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And the truth of the matter is Arnold and I are old. I mean, really old.
July 18, 2014 10:02 PM   Subscribe

True Lies is a 1994 action comedy film directed by James Cameron and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tom Arnold. The film was a huge hit, and is noteworthy in that it featured visual special effects considered impossible only a few years prior. It's been 20 years since it was released. Time for a revisit, then. [SPOILERS if you haven't seen this movie.]

First, you may find this brief official trailer useful as an overview; now some information about the production and awards:
True Lies was the first Lightstorm Entertainment project to be distributed under Cameron's multi-million dollar production deal with 20th Century Fox, as well as the first major production for the visual effects company Digital Domain, which was co-founded by Cameron. True Lies was the only feature film collaboration outside of the Terminator series to feature Cameron, Schwarzenegger, and Brad Fiedel as director, actor, and composer respectively.

Upon its release, True Lies was the most expensive film ever made as well as the first film to have over a $100 million production budget, and went on to a commercial and critical success. For her performance, Curtis won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress—Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the Saturn Award for Best Actress, while Cameron won the Saturn Award for Best Director. The film ultimately grossed $378 million worldwide at the box-office and was also nominated at the Academy Awards and BAFTAs in the Best Visual Effect category, and also for seven Saturn Awards.
Locations

The film used many locations, which made it expensive and hectic to shoot. Locations include Washington, D.C., Newport, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, (reportedly) Manhattan, and Miami.

If you are familiar with Florida, you will recognize the Seven Mile Bridge: it was featured in the long limo scene towards the end of the move. (The bridge has also been featured in License To Kill, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Mission Impossible III.) It's located in Monroe County, Florida, and there is a nice breakdown of the location and scenes here. If this is your sort of thing, here's a home video of the bridge from a helicopter, filmed in 1996, just a couple of years after True Lies was released. (If you don't have the patience, this is the relevant part.)

Stunts/special effects

John Bruno worked on the special effects for True Lies and was nominated for an Oscar, but didn't win; however, as mentioned above, he did receive a Saturn Award for Best Special Effects for the film. Bruno had previously won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for The Abyss (1989).

Bruno, who worked with a team, has also worked on Ghostbusters (1984), and was Visual Effects Consultant for Titanic (1997).

The visual effects are more impressive when you realize that this was before CGI was widely used in the industry, although Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, which used CGI, had come out the year before in 1993 (and was a huge success). A recent article in The Atlantic gives more context as to what the special effects state of the industry was like at that time [and gives a nod to Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)].

Schwarzenegger had a couple of close calls on the set during filming, and could've been seriously injured or died: one incident took place during the horse-riding scene, and another incident happened while filming the scuba-diving scene that opens the movie.

In the Making of True Lies, hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis, discussion of the stunts and special effects begin about 13 minutes into the video, and includes behind-the-scenes footage. You can also see the action and special effects in this much shorter (about six minutes) "making of" feature used to promote the film.

Then there's the miniature effects: Patrick McClung and Leslie Ekker talk about the miniature effects used in the movie in these deleted scenes from the documentary, Sense of Scale.

For the nostalgic: True Lies: where are they now?, which catches you up on the cast.

Finally, there are some very good bits of trivia at Mental Floss.

How was the film received?

Roger Ebert in his film review at the time discussed the action sequences, concluding:
It's stuff like that we go to Arnold Schwarzenegger movies for, and "True Lies" has a lot of it: Laugh-out-loud moments when the violence is so cartoonish we don't take it seriously, and yet are amazed at its inventiveness and audacity. Schwarzenegger has found himself in a lot of unlikely situations in his action-packed career, and "True Lies" seems determined to raise the ante – to go over the top with outlandish and extravagant special effects scenes.

Consider, for example, a chase sequence near the beginning of the movie, in which a bad guy on a motorcycle is chased by Arnold, on a horse, through a hotel lobby. Most movies would be content with that. Not "True Lies," which continues the chase on high-rise elevators and ends up on the hotel roof, with Arnold urging the horse to attempt a free fall into a swimming pool.
Ebert mentions that the striptease scene Jamie Lee Curtis must perform for her (unknown to her) husband is "cruel and not funny", although initially conceding that, "The physical humor is effective, and she's charmingly sexy and klutzy."

Anthony Lane's review at The New Yorker was less positive and comments on the misogyny in the film:
The tale begins and ends in a flurry of joke violence; Cameron has decided to spoof what he used to take seriously, and the result, though bright and deafening, feels oddly slack—he loosens the screws, and our interest drops away. [...] The middle chunk of the film defies belief—not with special effects, unfortunately, but with humdrum misogyny. Harry suspects his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) of adultery, kidnaps her, and subjects her to a series of humiliations, apparently in an effort to win back her love. Yeah, right. This section has no logical link with the rest of the picture; the two plots are just banged together as a kind of vague discourse on secrecy. Tom Arnold saves the show as Harry’s sidekick; Charlton Heston pretty well wrecks it again by turning up with an eye patch.
Scott Deskin at The Tech noted the films flaws, but ultimately sang its praises, particularly the special effects:
These considerations aside, True Lies is everything one could want in a summer blockbuster. The cast seems comfortable with the outrageous demands of the plot, and Tom Arnold is a pleasant surprise as Tasker's sidekick and friend at the agency. The special effects in the film are first-rate. Whereas Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day focused on morphing effects for its biggest thrills, the thrill to be found in Cameron's latest effort is the seamlessness of the final product—one (or at least one's eyes) has a hard time doubting a Harrier jet hovering over the streets of Miami or one of the bridges in the Florida Keys getting blown to pieces by some heat-seeking missiles. For sheer visual impact, True Lies is a non-stop thrill ride, once it is set in motion.
The racism in the movie was remarked upon at the time, but not all reviewers chose to mention it. Entertainment Weekly covered the pushback the film received in a brief article in which Cameron denied (if somewhat unconvincingly) the charges of racism and sexism.

