James Cameron Doesn’t Like ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Because it Lacks “Emotional Balls”

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brian-mcgee - May 1, 2018

James Cameron is many things, among them he's a hitmaker, a pioneer, a visual master, and someone you should never, ever underestimate. He's also bat-shit crazy and says things often without thinking them through first. Such is the price of being a tastemaker in Hollywood, though. Sometimes he just opens his mouth and two tons of crazy pours out.

Cameron recently chatted with The Toronto Sun, and the Canadian-born filmmaker was able to tease a bit of what we can expect from his upcoming Avatar sequels, as well as getting in a dig at the greatest science fiction film ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey. He plants the seeds of dissent early in the interview when talking about visual spectacle...

“I don’t think you can just impress people with images,” he says.

“It’s always in a context of the narrative and the characters. Do you care? Do you feel physically present and involved? And then from there, now show me the magic. You can’t just dazzle with a bunch of spectacular shots.”

Except that you can. Honestly, why else did anyone go see Avatar? For the plot? Give me a break. But I digress.

Cameron and the interviewer then reminisce about seeing 2001 for the first time when it was released fifty years ago, and though Cameron is quick to let us know that he loves the film, he doesn't like it...

“It’s not a film that I like; it’s a film that I love. When I say I don’t like it, it’s that I don’t like the feel of the film. I don’t like its sterility. I like a film with a little more emotional balls, just as a movie, to get involved in. But as a work of art, I love (2001). It had an had an enormous, enormous impact on me, at a certain point.”

Emotional balls? Honestly, there's nothing that makes me tear up in science fiction quite like HAL begging Dave Bowman not to deactivate him. His "Stop, Dave, I'm afraid" is among the most chilling and emotional lines in all of cinema. I honestly don't know what the hell Cameron's talking about, other than he's using the term "emotional balls" to mean "surface level emotions thrown about at random in a desperately sweaty attempt to make the audience feel something."

I will never, ever underestimate Cameron's ability to craft crowd-pleasing fare, but he'll never be Stanley Kubrick. He and Kubrick both struggled to write good dialogue throughout their careers, but Kubrick managed to make his dialogue count. It's truly emotionally resonant stuff. 2001 wouldn't have survived the last fifty years on goodwill toward its special effects alone.

I suggest Cameron rewatch the film in 70mm this summer and take a good, long look at what makes 2001 the pinnacle of the genre. Then he can go back to making his Dances with Wolves rip-off where the Native Americans are replaced by big blue humanoids that have sex via their hair tendrils. Give me 2001 any god damned day of the week.

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