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The one James Cameron action film that Andrei Tarkovsky loved

It’s tricky to truly pick apart the enigmatic figure that is Andrei Tarkovsky, with interests that seem to flitter and adapt film by film. Despite making the space-epic Solaris in 1972, one of the many inconsistencies was his hatred of the sci-fi genre, even referring to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey as “cold and sterile”, though there were some exceptions to this rule. 

James Cameron is perhaps cinema’s most bankable Hollywood director, responsible for two of the top three highest-grossing films of all time with Titanic and Avatar. Known for his appreciation of the grand spectacle, as well as his love action-movie set pieces, Cameron is loved by film fans worldwide for cult favourites such as Aliens, True Lies and The Terminator franchise. When it comes to the latter, the futuristic tale came from a dream of the director, noting: “The Terminator came from a dream that I had while I was sick with a fever in a cheap pensione in Rome in 1981. It was the image of a chrome skeleton emerging from a fire. When I woke up, I began sketching on the hotel stationery”. 

Sounding more like a dystopian nightmare, the material of Cameron’s film would soon change once he’d figured out the intention for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic villain, as the director notes, “The character was supposed to be an infiltrator, physically nondescript and not memorable, though somewhat sinister because of his emotionally blank affect”.

Continuing, Cameron adds: “But when I cast Arnold, the focus shifted away from the Sarah and Reese story to the Terminator, because he made such a powerful impression”.

It was perhaps this dark, eccentric tone, inspired by the enigmatic world of dreams that drew the attention of legendary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, himself known for taking audiences to uncharted platforms of consciousness. Dismissing science fiction for its “comic book” trappings and commercialist nature, Tarkovsky made an exception for Cameron’s The Terminator, even going so far as to praise the blockbuster film. 

The director stated this in the book Andrei Tarkovsky’s World and Films, noting about The Terminator: “The brutality and low acting skills are unfortunate, but as a vision of the future and the relation between man and his destiny, the film is pushing the frontier of cinema as an art”. 

For a Russian director famously hard to please, the fact that James Cameron managed to win over the director with a ‘frontier-pushing work of art’ is surely the Canadian filmmaker’s greatest achievement. Forget Academy Awards and box-office boastings, a seal of approval from Andrei Tarkovsky is priceless.

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