At a time when Hollywood was churning out wildly violent action films that championed vigilante justice and good ol' fashioned American jingoism, James Cameron set himself apart by crafting wildly violent action films that criticized the country's militaristic status quo. "The Terminator" is the first chapter of a planetary tragedy brought on by nuclear war; "Aliens" is a Marine misadventure rescued by one woman's maternal fury; and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" is a prayer for a future where that aforementioned tragedy might be averted by nuclear disarmament and basic human decency.

Cameron skillfully avoided preachiness in these films by foregrounding their human drama. We're invested in the budding romance between Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Reese (Michael Bienh), and the mother-daughter bond that forms between Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Newt (Carrie Henn). These films' themes may not be subtly integrated, but they are secondary to the narrative.

This was not, initially, the case with "The Abyss." Cameron conceived the 1989 sci-fi actioner as a no-nukes cautionary tale in the mold of Robert Wise's "The Day the Earth Stood Still." The aliens that reside at the bottom of the Cayman Trough present humanity with an ultimatum: dismantle all nuclear weapons, or these otherwise benevolent extraterrestrials will wipe out every coastal city on the planet with a series of megatsunamis. This sequence was judiciously excised from the theatrical cut, and later restored for the Special Edition, but the sentiment Cameron was trying to express found a far more welcome home 20 years later in "Avatar."

James Cameron, Peacenik

Cameron's immersive sci-fi opus, which is still the highest grossing film of all time worldwide, is a full-throated cry for the end of environmentally ruinous ventures like drilling, mining, and fracking. In an interview with Empire Magazine, he linked "Avatar" to "The Abyss" by noting that the latter was "a function of my Cold War angst, and a comment on how an alien super-intelligence might judge rather harshly the way we mistreat each other and our beautiful world."

But the conflicts depicted in these films have an inverse relation to one another. As Cameron told Empire:

"In Avatar, we are the invaders from space, and the common theme with The Abyss is that we are judged harshly by a more evolved alien culture, in that case, the Na'vi, who live in a harmony with nature in a way that we have forgotten."

Can Avatar Save Earth From Its Looming Climate Crisis?

Given that the average person has seemingly shrugged off the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's repeated warnings that we are running out of time to halt catastrophic climate change, perhaps Cameron's first movie in 13 years could jolt people to take this threat more seriously. Most likely, it'll accomplish precisely what "The Day the Earth Stood Still" did: nothing.

This isn't to say filmmakers should stop making socially and ecologically conscious films that seek to enrage as much as they entertain. If you take several steps back and take stock of our current reality, all of our concerns about the future of social and political justice will be rendered moot as more and more of the planet becomes uninhabitable. There's nothing pollyannaish about yearning for a world in which we take a selflessly pragmatic approach to the survival of the species. This is just common sense. Save us, James Cameron.

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