jrobinsonwheeler

Suggested price:   Less than 3¢ per word
Location:  Austin, TX
  • 0
  • 0
  • 0%
  • 6.8%
  • 0%
  • 6.6%
  • 0%

Biography

My main writer strength is flow. I can put words together that flow together, and make a point while making sense.

I am a writer in the Austin, Texas area for two decades and continuing. I write stories, essays, movie reviews, e-books, screenplays, and interactive fiction stories for videogames. I wrote for Writing for Videogame Genres, and am a contributing co-editor of The IF Theory Reader with Kevin Jackson-Mead. Additionally, I have done two graphic novels: ACX-Academy X (with Adam Cadre) and The Q Man-ANTIGENESIS (with Aaron Schnore) as a visual storyteller.

EDUCATION:  BA Communication from Stanford University BLOG:  None provided
CERTIFICATIONS:  None provided CURRICULUM VITAE:  Must be logged in to view

Niches

  • Arts & Design
  • Career
  • Family Life
  • Food & Drink
  • Games & Hobbies
  • General
  • Humor
  • Local
  • Men
  • Music & Entertainment
  • News
  • Politics & Society
  • Science & Technology
  • Shopping
  • Writing & Blogging

Writing Sample

In terms of box office revenues, filmmaker James Cameron is the most successful creator of cinematic love stories of all time. Despite his extensive use of cutting-edge special effects technology and lavish budgets, Cameron has consistently put this moviemaking muscle to the task of telling love stories, stories of men and women, women and children, bonding under extraordinary circumstances. The mammoth TITANIC (1997) is the grandest and most lavish example, a success (in terms of storytelling as well as revenues and awards) which Cameron may never be able to top. If we look back, though, we see him working with the same themes repeatedly, from the time-travel love affair of THE TERMINATOR (1984) to the maternal love for the offsping of that affair in its sequel five years later. The mother-child theme appears again in ALIENS (1986), love story again wedded to science-fiction action. Husbands and wives undergoing the stress of marriage appears as a theme in THE ABYSS (1989) and TRUE LIES (1994).

Given the box office record of these films, it seems as if Cameron is using a formula for success. It is a formula, however, that is notoriously difficult to repeat. The history of filmic love stories is one of repeated misfires, even by the most consistent practicioners of the genre. Cameron's genius was to marry two genres: action movies, a modern genre, and love stories, one of the oldest in human history. Cameron realized that the exaggerated razzle-dazzle of a special effects action picture could be strengthened by tethering it to a human-sized story of love, and that a love story could be given some grit and heft by having it take place amid the accelerated pace of staged action sequences.

From the Silent Era to James Cameron

The action movie as we talk about it today was largely invented in the mid-to-late 1970s by two filmmakers, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, but it was broadened in the 1980s by the rise of action movie stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. Of the three, Schwarzenegger is indebted to James Cameron for boosting him to the top of the action movie heap. Before Cameron and Schwarzenegger, and before Spielberg and Lucas, though, came decades of films that provided gutsy action, daring feats, close escapes, and brilliant stuntwork. The first action movie star, a man once considered to be Hollywood royalty, a king at the top of the mountain, was in his agile, breathtaking prime in the silent era. His name was Douglas Fairbanks.

Douglas Fairbanks was a robust athlete who performed his own stunts on screen in movies such as THE MARK OF ZORRO (19--). Swinging from ropes, hurdling horses, and other genuine physical feats were his specialty. He also had the natural movie star charisma, with a beaming smile, a muscular frame, and a chisel-cut jawline. His reign as action star coincided with the raucous frenzy of an entirely different screen genre, but one which heralded the same kinds of close shaves, near-death timing, and unabated velocity that we find in the modern action movie -- slapstick comedy, from which we also get the modern action movie's staple adrenline gimmick, the car chase. The famous Mack Sennett studios cranked out brainless and hilarious action two- reelers week after week for nearly a decade.

The movies matured in two ways at once in the 1920's, signalling an end, for quite a while, to the use of frenetic action on screen. The first development was towards longer, feature-sized pictures, which demanded plot and narrative where plain craziness and action for action's sake had been sufficient entertainment. There was still a place for high-flying action in some of the late silent-era pictures; literally true in WINGS (1928), the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, which featured World War I airplane battles. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)'s BEN HUR (1925) provided the grand spectacle of ocean battles as well as its hyperkinetic chariot race -- for which the stunt chariot drivers were goaded into extremes of racing action by the promise of a bonus if they won the race as the cameras rolled. The silent comedians Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton continued to provide white-knuckled thrills and stunts as they moved from two-reelers into features, but such set pieces came fewer and farther between.

