In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, “Titanic” and “Avatar” director James Cameron castigated the Academy for not recognizing blockbusters — or as he calls them — “visual cinema.” The Oscar-winning director was promoting his new documentary, “Atlantis Rising,” about a team of archaeologists searching for the famous lost city, which premiered on the National Geographic Channel on January 29th.
When the conversation turned to the Oscars’ waning ratings, Cameron offered this explanation:
“There have been a few times throughout the history of the Oscars where a wildly popular film was well-received, but your typical year the Academy takes the position of: ‘It is our patrician duty to tell the great unwashed what they should be watching,’ and they don’t reward the films that people really want to see—that they’re paying money to go see—and they’re telling them, “Yeah, you think you like that, but what you should be liking is this.” And as long as the Academy sees that as their duty, don’t expect high ratings. Expect a good show, and do that duty, but don’t whine about your ratings. ‘Titanic’ was a very unusual case. I’m not saying it’s a better film than films before or after, or it was necessarily a better year in general, but it was a film that made a boatload of money and got a lot of nominations. The next time we see that, we’ll see ratings go up. It’s that simple.”
When the interviewer wonders if the Academy is biased toward big-budget money-makers, Cameron agreed, surmising that Oscar voters feared visual effects:
“There’s definitely a bias. The Academy still has a majority of its members that are actors. Look, I love actors, but that’s how they think—they’re generally skeptical of technology. So when they see a film that’s too dependent on visual effects, they say, oh, that’s not an acting movie. Well Titanic was a visual effects movie in sheep’s clothing, you know? Yes, it had visual effects, but it was about the people and about the story. The visual effects were eclipsed by that. But if you do a movie like ‘Avatar,’ the effects are right out front, and even though I felt the acting was just as good, and the story we were telling was just as good, they’re not going to reward it the same way.”
Cameron went on make a distinction between chasing critical acclaim and making “big, visual cinema.” He said: “I had made a decision way before ‘Titanic’ that I wasn’t going to serve two masters: I was going to put my visual cinema first. Even though I’ve spent an awful lot of time on scripts and on performance, I still love doing big, visual cinema.”
Cameron clearly forgot that “Gravity” was shot in front of a green screen and “Mad Max: Fury Road” relied heavily on CGI. It sounds like Cameron is not very happy that he’s no longer the king of the Oscars world.