James Cameron, and the current (disappointing) state of his home entertainment releases

James Cameron
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He doesn’t make many feature films these days, and when he throws himself into a project, he tends to block out the best part of a decade in his diary. The man is James Cameron, who as we speak is likely adjusting a pixel of his upcoming Avatar sequel, before getting down to making three more of them.

The collateral damage of the Avatar project is that the home entertainment releases of many of his films have, well, struggled to keep up with the times. A technically cutting edge cineaste such as Cameron has left his films in far from perfect state on physical media particularly, struggling to find space to sort this matter out.

There’s some signs of hope across his catalogue though, but let’s take a mooch at just where everything is…


Piranha II: The Spawning

Let’s start with good news. If you’re a fan of Cameron’s low budget debut feature, the sequel to Piranha, then this one’s out there, and available in HD. Nice and simple. A limited edition Blu-ray in fact landed a few years ago, and it’s unlikely the film will ever look much better than its presentation there.

The rest of this article is not so straightforward.

The Terminator

The Terminator

The Terminator (1984)

The original Terminator film is in pretty good shop when it comes to home entertainment releases. It’s widely available on streaming, DVD and Blu-ray. A 4K release hadn’t happened, but Cameron has overseen a remastered version of his 1984 breakthrough in the last decade and a 4K edition doesn’t look to be top of his priority list.

That said, there’s talk that he may get the rights back to The Terminator in the years ahead, and maybe that’ll give things a further push towards a 4K disc. Still, even the most ardent fan of Cameron would probably suggest this isn’t the additional remaster that should be top of the metaphorical list.


Aliens (1986)

When Disney bought up 21st Century Fox – and, in turn, the 20th Century Fox film library – it wanted franchises it could build on. Risky independent ventures? Nope. Pre-existing names? Yes please. Still, it’s moved cautiously where the Alien saga is concerned, understandable given that arguably there are only two and a half really good films in it.

But it comes with a built-in fanbase, not least because the first two films are much-loved classics in their field. As such, Disney is moving on a television series, even if it appears reluctant to progress Ridley Scott’s planned Alien: Covenant follow-up.

Strong rumours suggest it’s very keen to make the most of the franchise on home formats too. Fox had only got around to a full 4K version of Alien before it was sold, but Disney is believed to have in progress 4K remasters of Aliens, Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. We can but assume that Cameron, even if it’s not a contractual requirement, will be given the chance to sign off on the Aliens work, as a courtesy at least given that he’s directing high profile blockbusters for the studio now.

The consensus is that Aliens is getting the 4K treatment. The further consensus is that you’d be stark raving mad to put any amount of money on when to expect it.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

A release heavily discussed in home entertainment enthusiast circles, Terminator 2: Judgment Day has already made it to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, as well as DVD and Blu-ray. However, the 4K version has drawn some criticism. Here’s an article that offers a summation of where things are at the moment.

I’ve read bits of online chatter that suggest Cameron in the end wasn’t best pleased with the end result of the release, but still, he’s not publicly commented. The film was remastered with his overview when it got its 3D reissue, so the original upgrade was apparently signed off by him. Terminator 2 remains the most widely available of all his films to date.

True Lies

True Lies

A similar story to The Abyss – coming to that – but with a tiny glimmer of light. This one has never graced either Blu-ray or 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, and remains elusive on streaming services as well. Cameron has insisted it’s a film on his to-do list.

However, in October 2022, a HD version of the film popped up on the Hulu service in America. The Digital Bits reported that this was the master that had been prepared for the film’s scrapped Blu-ray release, so it’s not the 4K version that fans are waiting for. But at least there’s something there, and hopefully that version of the film will make it to a streaming service in the UK. The complication there is that rights are split on True Lies. It was a Fox – and thus now Disney – film in the US, and Universal took distribution in the UK. The game of wait and see thus continues.


Titanic (1997)

Titanic (1997)

It’s a case of hoping two plus two equals four, but there’s promise in the clues that are out there. Cameron’s 11-Oscar-winner hits its – yikes! – 25th birthday this year, and a fresh cinema outing is confirmed for February 2023. This won’t have happened without Cameron’s blessing, and indeed, the movie has been remastered in 3D 4K HDR, and high frame rate. This work needed a Cameron sign-off, and the fact that the movie is scheduled for cinemas on February 10th 2023 suggests it has been completed.

It feels almost inevitable then that’ll we’ll be getting a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of the film, to go with the existing DVD and Blu-ray options (and VHS, if you’re so inclined). This hasn’t been confirmed, but I’d be inclined to suggest it’s more likely than not.


Avatar cinema re-release in 4K

Avatar (2009)

Well, there’s actually movement on this one. Already available on DVD and Blu-ray, the original Avatar movie was thoroughly remastered for a fresh theatrical outing, that saw the movie back in cinemas in September 2022. Crucially, this was a remaster that Cameron has already approved, and it’s now expected that Avatar will make its 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc debut around the same time that Avatar: The Way Of Water arrives on the format.

For Cameron though, that means he’s then straight back to work on Avatar 3, and whether that affords him space to do the work on the next two films remains to be seen.

The Abyss

The Abyss

We’ve broken chronology to save this one until (next to) last. Just for a bit of drama.

This one’s the most frustrating hold up of them all. It’s been a few years now since we got active confirmation that a 4K restoration of 1989’s The Abyss had been completed. The film has only been released on DVD – in an admittedly excellent two disc special edition – since the 2000s. No Blu-ray, no 4K disc: just another film queued up on James Cameron’s to-do list.

It was March 2019 that film colorist Skip Kimball posted a now-deleted Instagram image of The Abyss remaster being done. You can find the report of that there.

From there, it had to go back to James Cameron for his approval and, bluntly, it seems that approval has not yet been fully granted.

Or has it?

The last we heard on this – and Cameron is about to embark on a fresh press tour, so the question will hopefully come up again – was in December 2021. That’s when he told Space.com that “we finished the transfer and I wanted to do it myself because Mikael [Salomon, director of photography] did such a beautiful job with the cinematography on that film. It is truly, truly gorgeous cinematography”.

“So I just recently finished the high-def transfer a couple of months ago so presumably there’ll be Blu-rays and it will stream with a proper transfer from now on”.

Here’s the article, which at the very least seems to confirm that Cameron has approved something. That said, here we are a year on, and there’s no sign of the film on streaming, Blu-ray or 4K disc, and no announcement yet forthcoming.

The hope here is that the release of Avatar: The Way Of Water on home formats will unlock something here, not least because it feels like the job may already be nearly done with The Abyss. It might just be that this is now in Disney’s hands, not Cameron’s.

Where do we send our letters?

Avatar: The Way Of Water

Avatar - The Way Of Water

Avatar – The Way Of Water (2022)

If this isn’t out on disc, in 4K, by this time next year, this site shall be renamed Turnip Stories, and devoted to the discussion and appreciation of root vegetables.

Do not screengrab this page.

Lead image: Bigstock

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