The second development was motion picture sound, which for at least half a decade proscribed the use of high-action camera work. Sound technology was at first cumbersome, requiring a soundproof box to be constructed around the camera as well as large microphones which had to be locked in place, even requiring strict limitation on actor movement. The camera couldn't move, and the actors could only move a little, so talking pictures, for a time, were good for that and only that: a lot of standing (or sitting) around and talking. Some directors in the 1930s rose to the challenge and put their crews to work making movies mobile again. There also arose a genre which depended on a certain number of thrills and gunplay: the crime genre. Warner Brothers, the studio that first developed the Vitaphone sound technology for THE JAZZ SINGER (1927), was the scrappy runt of the studio system litter at the time. Lacking the lavish budgets that the mighty MGM could throw into its star-powered extravaganzas, it made quick, dirty pictures that made crime-action heroes out of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, two actors who really cannot be said to be action-heroes at all. Their intensity, and that of the pictures that they made famous, was in their gritty performances, not in the scenes of squealing tires and blazing guns.

Other genres afforded something closer to the old-time thrills. Westerns could be called on to show off thundering hooves in taut action sequences. John Ford's STAGECOACH (1938), starring John Wayne, offered some of the best movie stuntwork of all time in its central action set-piece, with a stagecoach being pulled full-tilt by a team of horses across the dusty western plains, pursued by an army of enemies on horseback. The African jungle was a good place to find some vine-swinging, crocodile-rassling excitement in the series of Tarzan adventures, brought to life by a series of athletic leading men like Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmueller. War pictures, which had been a staple of the movies since the silent era, were a reliable source of at least one large battle sequence per picture, although it was again the intensity of the situation that gave these movies their thrills more than the dynamics of pure cinematic action.

If it was genre pictures like these, the B-movies, that provided the best settings for stunts and action, it was the lowest-rung pictures, the C-movies, that provided the most direct influence, the seminal inspiration, for the modern action pictures of Spielberg and Lucas: the cliffhanger serial. On Saturday afternoons in the 1940s and 1950s, American children, most likely young boys, would truck out to the local theater, dime in hand, and plunk down for a cheesy dose of brainless thrills, delivered in weekly installments. Cranked out by casts and crews who probably wished for better quality industry jobs, Western heroes, costumed heroes, science-fiction heroes, spy heroes, (everyone, really, except romantic heroes) would slog through nineteen and a half minutes of badly paced expository dialogue every week, only to end up crashing over a cliff, decimated in an explosion, cut in half by a death ray, or torn apart by wild animals in the last thirty seconds, leaving its breathless audience in heady anticipation until the following Saturday. Thereupon, the hero would be shown making a ridiculous escape from the previous week's disaster, and the cycle would start again. Half a century later, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided that if they crammed an entire 12-part serial's cliffhanger excitement into one two-hour movie adventure, and with an accompanying boost in the quality of the script, acting, and special effects, you would really have something.

Before them, however, came Alfred Hitchcock, an unlikely at first mention choice for a seminal action movie director. Though he will be forever be known as the Master of Suspense, he was really the Master of Audience Manipulation, and what he was always after was thrills. In the late 1950's, after decades of providing thrills through pure suspense, Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman teamed up to create what is unquestionably the first modern action movie: NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). Starring Cary Grant, who, like the action stars of the past (and present), was a natural athlete (he was an acrobat in his youth, and presented his keen physical skills in a series of screwball comedies such as HOLIDAY (1938) and BRINGING UP BABY (1940)), NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a series of thrilling action set-pieces with only the barest plot device driving the hero from one to the next. Barely a few minutes into the movie, Grant is kidnapped only to make his escape by car at swervingly high speeds (he is has been drugged with a high quantity of alcohol). The movie careens from set piece to set piece, from the justifiably famous crop duster sequence to the climax on the faces of Mount Rushmore. Throughout it all, Grant's character keeps his sense of humor (wisecracks from the hero being another staple of the modern action genre) and even manages to work in a romance with Eva Marie Saint. Though there is no other movie quite exactly like it, NORTH BY NORTHWEST bears all the hallmarks of the genre it essentially invented.

