A Short History of James Cameron Trying to Be Funny
James Cameron is a lot of things, including a director, screenwriter and the all-time “screaming at famous actors while wading in a massive tank of water” champion, but is he funny? To celebrate the release of the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s latest attempt to make America uncomfortably thirsty for giant, muscly Smurfs (now with more water!), let’s take a look back at the humorous side of a guy most of us don’t consider to be all that humorous.
Even before making movies, Cameron had expressed an early interest in comedy. As a budding illustrator growing up in Canada, a nerdy teenage Cameron drew a cartoon mascot for his high school football team. Dubbed “The Stamford Monster,” the idea was that the grotesque creature was Frankenstein-ed together using body parts of the various players. It is pretty funny. Paint this thing blue, and it’s just a less-attractive Na’vi.
Eschewing the life of a cartoonist for a career in movies, Cameron eventually made his first feature film, Piranha II: The Spawning, which, while having awkward attempts at humor onscreen, came nowhere near the wacky farce playing out behind the scenes.
As for The Terminator, it’s a pretty serious movie — the skull-crushing metal killing machines are a dead giveaway — but it also has a few laughs. And not just the ones that come with spotting Arnold’s dong flapping around on certain Blu-ray transfers. The movie’s most iconic line sets up a solid joke: The T-800 getting stonewalled by a police station desk clerk, robotically replying, “I’ll be back,” then returning 10 seconds later by driving a goddamn car through the front door.
Similarly, Terminator 2: Judgment Day drops some worthwhile comedic moments, as one would expect from any movie about a 10-year-old who befriends a murder robot from the future. Like when John Connor insists upon a rule of “no killing,” the silly old Terminator shoots a guy in the legs.
The Abyss isn’t really funny, nor is Aliens — with the exception of a few choice Bill Paxton lines. But Paxton really got a chance to show off his comedy chops with Cameron’s True Lies, playing a sleazy car salesman who pretends to be a secret agent to seduce lonely housewives. He mistakenly targets a real agent’s dispirited partner, only to be caught and tormented by said agent and several of his colleagues. (Which seems like a fireable waste of taxpayer money, frankly). “Would a spy pee himself?” remains a career highlight for all involved.
True Lies is Cameron’s most overt attempt to combine action with funny business. In addition to Paxton, we also get Tom Arnold yucking it up (with mixed-to-godawful results) and Arnold Schwarzenegger moments, like when he gets shot up with truth serum or fantasizes about cold-cocking Paxton. And any movie where the star of Commando rides a horse into the elevator of a luxury hotel is clearly doing something right.
In Titanic, there’s not much humor to be found, probably because audiences all knew that most of the characters were going to tragically freeze to death before the credits rolled. But the famous “Draw me like one of your French girls” scene does end with a big laugh, relieving the tension for any and all preteens who were stuck watching the movie with their parents in 1997. When the scene cuts back to the present, old Rose remarks that it was “the most erotic moment of my life” to a room full of super-attentive, horned-up strangers.
Unless that Na’vi-sized Stanford shirt was intentionally funny, Avatar isn’t exactly packed full of jokes, either. And, as we’ve mentioned before, the whole Unobtanium thing was dead serious. But in addition to trying to shoehorn the occasional gag into his movies, Cameron has also shown off his sense of humor by appearing as himself in a few self-deprecating cameos. Whether it’s as the director of an Aquaman movie in Entourage or the mastermind behind Laser Cats 5 in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Cameron also popped up in Albert Brooks’ The Muse, hard-up for ideas and considering a Titanic sequel, until the titular goddess warns him: “Stay away from the water” (advice he clearly didn’t heed). And he appeared in a Mad About You episode, in footage from the fictional documentary “The Making of the Making of Titanic.” All due credit to Cameron: He was apparently totally game for a part that consisted mainly of picking his nose and scratching his ass.
That said, nothing is perhaps quite as funny as Cameron’s real-life anecdotes, most of which seem to consist of him telling studio executives to shove it.
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