Jul 3, 2019
The video game movie James Cameron needs to make
Sometime around the umpteenth delay for the Avatar sequels, it hit me: James Cameron’s place in pop culture is oddly contradictory.
His track record is solid, with the closest to an outright failure being “the very best flying piranha movie ever made”. His shadow looms immense. Neill Blomkamp recently stated he wanted his upcoming Alien 5 to be the “genetic sibling” to Aliens. And the trailers for Terminator Genisys are basically the first and second Terminator movies thrown into a blender with some arbitrary change-ups. These official sequels to his sequels just scratch the surface of how sci-fi moviemaking has become built around efforts to recapture Cameron’s successes.
Yet James Cameron himself has been conspicuously absent. Unlike other genre pioneers who have faded from the scene, he hasn’t retired, or been held back from returning to action by a lack of funding or studio support. He can make the movies he wants to make.
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But by now, there are college students who have had Avatar as the only James Cameron movie released in their lifetimes. (Not counting what amount to home movies of his deep-sea diving hobby.) And he’s tied up for the foreseeable future with Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4. As the making of the most unasked-for trilogy in cinema besides The Hobbit stretches on, the faults of the first Avatar—itself a rehash of his glory days—are what have persisted in popular memory. They seem to be devouring the memory of not just their film, but also their filmmaker.
So, in case Cameron will be available for a non-Avatar movie sometime before those born-after-Titanic college students complete their PhDs, what material would be most suitable for his return to form?
First of all, any new Cameron movie should be based on an existing property. Let’s face it: by this point, any “original” idea Cameron comes up with will be relentlessly scrutinized for similarities to the entire cultural output of human civilization. Avatar made such parallels easy to find, but in so doing, it achieved the feat of making people pay attention to Delgo. It’s time to let the wookie win this one. When it comes to the guy who gave an iconic movie that by all reason should have been left a standalone an equally iconic sequel (not once, but twice), making something fresh out of a do-over of existing material should be no problem.
And clearly, the type of franchise most in need of Cameron’s talents is the video game adaptation. In decades of trying, there’s been nothing comparable to Richard Donner finally getting superheroes taken seriously with Superman: The Movie. The occasional halfway decent effort at a video game movie might as well be one of the movies the original game got its general style from. In fact, the average “video game movie” has made the very phrase a putdown.
So who better to become the Richard Donner of video game movies than the guy whose Aliens is pretty much a 3-D shooter video game in movie form, before the genre came into existence (largely via that movie’s influence)? What’s more, Aliens feels like playing such a game, not watching someone else play one.
And while in a sense, Aliens (and for that matter, The Terminator) is “survival horror,” Cameron is clearly an action guy. So, which character from the world of video games should be Cameron’s action “star”?
Joanna Dark would be the clear choice for a Cameron action heroine. But if we’re ever going to see a Cameron movie about a futuristic sci-fi heroine, it’ll be the Battle Angel Alita movie he’s been talking about doing for years, and whose movie rights he’s already sitting on while he’s occupied with the Avatar sequels.
But in video games, there’s a guy (no, not the Doomguy) who would be perfectly suited to being a Schwarzenegger-style Cameron action hero. A guy who appears as musclebound and meatheaded as the onetime Hercules in New York seemed to be, but brings a similar measure of self-aware, knowing self-parody. Who, if a relic of the past, is closer to the over-the-top go-for-broke spirit of Cameron’s ‘80s-‘90s heyday than the cautiously generic style that currently dominates AAA action games. Who, if crude in more than one sense of the word, has all the personality Sam Worthington lacked in Avatar. Who doesn’t try to hide his influences. Who even has a canonical affinity for pink attire and Oprah viewing for the auteur who found the Terminator’s sensitive side to build on.
And if his most recent video game is one of the biggest punch lines in the industry, summed up by the New York Times as “shockingly, embarrassingly bad. Not ironic bad. Not campy bad. Not even fascinating bad. Just bad, as in unpleasant to play and watch,” well, even the resulting low bar should be an advantage. After all, Cameron has disappointed largely due to ever more impossible expectations.
The conclusion is inevitable: James Cameron should make a Duke Nukem movie.