One director who instinctively soaked up every lesson in suspense, action, and thrills that Hitchcock had to teach was the young Steven Spielberg. A naturally gifted filmmaker and boy-genius prodigy, Spielberg was already under contract to Universal Studios as a television director when he was in his early 20s. After helming episodes of late sixties and early seventies television series such as COLUMBO and Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY, Spielberg was given the green light to direct a full-length television movie, his first feature, DUEL (1971). It would not be unfair to describe DUEL as a movie-length version of Hitchcock's crop duster set piece. In it, the hero is relentlessly chased by a large truck that comes out of nowhere and tries to kill him. Spielberg uses every suspense and action trick in the book to stretch out this extended car chase. (This same inhuman relentlessness would be the driving force behind Cameron's TERMINATOR fourteen years later, although the machine would wear the semblance of a human face.)

Five years later, Spielberg returned to cinematic territory first charted by Alfred Hitchcock. JAWS (1975), the world's first summer blockbuster, a movie that unalterably changed the economics of the movie business, is similar in theme to Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1963). In both of them, residents in a small seacoast town are subjected to repeated and vicious attacks by the animal kingdom, birds in one case and a great white shark in the other. Again, relentlessness (and inhumanity) is the main feature of the menace, a malevolent willfulness. For the first time, though, Spielberg stretches his fully-grown wings and soars beyond the filmmakers who came before him; with the audience dangling helplessly from his tether, he swoops, circles, flies high and dives with uncanny cinematic ease, thrilling his audience with the same mastery as Hitchcock. Spielberg had something more, though, an expertise with pure fun, an ability to guide a movie along roller-coaster like rails, all the while maintaining the audience's trust that the wheels would never leave the tracks, that they could whoop and cheer at the thrills and return safely at the end, applauding the excitement when it was all over -- only to get in line again to take the ride a second time, or a third, or more.

It was this blockbusting repeat business that made JAWS the most profitable movie ever, a record it held for barely two years, when it was unexpectedly trumped by George Lucas's STAR WARS (1977). Pushing visual and sound effects technology to a new state of the art, George Lucas had recreated the cliffhanger serial for a new generation. Instead of returning week after week to see the next chapter in the series, Lucas managed to get excited kids (and teenagers, and adults) back in line again and again to buy tickets for the same adventure. If movies like this are said to have "legs," STAR WARS was striding on thirty foot stilts, trampling everything else the movie business was offering that year, or any year before it. Lucas and Spielberg were now the indisputed box office blockbuster kings; they were also friends who were cooking up plans to work together.

What they conjured was the most direct homage yet to the cliffhanger serials of old, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), a movie built around the adventures and daring escapes of its cliffhanger hero, Indiana Jones, and nostalgically set in the 1930s, when the cliffhanger serial was first born. Careening wildly around the world map, with a new thrill and a new last-minute escape every six or ten minutes, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK raised and set the bar for all action movies to come. Somewhat lost in the shuffle of copycat action movies to be released in its huge wake was the intelligence of the screenplay and the instantaneous connection made between the onscreen hero and the audience. Even though a number of arguably brain-dead action movies starring questionably sympathetic heroes (ones who pitilessly mowed down dozens of people at a time with automatic weapons) scored well at the box office in the decade following RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the best of the best action filmmakers were the ones who instinctively knew that a good movie needed to have a brain and a heart. A brain, so as not to pander or insult, also to provide thrills that displayed real ingenuity and creativity; and a heart not just to get the audience's collective blood pumping, but to touch it as well with human wamrth.

James Cameron burst, fully-formed, onto the scene with a movie that did all of this equally well. THE TERMINATOR provided a relentless inhuman menace (and attendant gigantic action set pieces), the twisty cerebral pleasure of a science fiction time travel story, and a genuine love story. The love story itself is played earnestly, with seriousness, but follows a classic pattern: man and woman meet at cross-purposes, repeatedly fail to get along, are nonetheless pressed closer and closer together by plot circumstance, until finally, there is a romantic meeting between the two, and a genuine love bond formed between them. This classic boy-meets-girl scenario has as long a screen history as the action movie, appearing in everything from screwball comedies to the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK clone, ROMANCING THE STONE (1982) (which, arguably, was also a screwball comedy).

