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Can James Cameron Do for 3-D What He Did for Historic Cruise Ship Disasters?

August 23, 2009

First, let’s get something out of the way. I don’t care how you felt about James Cameron’s Titanic. Looking back, the schmaltzy romance is viewed with holier-than-thou disdain by almost any movie purist you or I know, including you and me. But for a second, think back to the first time you saw that final forty minutes of the film, and I defy you to tell me that the first time you watched it, you weren’t glued. Because while two hours and fifteen minutes of that movie were filled with sickeningly sweet melodrama, when that boat started to sink, shit went off the chain. Don’t deny it. It was pretty cool at the time. Never mind that few of us have watched the movie again since.

Then, of course, we can fill out the rest of Cameron’s resume with a host of other eye-poppers, almost all of them more reverently remembered than Titanic in most circles. Terminator: considered a grandfather of modern sci-fi. Aliens: took a horror movie and turned it into one of the first action blockbusters. T2: Took Terminator and gave it the Aliens treatment. The Abyss: Visually amazing, even with Ed Harris. True Lies: Solid Schwarzenegger actioner with bonus Tom Arnold. Aquaman: Opened bigger than Spiderman, fictitiously, on Entourage. Let’s face it, if you plan on going head to head with James Cameron on big, giant movies, you’re going to lose.

But Cameron’s got a new way for you to lose your head. This week saw the official online debut of his 3-D Avatar.

A word about 3-D movies. They’re not revolutionized yet, folks. Just because you went to see G-Force’s superspy hamsters in 3-D at the museum IMAX doesn’t mean you’re seeing the next wave of three-dimensional movies. As of right this second, in fact, most movies hyping themselves as “also in 3-D!” aren’t really true 3-D movies; that is to say, they weren’t designed to be 3-D movies. The studios, rather, took a movie like My Bloody Valentine, decided that they’d throw in a couple of scenes where someone throws a pickaxe at the camera, and paid a firm to make it “3-D.” Ditto Monsters Vs. Aliens, Coraline, and other current releases trying to eek a couple of extra dollars out of you by getting you into some glasses for four scenes that feature water splashes or a couple of laser beams that “leap right off the screen.”

Not James Cameron, though. Cameron hasn’t made his millions mailing it in. He planned Avatar specifically, from day one, to show you what the new technology in 3-D can actually do. In fact, he even put his money where his mouth is and showed a few minutes of it to people yesterday. While as of yet it’s believed that Cameron’s holding back the cool stuff for the actual December release, the grapevine would have us believe that it’s going to not only change the world of 3-D movies as we know them, but potentially revolutionize the cinematic world as it’s expected to herald a new generation of films shot specifically in 3-D. Rest assured, Friday the 13th 3-D and Captain EO this ain’t. It’s 2009, and we can start expecting our moviegoing technology to reflect that.

In retrospect, it’s a bit strange that 3-D is coming back around now. Think about it. Before the past two years, the entire gimmick seemed to be dead — or at least not talked about. One would have thought that here and there we might still be treated to some shoddy attempts at 3-D for a quick studio buck, but by and large it was nowhere to be found. That’s rather surprising, given that as studios continue to push the frontiers of making the unbelievable real, you’d think 3-D would have been part of the charge before now. But it’s here, apparently. And it’s going to be invading our minds this December.

If the rumblings prove true, Cameron may be ready to show us an Avatar which breaks the mold on what we know about 3-D. Say what you will about James Cameron, but the man has a vision to further how we watch movies. He always has. From the steel endoskeletons of the Terminator to the destruction of Seven Mile Bridge for True Lies in the Florida Keys, it’s undeniable that the man is taking the genre further. For that, we can all owe him a debt of thanks. No, I don’t want to hear about how you felt about the cheesiness of Titanic. Get over it and get out there and shake the man’s hand, okay? Because all he’s trying to do is impress you. He’s out there hustling, looking for something new, something you haven’t seen before. And that’s more than we can say for most of what’s in our multiplex right now. Isn’t that right, Tyler Perry?

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