t bring things around. It’s short and loud–maybe the only time in the movie Brad Fiedel’s score doesn’t work. The disappointment might also be because Linda Hamilton, during this sequence, goes from waitress who gets picked on by little kids (I guess her restaurant does not reserve the right to refuse service) to the full-on James Cameron super-woman. It’s an inexplicable character change, sort of like her romantic clinging to future stalker Biehn. Where Terminator has the most opportunity for real character development (does Hamilton cling to Biehn because of her previous and frequent rejections?), it doesn’t seem to notice them. It does try to show Biehn’s incapable of having a regular conversation, emotion scarring from the future, but Biehn’s terrible during these scenes. Actually, he’s terrible once he meets up with Hamilton. Before them meeting up, he’s fine… even if he only has two lines.

The first three-quarters (or half) of the movie–before the police station shoot out–is great. It’s some of Cameron’s finest work, just because it shows he can show people walking down the street or going to work. Even if Hamilton and Bess Motta give bad performances, them getting ready for their dates is a good scene. There’s a texture to the film, even if there isn’t one to the screenplay. Cameron’s become so enamored with the fantastic, he seems to have forgotten the effectiveness of the uncanny. It doesn’t take him five or ten years though, by the second half of The Terminator he’s made the transition.

The second part has all the stupid future stuff, the terrible romantic stuff and the unexciting ending (the movie’s really Biehn’s and the protagonist transition to Hamilton fails).

The movie starts so strong–down to Bill Paxton’s moron punk–and doesn’t let up for a long time. Most of the credit goes to Fiedel, the sound designer (The Terminator‘s most interesting, technically, for how Cameron uses sound and music to create mood) and Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield. Winfield and Henriksen’s bickering cops brings a human element to the film–and real characters, something sorely missing with Hamilton and Biehn–and once they’re out of the story, it’s just a bunch of sci-fi tripe. The reality is gone.

As for Schwarzenegger, he’s fine. Though he’s interchangeable with a model head and a stop motion robot, so I’m not sure the performance is particularly successful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron with Gale Anne Hurd, with acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Brad Fiedel; produced by Hurd; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Paul Winfield (Lieutenant Ed Traxler), Lance Henriksen (Detective Hal Vukovich), Bess Motta (Ginger Ventura), Earl Boen (Dr. Peter Silberman), Rick Rossovich (Matt Buchanan), Dick Miller (Pawnshop Clerk), Shawn Schepps (Nancy), Bruce M. Kerner (Desk Sergeant), Franco Columbu (Future Terminator), Bill Paxton (Punk Leader), Brad Rearden (Punk) and Brian Thompson (Punk).


The Abyss (1989, James Cameron), the special edition

Running almost three hours, the special edition of The Abyss manages to be too long in an interesting way. It forgets its story. There’s about an hour there with the valiant undersea oil workers battling the psychotic military man–there’s fight scenes and chase scenes and drama scenes and all sorts of scenes… just nothing about the movie’s actual story, which is something to do with space aliens saving the human race from itself. Cameron’s thesis is incredibly naive and also a fantastic cop-out. Thanks to some newsreel footage of Americans being asked about being on the brink with the Soviets, its clear Cameron puts all the blame for xenophobia on the military. It’s a very, very goofy move… and wholly lifted from 2010 (I think from both the book and the movie).

But The Abyss is highly derivative. Cameron borrows storytelling techniques from all the finest sources (Irwin Allen mostly) and comes up with a rather amusing, well-acted undersea action melodrama. It’s perfectly fine. Well, except Michael Biehn. As the nutso Navy SEAL, Biehn’s supposed to be suffering from the bends and, therefore, not responsible for going insane. Except, with a few exceptions, Cameron never goes and makes Biehn anything but a nutso jerk even before the insanity sets in. And Biehn doesn’t even try to work it in as a subtext. He’s the movie villain. He’s not all together bad, but he’s not good.

Almost every performance is excellent, otherwise (except Christopher Murphy, who Cameron appears to have cast from a weightlifting advertisement). In particular, Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Both are good throughout, but it’s really at the end when they excel, when they’re acting by themselves. Harris can’t talk and does everything with his eyes, Mastrantonio can’t move and does everything in close-up with her voice. Spectacular acting from the two of them, so much so, when they finally to get back to regular scenes… Cameron’s script is a real letdown. Supporting-wise, Todd Graff, Kimberly Scott, Leo Burmester are all great in the most vocal (and funny) roles. John Bedford Lloyd is also good, in a much quieter part.

Cameron’s direction of groups is impressive, even if the editing doesn’t always match. He gives everyone something to do and, as he has lots of group shots, it makes The Abyss a congenial experience (which is why it doesn’t feel like three hours).

But the movie fails–thanks to Cameron’s goofy ending–when it should succeed. For a few moments, Cameron gets close to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then manages to screw it all up with his pedestrian plotting. He cut two scripts together–Ed Harris vs. Rambo underwater, underwater aliens make their presence known–and somehow, in three hours, didn’t achieve either.

I need to take a moment to comment on Alan Silvestri’s highly derivative (of his own work) score. There’s a lot of good material, but then there’s a lot of mediocre. And maybe even some bad.

So it fits The Abyss well, I suppose.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Cameron; director of photography, Mikael Salomon; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Joel Goodman, Howard E. Smith and Steven Quale; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Van Ling; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ed Harris (Bud), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lindsey), Michael Biehn (Coffey), Leo Burmester (Catfish), Todd Graff (Hippy), John Bedford Lloyd (Jammer), J.C. Quinn (Sonny), Kimberly Scott (One Night), Captain Kidd Brewer Jr. (Lew Finler), George Robert Klek (Wilhite), Christopher Murphy (Schoenick), Adam Nelson (Ensign Monk), Dick Warlock (Dwight Perry), Jimmie Ray Weeks (Leland McBride), J. Kenneth Campbell (DeMarco), Ken Jenkins (Kirkhill) and Chris Elliott (Bendix).


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