Cameron trademarks: Friendship and familial bonds

Friendship under fire and the fierce strength of maternal instincts were the same themes Cameron used in ALIENS (1987), the movie he made in after the first TERMINATOR, and his second outing as the director of a sequel to a horror movie created by another director. He uses these themes more freshly and adeptly here than in TERMINATOR 2. Actor Michael Biehn is back, but there is no romance between his character and the heroine played by Sigourney Weaver, just respect, loyalty, and a growing friendship as circumstances grow ever more dire. Again, it is the threat of constant attack by an unstoppable, inhuman enemy that grows and cements these bonds. At the same time, a child orphaned by the same threat becomes a surrogate daughter for Ripley, Weaver's character. The maternal themes are brought into crass relief by the appearance, at the climax of the movie, of the queen alien -- Ripley and a team of spacefaring marines have spent the movie destroying this queen mother's many children, and the whole movie comes down to a one-on-one fight to the death between them. 
 

In terms of box office revenues, filmmaker James Cameron is the most successful creator of cinematic love stories of all time. Despite his extensive use of cutting-edge special effects technology and lavish budgets, Cameron has consistently put this moviemaking muscle to the task of telling love stories, stories of men and women, women and children, bonding under extraordinary circumstances. The mammoth TITANIC (1997) is the grandest and most lavish example, a success (in terms of storytelling as well as revenues and awards) which Cameron may never be able to top. If we look back, though, we see him working with the same themes repeatedly, from the time-travel love affair of THE TERMINATOR (1984) to the maternal love for the offsping of that affair in its sequel five years later. The mother-child theme appears again in ALIENS (1986), love story again wedded to science-fiction action. Husbands and wives undergoing the stress of marriage appears as a theme in THE ABYSS (1989) and TRUE LIES (1994).

Given the box office record of these films, it seems as if Cameron is using a formula for success. It is a formula, however, that is notoriously difficult to repeat. The history of filmic love stories is one of repeated misfires, even by the most consistent practicioners of the genre. Cameron's genius was to marry two genres: action movies, a modern genre, and love stories, one of the oldest in human history. Cameron realized that the exaggerated razzle-dazzle of a special effects action picture could be strengthened by tethering it to a human-sized story of love, and that a love story could be given some grit and heft by having it take place amid the accelerated pace of staged action sequences.

 


 

History of the Action Movie:

From the Silent Era to James Cameron

The action movie as we talk about it today was largely invented in the mid-to-late 1970s by two filmmakers, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, but it was broadened in the 1980s by the rise of action movie stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. Of the three, Schwarzenegger is indebted to James Cameron for boosting him to the top of the action movie heap. Before Cameron and Schwarzenegger, and before Spielberg and Lucas, though, came decades of films that provided gutsy action, daring feats, close escapes, and brilliant stuntwork. The first action movie star, a man once considered to be Hollywood royalty, a king at the top of the mountain, was in his agile, breathtaking prime in the silent era. His name was Douglas Fairbanks.

Douglas Fairbanks was a robust athlete who performed his own stunts on screen in movies such as THE MARK OF ZORRO (19--). Swinging from ropes, hurdling horses, and other genuine physical feats were his specialty. He also had the natural movie star charisma, with a beaming smile, a muscular frame, and a chisel-cut jawline. His reign as action star coincided with the raucous frenzy of an entirely different screen genre, but one which heralded the same kinds of close shaves, near-death timing, and unabated velocity that we find in the modern action movie -- slapstick comedy, from which we also get the modern action movie's staple adrenline gimmick, the car chase. The famous Mack Sennett studios cranked out brainless and hilarious action two- reelers week after week for nearly a decade.

The movies matured in two ways at once in the 1920's, signalling an end, for quite a while, to the use of frenetic action on screen. The first development was towards longer, feature-sized pictures, which demanded plot and narrative where plain craziness and action for action's sake had been sufficient entertainment. There was still a place for high-flying action in some of the late silent-era pictures; literally true in WINGS (1928), the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, which featured World War I airplane battles. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)'s BEN HUR (1925) provided the grand spectacle of ocean battles as well as its hyperkinetic chariot race -- for which the stunt chariot drivers were goaded into extremes of racing action by the promise of a bonus if they won the race as the cameras rolled. The silent comedians Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton continued to provide white-knuckled thrills and stunts as they moved from two-reelers into features, but such set pieces came fewer and farther between.

