Why George Lucas is More Original Than James Cameron

Posted by Michael Pinto on Feb 5, 2010 in Cinema |

James Cameron and Geroge Lucas

Recently while a good friend was telling me about the advantages of seeing Avatar in 3D IMAX over just plain 3D I couldn’t help but mention how much I hated “the plot” of the film. My friend then challenged me that while the twists-and-turns of the Na’vi may have been overly predictable that in fact the first Star Wars film was just as telegraphed.

Planet of the Apes

And here’s why that just isn’t true: When George Lucas made Star Wars back in the 70s it was a highly unusual film in that it was so optimistic. Prior to that point most films of the late 60s and early 70s were in fact very cynical at heart as they reflected a jaded cultural reaction to Vietnam and Watergate. When you look at the science fiction films from that era they all have a touch of horror to them from Planet of the Apes in 1968 to Soylent Green in 1973. In fact even Logan’s Run which has a happy ending features a world where everyone above the age of 30 is killed. So the optimism of good-winning-over-evil was actually a breath of fresh air in 1977.

American Graffiti

In fact the other thing I like about Lucas as a director is that in those early days he didn’t repeat himself: His first film THX 1138 (1971) was very different than Star Wars even though it as a science fiction film. And then you have American Graffiti (1973) which takes place in the 50s where you feel like you’re “just hanging out with the characters”: It’s an amazing film which is quite underrated because everyone still remembers Happy Days which owed so much to it. So when you think about the fact that the same George Lucas would next go on to make Star Wars it makes your mind spin at just how different that film was from anything that Lucas had done before.

Aliens

Now to be fair to James Cameron Avatar is perhaps the 11th film that he’s directed since 1978 so he’s entitled to repeat himself after making films for over thirty years. However having watched so many of those films you got the feeling watching Avatar that you had seen most of it before. It’s not even a question of the plot of the evil corporation in outer space up to no good — but even the added little touches like having Sigourney Weaver awakening from suspended animation felt like they were directly recycled directly from Aliens. And then the never ending chase scene at the end of the film reminded me a bit too much of Titanic or Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Howard the Duck

I also think that even as a producer Lucas has touched on a wider range of work. His portfolio includes everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Of course not everything that he touches is perfect, for example Howard the Duck was a complete disaster. However even the ability to do something different (even if it’s terrible) is a sign of originality to me. On the other hand Cameron plays it very safe — so his high budgets become a limitation in terms of the chances that he might otherwise take. So for me Lucas is more original than Cameron, neither of whom care much about the opinions of a mere fanboy.

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