James Cameron, the man behind the two biggest theatrical releases of all time, and arguably the one person responsible for the recent onslaught of 3D films hitting cinemas, is not shy about sharing his opinion. Ever since his long-in-development blue pet project Avatar hit theaters, we’ve seen countless other movies get the 3D treatment. However, most of these films were not shot that way and have been converted in post production for the simple (financial) reason of garnering higher ticket prices.
A few days ago, Vanity Fair interviewed James Cameron to talk about the re-release of Avatar in theaters, with a few extra minutes of never-before-scene footage. The interview sparked a bit of controversy when Cameron was asked about the release of Piranha 3D and whether or not the Alexandre Aja directed remake sparked any sort of nostalgia in him – considering his history with the franchise.
Mike Ryan of Vanity Fair raised the well-publicized fact of Cameron’s distaste for rushed 3D post-conversion and asked him how he felt about the matter now – considering this phenomenon is in existence in large part due to his vision and the success of Avatar.
“Yes, but that’s not my fault. We worked for four-and-a-half years to make Avatar what it is. There are a number of good movies that are being natively authored in 3-D that are coming out. But what you saw was sort of the gold rush. After Avatar, people tried to cash in. Or, in some cases, like Alice in Wonderland and How to Train Your Dragon— especially the latter, which I think is excellent in 3-D—they were films that were in the pipeline for some time. They weren’t cashing in, they were just coming out. You’re going to see the whole market kind of stabilize and redefine itself over the next couple of years. Look, it’s caveat emptor as well. The consumer needs to be aware that just because a movie is in 3-D doesn’t mean that it’s good. And they can find out online or the media can talk about it. Was it shot in 3-D or was it converted to 3-D? And even conversion itself is not necessarily bad if it’s done right.”
I think most moviegoers can agree that, aside from animated features, we’d prefer movies to be shot in 3D rather than be subject to poor and rushed 3D post conversion, which has never looked good or enhanced a film (think The Last Airbender and Clash of the Titans). However, James Cameron isn’t altogether dismissing post-conversion, since he’s converting his other “biggest film of all time,” Titanic, into 3D.
“Yes, we’re going to prove that point with Titanic. We really want it to be the gold standard of how you do a conversion.”
Due to the difficulties and logistics of actually shooting live-action in 3D, conversion is likely to be what we can expect from the industry going forward, especially for summer tentpole movies. All of your big action blockbusters and superhero comic book movies will be in 3D but many of them will not be shot using 3D technology. In fact, it’s already happening as we speak with Marvel Studios’ Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Thor finished principal photography weeks ago and are deep into post production, yet they have until next May before the film comes out. With eight full months of time to work on the film, we can only hope that they perfect the post conversion 3D – to enhance the moviegoing experience.
The next part of the interview is where headlines started getting made. Cameron was asked about Piranha 3D and if it brought stirred up any nostalgia in him. The first feature film Cameron ever worked on as a director was Piranha 2, back in 1981, although he wasn’t on the project for long.
“Zero. You’ve got to remember: I worked on Piranha 2 for a few days and got fired off of it; I don’t put it on my official filmography. So there’s no sort of fond connection for me whatsoever. In fact, I would go even farther and say that… I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D. When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity and at the last gasp of their financial lifespan, they did a 3-D version to get the last few drops of blood out of the turnip. And that’s not what’s happening now with 3-D. It is a renaissance—right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D. Martin Scorsese is making a film in 3-D. Disney’s biggest film of the year—Tron: Legacy—is coming out in 3-D. So it’s a whole new ballgame.”
On one hand, I completely agree that the 3D effect has been abused quite a bit in 2010. We’ve seen so many studios tack on 3D post-conversion for the sole reason of inflating ticket prices. It’s not an artistic or creative decision, it’s 100% financial and that’s not how a film should be treated (if we lived in a perfect world).
Through the outcry of journalists and moviegoers, we have seen a bit of change for the better. Some studios are taking more time, planning in advance for 3D. Films such as Drive Angry and Resident Evil: Afterlife pride themselves on actually shooting in 3D from the start, and others are avoiding 3D entirely, simply because it wouldn’t work to enhance the creative vision (think Jon Favreau on Cowboys and Aliens).
