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Additional resources for Bad History and the Logics of Blockbuster Cinema: Titanic, Gangs of New York, Australia, Inglourious Basterds
The terminator’s reappearance and the crisis of the approaching catastrophe make it possible to make up history as we go along, as Sarah comments in a voiceover at one point. According to Benjamin, “history is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now” (Illuminations 261). The presence of the now, or messianic time, is what the action movie has always explored as the real meaning of history, as the effect of the dialectical image it produces on the cinematic screen.
Such an image is fleeting because it emerges from the rupture of temporal continuity that brings the present into the past and the past into the present. In the first Terminator, the past and the future coincide in the present: for Kyle, Sarah Connor is the past; for Sarah, Kyle is the future. But as the film announces at the very outset, the battle is fought in the present, the now. In my view, the meaning of the action movie, the effect that distinguishes it from other films that deploy violence such as the Bond movies, is the rupture of time, the subjection of the past and the future to a fleeting present, which “loads time into itself until the energies generated by the dialectic of recognition produce an irruption of discontinuity” (McCole 249).
He made this transition in The Abyss, which in some ways is a rehearsal for Titanic. While the scenes of the future war between men and machines in Judgment Day still have something of a B-movie look, the visual construction of this film is quite different. Though he is no Nicholas Ray or Stanley Kubrick, Cameron uses the widescreen effectively to enhance the apocalyptic tone of the film, particularly in the dream sequences in which Sarah Connor stares through a cyclone fence into a playground full of children at the exact moment when a nuclear weapon detonates in downtown Los Angeles.