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THE RECENT YEARS


James Cameron has not directed another sci-fi feature film since T2 in 1991. So why talk about his career since then? Well, he has been involved with a number of interesting projects and I had to fill this page up with something.

Cameron would work with Arnold Schwarzenegger yet again for his next film after T2, which would also be the director's first work outside the sci-fi and horror genres. True Lies (1994) was a fun James Bond-inspired action comedy that also starred Jamie Lee Curtis.

Following T2 Cameron had helped set up the effects company, Digital Domain, and this was the first film they worked on. Digital Domain would go on to also provide effects for movies such as Apollo 13, The Fifth Element and Titanic, though Cameron later severed ties with the company.

As impressive the visuals and action were, it was somewhat disappointing that Cameron would make such an over the top blockbuster, with none of the depth or character nuance of his previous films. The film also received some criticism for its supposedly demeaning depiction of Curtis's character.

While the claims of misogyny are taking the film far too seriously, it did mark a departure from the strong female characters featured in Cameron's previous movies. Looking back it's clear Cameron and Schwarzenegger were just having fun with this film, and it's hard to begrudge the filmmaker one film in his oeuvre that doesn't break new ground.

With its comic depiction of Islamic terrorists (almost unthinkable now in a mainstream film) True Lies is a very much a relic of the 1990's, which may be why the planned sequel never materialized, despite the box office success of the film.

In 1995 Cameron produced and wrote the sci-fi film Strange Days. It was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starred Ralph Fiennes. The film was an interesting examination of millennial angst, as it depicted a near future where people's most explicit memories are recorded and sold on the black market. They may have got that wrong, but the film did predict Fox News.

The film was not entirely successful and is a little heavy-handed in parts (such as the Rodney King-inspired police beating at the end) but the talented cast and intriguing ideas make it worth checking out.

Cameron and Schwarzenegger returned to the Terminator franchise in 1996, albeit on a smaller scale. T2-3D: Battle Across Time, was a stunt show and movie created for the Universal Studios theme parks in California and Florida that works quite well as a mini-sequel to T2.

True to Cameron's reputation, the film cost an incredible $60 million, making it the most expensive film per minute when it was produced. The film brought back the main cast, with the T-800 and John Conner facing the T-1000 again before traveling into the future.

The attraction begins with a tour of Cyberdyne before the audience takes their seat in front of three giant screens, with the action taking place both on the screens and in front of them.

The film introduces a new threat in the spider-like T-1 million and has our first look at Skynet itself.

It marked Cameron's first use of 3D technology and quickly became a highlight of the Universal theme parks. Though Cameron said he wanted to avoid gimmicky 3D shots, there are some very effective jump out of the screen moments.

T2-3D is currently unavailable for home viewing, but to get the full experience - complete with moving seats, actors on stage and water spraying to simulate exploding liquid metal - a visit to either Universal park is recommended.

Following T2-3D many people hoped Cameron would direct an official sequel (indeed, Cameron said at the time that it could be a stepping stone to a third film). However, when Terminator 3 was finally released in 2003, Cameron had declined and been replaced as director by Jonathan Mostow. See the Sci-fi Films chapter for more on that film.

1997 saw the release of Titanic, about which little needs to be said. Anyone with even a passing interest in movies already know the story of how the film, with a budget that dwarfed all previous movies, went from being considered almost a certain flop to becoming the most successful motion picture of all time. Cameron famously gave up his paycheck when the film went over-budget and over-schedule, but of course the "King of the World" did all right from it in the end.

The film featured many of Cameron's recurring themes, most notably his fascination with the ocean and the conflict between man and machine. In a stroke of genius that many in Hollywood later tried to repeat (with nowhere near the same level of success) Cameron made a film that appealed equally to men and women, and the young and old.

While not his greatest artistic achievement (I'd argue that is either The Terminator or The Abyss) it's the film Cameron will be remembered for, mixing his eye for technical detail and unparalleled action scenes with a historically resonant and moving story.

While the dialogue and love story have since come under fire from critics (like many films too popular for their own good, Titanic has suffered something of a backlash since its release), the film works because the corny yet effective love story gives the film an emotional core lacking in most recent blockbusters. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have a good chemistry, and Winslet's Rose fits easily into the pantheon of strong female characters like Sarah Connor, Ripley and Lindsey Brigman.

Titanic swept the Oscars and set the bar for box office success so high that every contender that came along after, even the Star Wars prequels, seemed left wanting by comparison. It is also, to date, the last feature length film Cameron has directed.

Since then the only Cameron-directed films that have seen a theatrical release are the short 3D Imax films Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) and Aliens of the Deep (2005). Both films continued Cameron's obsession with the ocean depths - the former exploring the wreck of the Titanic while the latter looked at the strange creatures found in the watery depths. Cameron also created the short-lived TV series Dark Angel and in 2002 produced Steven Soderbergh's thoughtful remake of the Russian sci-fi Solaris (1972).

The producer was reportedly very hands-off and let Soderbergh direct in his low-key way. George Clooney gives an impressive performance as a character who is isolated from humanity even before he goes into space. The film is slow and talky, but worth a watch for serious sci-fi fans (and fans of Clooney's naked butt!).

Cameron's fans have waited patiently for the filmmaker to return with a major new project, and it looks like our wishes will soon be answered. He is currently working on not one but two major sci-fi projects. One of them is an original work called Avatar (2009), while the other is the Manga-based Battle Angel (set for release in 2011). It will be very interesting to see what Cameron can bring to the sci-fi genre after such a long absence.


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