The second development was motion picture sound, which for at least half a decade proscribed the use of high-action camera work. Sound technology was at first cumbersome, requiring a soundproof box to be constructed around the camera as well as large microphones which had to be locked in place, even requiring strict limitation on actor movement. The camera couldn't move, and the actors could only move a little, so talking pictures, for a time, were good for that and only that: a lot of standing (or sitting) around and talking. Some directors in the 1930s rose to the challenge and put their crews to work making movies mobile again. There also arose a genre which depended on a certain number of thrills and gunplay: the crime genre. Warner Brothers, the studio that first developed the Vitaphone sound technology for THE JAZZ SINGER (1927), was the scrappy runt of the studio system litter at the time. Lacking the lavish budgets that the mighty MGM could throw into its star-powered extravaganzas, it made quick, dirty pictures that made crime-action heroes out of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, two actors who really cannot be said to be action-heroes at all. Their intensity, and that of the pictures that they made famous, was in their gritty performances, not in the scenes of squealing tires and blazing guns.

Other genres afforded something closer to the old-time thrills. Westerns could be called on to show off thundering hooves in taut action sequences. John Ford's STAGECOACH (1938), starring John Wayne, offered some of the best movie stuntwork of all time in its central action set-piece, with a stagecoach being pulled full-tilt by a team of horses across the dusty western plains, pursued by an army of enemies on horseback. The African jungle was a good place to find some vine-swinging, crocodile-rassling excitement in the series of Tarzan adventures, brought to life by a series of athletic leading men like Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmueller. War pictures, which had been a staple of the movies since the silent era, were a reliable source of at least one large battle sequence per picture, although it was again the intensity of the situation that gave these movies their thrills more than the dynamics of pure cinematic action.

If it was genre pictures like these, the B-movies, that provided the best settings for stunts and action, it was the lowest-rung pictures, the C-movies, that provided the most direct influence, the seminal inspiration, for the modern action pictures of Spielberg and Lucas: the cliffhanger serial. On Saturday afternoons in the 1940s and 1950s, American children, most likely young boys, would truck out to the local theater, dime in hand, and plunk down for a cheesy dose of brainless thrills, delivered in weekly installments. Cranked out by casts and crews who probably wished for better quality industry jobs, Western heroes, costumed heroes, science-fiction heroes, spy heroes, (everyone, really, except romantic heroes) would slog through nineteen and a half minutes of badly paced expository dialogue every week, only to end up crashing over a cliff, decimated in an explosion, cut in half by a death ray, or torn apart by wild animals in the last thirty seconds, leaving its breathless audience in heady anticipation until the following Saturday. Thereupon, the hero would be shown making a ridiculous escape from the previous week's disaster, and the cycle would start again. Half a century later, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg decided that if they crammed an entire 12-part serial's cliffhanger excitement into one two-hour movie adventure, and with an accompanying boost in the quality of the script, acting, and special effects, you would really have something.

Before them, however, came Alfred Hitchcock, an unlikely at first mention choice for a seminal action movie director. Though he will be forever be known as the Master of Suspense, he was really the Master of Audience Manipulation, and what he was always after was thrills. In the late 1950's, after decades of providing thrills through pure suspense, Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman teamed up to create what is unquestionably the first modern action movie: NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). Starring Cary Grant, who, like the action stars of the past (and present), was a natural athlete (he was an acrobat in his youth, and presented his keen physical skills in a series of screwball comedies such as HOLIDAY (1938) and BRINGING UP BABY (1940)), NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a series of thrilling action set-pieces with only the barest plot device driving the hero from one to the next. Barely a few minutes into the movie, Grant is kidnapped only to make his escape by car at swervingly high speeds (he is has been drugged with a high quantity of alcohol). The movie careens from set piece to set piece, from the justifiably famous crop duster sequence to the climax on the faces of Mount Rushmore. Throughout it all, Grant's character keeps his sense of humor (wisecracks from the hero being another staple of the modern action genre) and even manages to work in a romance with Eva Marie Saint. Though there is no other movie quite exactly like it, NORTH BY NORTHWEST bears all the hallmarks of the genre it essentially invented.

One director who instinctively soaked up every lesson in suspense, action, and thrills that Hitchcock had to teach was the young Steven Spielberg. A naturally gifted filmmaker and boy-genius prodigy, Spielberg was already under contract to Universal Studios as a television director when he was in his early 20s. After helming episodes of late sixties and early seventies television series such as COLUMBO and Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY, Spielberg was given the green light to direct a full-length television movie, his first feature, DUEL (1971). It would not be unfair to describe DUEL as a movie-length version of Hitchcock's crop duster set piece. In it, the hero is relentlessly chased by a large truck that comes out of nowhere and tries to kill him. Spielberg uses every suspense and action trick in the book to stretch out this extended car chase. (This same inhuman relentlessness would be the driving force behind Cameron's TERMINATOR fourteen years later, although the machine would wear the semblance of a human face.)

