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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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James Cameron: Hollywood's new king of retread cinema

James_cameron For the longest time, there has been a remarkable consistency to James Cameron's filmmaking career. He would take years and years--and then even more years--and finally surface with a movie that was remarkably original, shockingly new and pretty much unlike anything else you'd seen all year. So I have to admit that it's something of a crushing disappointment to hear the news that Hollywood's king of the world has become the latest filmmaker to turn himself into a sequel machine, with the announcement from 20th Century Fox that Cameron will make "Avatar 2" and "Avatar 3" as his next two movies.

There's definitely a great story behind the story, since it's hardly a secret that one reason for Cameron's very public flirtation with making "Cleopatra" at Sony with Angelina Jolie was a way to give the filmmaker some much-needed leverage to close his deal at Fox, a studio notorious for driving a hard bargain, even with its most celebrated filmmaker. But the bigger story for me is the way so many of our best filmmakers have abandoned--or to hear some of them tell it, been forced to abandon--the pursuit of original film projects.

I wish I could say that I was exaggerating, but I'm not. Let's see, for example, what most of my favorite filmmakers are doing right now: Christopher Nolan is at work on "The Dark Knight Rises." Brad Bird is doing "Mission: Impossible 4." Ridley Scott is coming off a remake of "Robin Hood." Michael Mann is coming off a biopic ("Public Enemies") and a big-screen adaptation of his own 1980s TV series ("Miami Vice"). John Lasseter is at work on "Cars 2." Even the Coen brothers, who have been paragons of originality their entire career, just finished a remake of "True Grit."

That leaves a much-shorter list of filmmaking gods who are currently free from the stench of sequelitis--notably David Fincher, who swore off sequels after having a deeply unhappy experience making "Alien 3" early in his career; Martin Scorsese; Clint Eastwood; James Brooks; Danny Boyle; and Paul Thomas Anderson, although of course, Anderson is paying a price for his independence, since he can't get anyone to bankroll his new original screenplay. 

By and large, the best comedy directors have managed to avoid the trap of sequeldom, so you rarely if ever see Judd Apatow, David Dobkin, John Hamburg or David Wain stooping to conquer by reassembling their characters for one more laugh-ride--though Todd Phillips has stooped to conquer by embarking on "The Hangover 2." I'm sure if Cameron were sitting in my office right now, he'd be trying to persuade me that the world of "Avatar 2" will be just as strikingly fresh and different as the world of "Avatar."

But the odds aren't in his favor. If you look at the greatest movies ever made, "The Godfather Part II" and "The Dark Knight" are the exceptions to the rule. Most sequels, in terms of creativity, end up a lot closer in terms of consumer satisfaction to "Big Momma's House 2" or "Saw II" or even "Iron Man 2." When you leave the theater, you feel somewhere between disappointed and ripped off. I've never felt that way leaving a Jim Cameron movie, because his films were invariably cause for great anticipation. I know "Avatar 2" isn't coming until 2014, but, for now, I'm thinking about the whole project with far more dread than desire.  

Photo: James Cameron at work on the set of "Avatar." Credit: Mark Fellman/20th Century Fox

 
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As an actor Clint Eastwood has been in a few sequels (man with no name ring a bell), and as a director and an actor he made Sudden Impact (which makes that a Dirty Harry sequel). Sorry to add Mr. Eastwood to your list of those under the spell of sequelitis.

Oh yeah, also as an actor Mr. Eastwood did a repeat performance as Philo Beddoe in the Any Which Way You Can.

Sorry, I'm not trying to pick on Mr. Eastwood.

Have adrenalin rush after i've heard their going to have a sequel of this sci-fi movie. What? 2014? That's too soon!
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You know I thought how Avatar was very original,... until I saw old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that my son got for his birthday. And they were climbing up on some levitating mountains ;(

But David Fincher's doing Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which is an adaptation of a previously existing book and a remake of a foreign version. So that's not original material. Plus there are 3 books to the series and since the 3 books are really interrelated it'd be weird if he didn't do all three books. It'd be like Nolan stopping at the Dark Knight and letting someone else do the 3rd film and then never getting to complete what he wanted to say about the films. So he shouldn't be on the "shortlist of filmmaking gods" who are avoiding sequel.

Oh, and wasn't No Country for Old Men an adaptation on the book by Cormac McCarthy? So that's not 100% original material, birthed from the catacombs of the Coen brothers minds.

But I guess if you're specifically talking about movie remakes that wouldn't count. I'd still count Fincher and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo though.

HOW HORRIBLE!!! HOW CAN YOU REMAKE 'TRUE GRIT' WITHOUT THE DUKE?!! I REFUSE TO SEE SUCH REMAKE RUBBISH. i always had a lot of respect for the Coen bros. no more! i hate remakes and sequels. 85% of the time they don't work. the original 'True Grit' is a family movie classic with great photography and color and direction. why remake it? why not just encourage people to see the original. WOW! i always knew Cameron stunk and made pure commercial drivel, but the Coen bros? this is a sad revelation. burn Hollywood burn.

How original. A blog post bemoaning talented directors slumming by creating "popular" entertainment. If all Nolan, Coen Bros, Cameron did were sequels I might be willing to agree you have a point. But, sequel or not, Dark Knight was a great film and I don't know anyone (except you, apparently) who isn't excited to see what Nolan has in store for the next one. For that matter, do you think Inception even gets made without the success Nolan had with Dark Knight? Eastwood isn't exactly a stranger to sequels in his career, and his ability to make the films he is currently making is no doubt a direct result of the money he made for Warner Bros through all the sequels he did during the 70s and 80s. Isn't there something more worthwhile to complain about?

Avatar was a very original film. It's unlike anything that came before it. The sequels will be original in their own right. I would not call Cameron a retread with his track record. He doesn't do sequels in the same way others do it.

Did you just say "of the greatest movies ever made.....The Dark Knight...." in the same sentence?

 
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