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.

The video game movie James Cameron needs to make

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.

The video game movie James Cameron needs to make

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.

The video game movie James Cameron needs to make

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.

The video game movie James Cameron needs to make

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.

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  • MichaelANovelli

    Yes! This is a thing that must happen!

    • Zack_Dolan

      I dunno, I agree with cameron vale above. I don’t think jame’s cameron has it in him to be funny and lively and ironic anymore. after all the guy who created the marine platoon from aliens, arguably the most fun and memorable troupe of future/space military types in a movie you can find anywhere, somehow fell so far and became so full of himself that he created the stiff, lifeless, forgettable walking stereotype army guys in avatar. I DARE you to remember a single one of their names. hell what was sam worthington’s name (don’t cheat and google it) off the top of your head, how many names of anything can you remember from that movie that weren’t “unobtanium” and MAYBE “Na’vi”? I would argue cameron is the least equipped man to make a duke nukem movie bcs he only cares about spectacle and inventing a new technology to film something we already serviceably seen dozens of times before without his 20 billion dollar moviemaking invention. It would be a flat completely humorless mess with a totally unironic duke being “badass” against very very expensive cgi monsters.

      now, if you want cameron to do a videogame movie, you get him to do Halo. It is EXACTLY the kind of shiny over substance, angsty psuedo deep sci fi horseshit punctuated with slow motion gunfights that he seems to have decided is the only thing he wants to make these days. I could never see him finding someone to capture duke’s caveman wit and bizarro ash from evil dead persona, but i COULD see him capturing master chief’s complete blank slate stock tough guy #147 personality with ease.

      • Joel Schlosberg

        But is it really fair to write off Cameron after one movie? It’s too early to tell if he’s M. Nighting yet. A lot of the genericness and spectacle of Avatar strikes me (and others) as a very deliberate way to make up for it being a very expensive new property by making it as accessibly familiar as possible, much like many new AAA game franchises do. It’s only two movies previously that he not only got ironic humor right, but actually convinced Arnold Schwarzenegger not to avoid it after Last Action Hero bombed.

        Sure, Cameron could spend his remaining career like a latter-day Tim Burton, doing the exact projects that adequately meet diminished expectations of him. But to see if Cameron’s truly in a rut, let’s see if he can pull off a property that’s already established and far from generically bland. To make it easier, it should be in the broad-strokes vein of the side of Cameron that wrote Rambo: First Blood Part II. Duke fits the bill.

        • Zack_Dolan

          “is it fair to write him off for one movie?” well, considering that one movie supposedly took 14 yrs of his life to make and was his obsession to the point that he has plainly stated it’s his greatest achievement and the benchmark for how you should judge not only his movie, but all movies…yes. yes, i can. haha cameron has made less than 10 movies anyone has ever heard of and less than half of those are good. sure, those couple are REALLY good, but he still doesn’t even have a 50% success rate. that’s still an F in my book. and considering all his good stuff was 20 years ago, it’s safe to say new crappy cameron is here to stay

    • Joel Schlosberg

      Hey, I convinced at least one commenter!

  • I disagree. When Duke Nukem was still being made at 3D Realms, they at one point tried to get Yahtzee Croshaw to write it for them. They rejected his take as it was about Duke feeling like an anachronism in the modern world, but even that I feel would seem outdated. Duke was meant to be archaic in the 90’s, he was a parody of the past and he only makes sense in that context. If he’s removed from it he loses any meaning, if he’s left in it the creator seems like a retrograde psychopath (the alien hive level in Forever).

    • Joel Schlosberg

      Well yeah, a straightforward take wouldn’t work at all anymore, and a deliberately-anachronistic one probably wouldn’t either. It’s been pulled off, The Long Goodbye for instance, but it would be hard. And setting it in the past risks still coming off as out of touch, just like the Doc Savage movie.

      But that’s why I think James Cameron would be the only one who could pull it off. The first appearances of Ripley, the Terminator, Sarah Connor, or for that matter Rambo wouldn’t have fit the action sequels he put them in, so Cameron tweaked the characters to make them work like gangbusters in the new context, while still recognizably continuous with the characters they already were established to be.

  • Cameron Vale

    Sure, if you want a Duke Nukem movie with zero irony.

  • I would have said “Halo”. Mostly because the look and feel of that universe is so in line with Cameron’s.

    “Halo” is basically Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” if it had been created by Cameron.

    • Cameron Vale

      This reminds me of a joke I saw in some webcomic about what would happen at the end of Halo 3 (this was quite a while back, obviously). The idea was that Master Chief would take off his helmet revealing that he was Duke Nukem, and that the Halo trilogy was the actual ‘Duke Nukem Forever’ this whole time. So obviously, the actual Halo 3 and Duke Nukem Forever were virtually guaranteed to disappoint me, since I was aware of this drastically superior possible outcome.

      • Joel Schlosberg

        I remember that one. The Duke Nukem Forever developers actually linked to it (before 3D Realms nuked their site, it had DNF stuff on one very long page with updates all the way back to 1997) and told them “Thanks for the laugh”.

    • Halo largely knocked off Aliens in the first place among other things.

      • Joel Schlosberg

        As so many games do! Ironically, Duke Nukem is not so much an Aliens knockoff. Not that the overall ambiance of his games doesn’t obviously descend from it, but his personality is too busy knocking off Sam Raimi and John Carpenter to have time to copy from Cameron’s characters.

    • Joel Schlosberg

      But I thought they already made the Halo movie…

      Seriously, it would probably make a good movie in other hands. Like Peter Jackson, who has been supposedly trying to make one for so long that I kind of think of it as his baby by now. But if Cameron made a Halo movie by now, it would turn out as pretty much another Avatar.