Five years later, Spielberg returned to cinematic territory first charted by Alfred Hitchcock. JAWS (1975), the world's first summer blockbuster, a movie that unalterably changed the economics of the movie business, is similar in theme to Hitchcock's THE BIRDS (1963). In both of them, residents in a small seacoast town are subjected to repeated and vicious attacks by the animal kingdom, birds in one case and a great white shark in the other. Again, relentlessness (and inhumanity) is the main feature of the menace, a malevolent willfulness. For the first time, though, Spielberg stretches his fully-grown wings and soars beyond the filmmakers who came before him; with the audience dangling helplessly from his tether, he swoops, circles, flies high and dives with uncanny cinematic ease, thrilling his audience with the same mastery as Hitchcock. Spielberg had something more, though, an expertise with pure fun, an ability to guide a movie along roller-coaster like rails, all the while maintaining the audience's trust that the wheels would never leave the tracks, that they could whoop and cheer at the thrills and return safely at the end, applauding the excitement when it was all over -- only to get in line again to take the ride a second time, or a third, or more.

It was this blockbusting repeat business that made JAWS the most profitable movie ever, a record it held for barely two years, when it was unexpectedly trumped by George Lucas's STAR WARS (1977). Pushing visual and sound effects technology to a new state of the art, George Lucas had recreated the cliffhanger serial for a new generation. Instead of returning week after week to see the next chapter in the series, Lucas managed to get excited kids (and teenagers, and adults) back in line again and again to buy tickets for the same adventure. If movies like this are said to have "legs," STAR WARS was striding on thirty foot stilts, trampling everything else the movie business was offering that year, or any year before it. Lucas and Spielberg were now the indisputed box office blockbuster kings; they were also friends who were cooking up plans to work together.

What they conjured was the most direct homage yet to the cliffhanger serials of old, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), a movie built around the adventures and daring escapes of its cliffhanger hero, Indiana Jones, and nostalgically set in the 1930s, when the cliffhanger serial was first born. Careening wildly around the world map, with a new thrill and a new last-minute escape every six or ten minutes, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK raised and set the bar for all action movies to come. Somewhat lost in the shuffle of copycat action movies to be released in its huge wake was the intelligence of the screenplay and the instantaneous connection made between the onscreen hero and the audience. Even though a number of arguably brain-dead action movies starring questionably sympathetic heroes (ones who pitilessly mowed down dozens of people at a time with automatic weapons) scored well at the box office in the decade following RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the best of the best action filmmakers were the ones who instinctively knew that a good movie needed to have a brain and a heart. A brain, so as not to pander or insult, also to provide thrills that displayed real ingenuity and creativity; and a heart not just to get the audience's collective blood pumping, but to touch it as well with human wamrth.

James Cameron burst, fully-formed, onto the scene with a movie that did all of this equally well. THE TERMINATOR provided a relentless inhuman menace (and attendant gigantic action set pieces), the twisty cerebral pleasure of a science fiction time travel story, and a genuine love story. The love story itself is played earnestly, with seriousness, but follows a classic pattern: man and woman meet at cross-purposes, repeatedly fail to get along, are nonetheless pressed closer and closer together by plot circumstance, until finally, there is a romantic meeting between the two, and a genuine love bond formed between them. This classic boy-meets-girl scenario has as long a screen history as the action movie, appearing in everything from screwball comedies to the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK clone, ROMANCING THE STONE (1982) (which, arguably, was also a screwball comedy).

Friendship under fire and the fierce strength of maternal instincts were the same themes Cameron used in ALIENS (1987), the movie he made in after the first TERMINATOR, and his second outing as the director of a sequel to a horror movie created by another director. He uses these themes more freshly and adeptly here than in TERMINATOR 2. Actor Michael Biehn is back, but there is no romance between his character and the heroine played by Sigourney Weaver, just respect, loyalty, and a growing friendship as circumstances grow ever more dire. Again, it is the threat of constant attack by an unstoppable, inhuman enemy that grows and cements these bonds. At the same time, a child orphaned by the same threat becomes a surrogate daughter for Ripley, Weaver's character. The maternal themes are brought into crass relief by the appearance, at the climax of the movie, of the queen alien -- Ripley and a team of spacefaring marines have spent the movie destroying this queen mother's many children, and the whole movie comes down to a one-on-one fight to the death between them. 

 

 

Sign Up for Our Newsletter