UPDATE: Smitty links up from The Other McCain.
The man does know how to make a visually stunning film.
When filming Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he blew up an office building for a special effect. Because the script called for it, it had to be done. Also, he helped to innovate the Liquid Metal effect for the T-1000. T2 was the seminal Laser Disc for demonstration when home theater started to become all the rage in the mid 90s for just that reason.
I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas back then and the companies who had actual home theaters demonstrating their brands were looking far and wide for movies other than T2. For one thing it gets a little monotonous when you see the same 3 minute clip of the movie all day long. But Cameron's movie was the standard fall back for that reason. Great sound and the cinematography were beyond comparison.
True Lies had it's share of visuals. The crown jewel is a scene where a Harrier jet blew up part of a bridge in an effort to stop the bad guys. After several viewings, it still looks like the real deal even though it was a scale model mixed with a real jet and some green screen work.
Those movies were only a piker's dream compared to what he did in Titanic. He built a scale mock up of the main deck that could lift up into a right angle to simulate the ship sinking. He recreated the elaborated dining rooms. He rebuilt the main staircase from the same kind of hardwood.* Then flooded and destroyed them all.
As his vision for movies grew, his storylines dwindled. True Lies was a remake. T2 was a sequel borrowing from the first movie. . . But with a bad guy made from liquid metal. Titanic suffered from several stereotypical movie memes. The strong willed daughter (Rose) and her mother who was pushing her into a loveless marriage for the mom’s convenience. The rouge ne'r do well who had a heart of gold. And the rich jerk of a fiancé who was engaged to Rose. Of course, Rose and the ne’r do well, Jack, fell in love and consummated their love in a matter of a few days. If it wasn’t against the backdrop of the tragedy of the Titanic sinking, it would have been a very mediocre love story at best. Late night Cinemax has better developed storylines in those flicks. Or so I’ve been told.
So why should Avatar be any different from Cameron’s other movies? Its Dances With Wolves mixed with Smurfs. A visually stunning experience but the plot has been recycled so often even Al Gore told Cameron that it’s okay to use something new. John Lasseter said that “Story is king” but George Lucas proved you can have a crap story but if you make it look cool, you can still make money on your movies.
EXTRA: A Sneak Peak at Cameron's next movie. Titanic: Two The Surface.
*Okay, I don't know that about the stairs for sure. I needed something else that was from the movie that was pretty elaborate that would have been destroyed from the flooding.