One risks stepping into an intellectual manhole if the phrase "the James Cameron aesthetic" leaves one’s lips. If you look the word up in the dictionary, it has a fairly explicit meaning: a set of rules or guidelines an artist or group of artists follows to make their work. And yet it is often viewed as synonymous with the word "style." It’s conceivable that it would be easier, by and large, to say that a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson has an aesthetic, or, reaching laterally, a filmmaker such as Steve McQueen. Or Wes Anderson. Or Todd Solondz. Their movies, whatever the roots of their appeal might be, give off a faint scent of art for art’s sake, the kind of films we associate with small theaters, bad sound systems, chamomile tea at the snack bar, a distinct lack of stickiness on the floor. James Cameron’s movies go somewhere else, and one might be tempted to say that the word "aesthetic" can’t really be applied to them. You might be tempted to go snobby: That guy has an aesthetic? "I’m on top of the world"? Please! But look at this piece by Martin Kessler. To watch it, you would think you were reading one of Ezra Pound’s statements on Imagism: The figures shall be huge. The emotions shall be larger than anything that might fit on the screen. The theme shall be unmissable. The music shall boom. Cameron has been making proficient, moving films for many years, and this piece, which follows Cameron’s love of, plainly put, bodies and machines through films like ‘Aliens,’ ‘Titanic,’ ‘Terminator,’ and others encourages the viewer to do something which could potentially be challenging: consider that the moviemaking taking place here is as complex and, yes, subtle as that of the other directors mentioned above: it’s just on a slightly different scale. A caveat, though: every creative decision has its price: push this argument too far and you fall into the realm of arguments that assert that ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ is as good as ‘The Seventh Seal,’ and that only snobs place one above the other, quality-wise. An aesthetic is not a guarantee of quality–it’s more a stamp of intentionality.
Watch: The James Cameron Aesthetic, and How Risky It Is To Say Those Words