Where James Cameron goes wrong here is in his arguably insulting comments about creativity. Comments like: “When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity” for example. As a fellow-filmmaker, there’s no reason to bash the talent or creativity of a project, especially when you have nothing to do with it. Cameron is super successful at everything he does and, as a result, gets to do whatever he wants. Does he really need to cast stones at the creativity or talent behind Piranha 3D? Taking shots at the use of 3D is one thing, a point I actually agree on, but knocking down the movie when it’s clear he hasn’t seen it, that’s something entirely different.
Piranha 3D is an over-the-top gimmick film and it totally works as such. It completely lives up to what it presents itself as, without taking itself seriously, and that’s why the gimmicky 3D works here – it’s a campy and fun experience. Hell, even most critics are behind it, and despite the film’s graphic violence and nudity, it’s doing fantastic on Rotten Tomatoes, currently sitting at 75% fresh.
In response to Cameron’s comments, Mark Canton, producer of Piranha 3D felt the need to defend his colleagues and sent out a very public response.
Read Mark Canton’s response to James Cameron below:
“Jim, are you kidding or what? First of all, let’s start by you accepting the fact that you were the original director of PIRANHA 2 and you were fired. Shame on you for thinking that genre movies and the real maestros like Roger Corman and his collaborators are any less auteur or impactful in the history of cinema than you. Martin Scorcese made Boxcar Bertha at the beginning of his career. And Francis Ford Coppola made Dimentia 13 back in 1963. And those are just a few examples of the talented and successful filmmakers whose roots are in genre films. Who are you to impugn any genre film or its creators?
Having been deeply involved, as either an executive or as a producer, on Tim Burton’s original BATMAN and the first MEN IN BLACK, as well as 300, and now IMMORTALS, one of the things that has been consistent about all of the filmmakers involved in these landscape-changing global films is that, in each and every case, all of the directors were humbled by their predecessors, their colleagues and by their awareness of the great history of film that came before them. The enjoyment and the immersion of an audience in a movie theatre, as they had and will have with the above-mentioned films, and as audiences are experiencing with PIRNAHA 3D now, comes from the originality and the vision of the filmmaker, and not just from the creation of the technology. You as much as anyone certainly knows that there are many pieces to the puzzle. Going to the movies still remains, arguably, amongst the best communal experiences that human beings can share.
My sense is that Mr. Cameron has never seen PIRANHA 3D…certainly not in a movie theatre with a real audience. Jim, we invite you to take that opportunity and experience the movie in a theatre full of fans – fans for whom this movie was always intended to entertain. Does Mr. Cameron have no idea of the painstaking efforts made by the talented young filmmaker Alex Aja and his team of collaborators? Clearly, and this one is a good bet, he has no clue as to how great and how much of a fun-filled experience the audiences who have seen the film in 3D have enjoyed. Those of us who have tried to stay in touch with the common movie audiences – the ones who really matter, the ones who actually still go to the theatre, put on the glasses, and eat the popcorn – take joy and pride in the fact that movies of all kinds, including PIRANHA 3D, have a place in filmmaking history – past, present and future. 3D unto itself is not a genre Jim, it is a tool that gives audiences an enhanced experience as they experience all kinds of movies. I believe Mr. Cameron did not see PIRANHA 3D either with any real audience or not at all. On opening weekend, I was in a Los Angeles theatre with a number of today’s great film makers including JJ Abrams, who actually had nothing short of the fabulous, fun 3D experience that the movie provides. I am fortunate enough to have worked on, and continue to work on, evolutionary movies in all formats from just simple good story telling, which still matters most of all, to CG movies to tent-pole size 3D movies, and genre 3D movies like PIRANHA 3D. What it comes down to, Jim, is – that like most things in life – size doesn’t really matter. Not everyone has the advantage of having endless amounts of money to play in their sandbox and to take ten years using other people’s money to make and market a film….like you do. Why can’t you just count your blessings? Why do you have to drop Marty Scorsese’s or Tim Burton’s names, both gentlemen who I have personally worked with, and who have enjoyed great joy and success with movies of all genres and sizes well before the advent of modern 3D? Then as now, they were like kids in a candy store recognizing, far beyond your imagination, the possibilities of storytelling and originality.
For the record, before you just totally dismiss PIRANHA 3D and all, in your opinion, worthless genre movies that actually undoubtedly gave you the ability to start your career, you should know that PIRANHA 3D had an 82% “fresh” (positive) ratting on Rotten Tomatoes on opening day – a web site that all the studios, filmmakers and the public use as a barometer of what makes a quality film.
We know that PIRANHA 3D has not achieved a boxoffice that is on the level of many of Mr. Cameron’s successes. To date, PIRANHA 3D has earned over $30 million around the globe with #1 openings in several countries. And, as the “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes indicates, critics and many, many others have embraced and celebrated PIRANHA 3D for the fun and entertaining – and even smart – movie-going experience that it is.
Let’s just keep this in mind Jim….you did not invent 3D. You were fortunate that others inspired you to take it further. The simple truth is that I had nothing but good things to say about AVATAR and my own experience since I actually saw it and didn’t damn someone else’s talent publicly in order to disassociate myself from my origins in the business from which we are all very fortunate. To be honest, I found the 3D in AVATAR to be inconsistent and while ground breaking in many respects, sometimes I thought it overwhelmed the storytelling. Technology aside, I wish AVATAR had been more original in its storytelling.
We have to inspire, teach and mentor this next generation of filmmakers. It is garbage to suggest that any film or any filmmaker who cannot afford to work to your standards should be dissuaded from following his or her craft by not making 3D movies or not making movies like DISTRICT 9, for example, which probably cost the amount of AVATAR’s craft services budget, but totally rocked it in the movie theatre and in the marketplace. In that case, it was not a 3D movie. But had it been, it certainly would not have been any less original or impactful. The enormous worldwide success of AVATAR has been good in all respects for you, your financiers, your distributors and the industry, as well as for the movie going public. Jim, there is a difference between Maestro which is a word that garners respect, and Dictator or Critic which are words better left for others who are not in our mutual boat or on our team. You are one of the best, it is reasonable to think that you should dig deeper and behave like it. Young directors should be inspired by you, not publicly castigated by your mean-spirited and flawed analysis.
While we are all awed by your talents and your box office successes – and I compliment you on all of them – why don’t you rethink how you address films with which you are not involved? You should be taking the high road that is being travelled by so many of your peers, and pulling with them to ensure that we, as an industry, will have a continuum of talented filmmakers that will deliver a myriad of motion pictures both big and small, with 3D or any other technologies yet to come that will entertain audiences throughout the world. That is the challenge that we face. That is the future that we should deliver.
Please go see PIRANHA 3D in a theatre near you.”
While I appreciate Mark Canton defending his project and trying to bring Cameron’s ego down to a sizable level, I’m not sure this open letter was the way to go. But, it is entertaining and I’m glad he did! Especially in response to Cameron’s words.
Canton makes a number of good points regarding how Cameron sees himself in the industry, how he got his start and how all directors get their start. He also makes sure to point out Cameron’s involvement in Piranha 2, and that the famed director doesn’t really have the right to bash the creative talent behind Piranha 3D.
However, I did find several pieces of desperation here as well – notably where Canton points to an in-theater experience, at one particular LA-based cinema, and later pointing out that on opening day, Piranha 3D had a good score on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie didn’t bank that much in the grand scheme of things, in terms of filling seats across the nation. As a result, pointing out one Hollywood theater experience as an example doesn’t exactly convince me of the film’s quality – even if J.J. Abrams was in attendance.
The Rotten Tomatoes point is another questionable piece of evidence. The Tomatometer means little on opening day, since it can easily drop once all of the reviews are collected – which it did, from 82% to 75%. Though, when all is said and done, Piranha 3D will make a pretty penny and a sequel (that’s already greenlit) is definitely justified.
With the return of 3D films, which seem poised to stick around for awhile, Cameron is correct about the quality of post-conversion 3D – and how it gets misused. Clearly, it’s a gimmick in the case of Piranha 3D but that’s exactly why it’s there. I’m not sure people would be as excited about the film had that key selling point been absent – in this case, it adds to the experience, even if the actual 3D effect is below standard.
Where Cameron goes wrong is in attacking the creative talent of the film. A multi-billion dollar wallet doesn’t justify over-stepping your bounds.