Perhaps the best current commentary on True Lies comes from someone cast in the film. A couple of years ago, responding to a fan Q&A session regarding the possibility of a True Lies 2, Jamie Lee Curtis remarked:
"No, there are is [sic] no truth to the True Lies 2 rumors. That will never happen. It won't happen primarily because of 9/11. Jim (Cameron) said to me that we can't ever make a comedy about terrorism again, or certainly we can't for the foreseeable future. To try to do a comedy around that kind of activity would be impossible today. And you couldn't make a movie like that today because the scope and size is so enormous. The cost and the budget would be so outrageous. And the truth of the matter is, Arnold and I are old. I mean, really old. You're not going to want to go watch a movie with these two old people. You might want to go see a movie with Elisha Dushku dancing around, though. But I don't think it's ever going to happen. In fact, I know it will never happen and it shouldn't happen."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (95 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think it may also be the last time Hollywood did a movie in which Arab Terrorists were the bad guys.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:12 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Ebert mentions that the striptease scene Jamie Lee Curtis must perform for her (unknown to her) husband is "cruel and not funny"

If you haven't seen the movie, just know that this scene is so sick that you can't really keep watching afterwards unless you decide Schwarzenegger is actually the villain.
posted by escabeche at 10:18 PM on July 18 [31 favorites]


"The bridge is ouuuuut!"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:18 PM on July 18


I wish it were possible to accurately quantify the effect the inclusion of a Harrier had on the box office of True Lies.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:32 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


I go over Seven Mile Bridge about once a year. I always think of this movie and yell, "The bridge is OOOOOOUUUUT!!!" In my best Ahnold impression. Which then reminds me of Plo Chops. And now I'm thinking about Plo Chops. So, nice post!
posted by Jazz Hands at 10:32 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Yeah the striptease scene really overshadows everything else. It's so gross.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:32 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


I'm relieved other people found the strip tease somewhat horrifying. I was just a kid and wanted to crawl under the seats and die, but everyone else was laughing. I've never been able to look at the box art without having that physical memory of sickening horror.

It doesn't have that affect on me as an adult, but still, ew.
posted by Dynex at 10:35 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Chocolate Pickle, you'd be very very wrong about that. In 1996, just to pick out one example, you had Executive Decision, and later you had the somewhat revisionist The Siege and Rules of Engagement (which at least tried to grapple with the issue); by 2002 you had the Arabs swapped out for the film version of The Sum of All Fears (written in 1991), but eventually the concept rolled around again several times in places like 24 and, yes, blockbuster hits like Iron Man.

I wish it were possible to accurately quantify the effect the inclusion of a Harrier had on the box office of True Lies.

It's a weak spot in retrospect -- many obvious crane shots using a stationary prop. On the one hand it's artfully shot (safe setup, camera angles, and/or green screen), but on the other it's exactly the kind of scene that you know has the director wishing CGI would hurry up and get better/cheaper already.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


I must have been just the wrong age when it came out, too young to relate to the stars (who looked so old to me then but don't now), but old enough to find the cartoonish violence and racial/sexist stuff not so enticing.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:40 PM on July 18


I have so much yuck in my heart for everything having to do with this movie.
posted by bleep at 10:59 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


(Dhartung, I'm pretty sure Chocolate Pickle was being sarcastic.)
posted by incessant at 11:02 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Also I am really happy to find I'm not the only one who has a large amount of dislike for this film. Cameron has made exactly one non-great movie, and this is it.
posted by incessant at 11:04 PM on July 18


Yeah the striptease scene really overshadows everything else. It's so gross


It's weird to me that that is the sticking point for people, particularly because it is obviously being played for laughs. The scene before that where they interrogate her is terrifyingly perverted as it is supposed to be taken seriously.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:06 PM on July 18 [12 favorites]




Yeah, the striptease scene, along with that whole "Arnold as jealous husband" subplot was really awful and wrong-headed. The whole premise of the film is that Arnold lies to his wife for years and years, but when the table is turned on him (so he thinks), he abuses his power in such a sadistic way that really is cringe-inducing terrible. And superfluous! That subplot--or at least the cruelty of it--could've been excised from the film completely.

Aside from that, though, I really did like True Lies. The visuals, the action set pieces, and yes, the comedy really does work well. (I know, I know, aside from that part, natch). Even Tom Arnold was pretty great. It doesn't qualify as a spoof or even a satire, but it's solid enough on its own to stand up along the James Cameron canon, albeit probably the oddest of his films.
posted by zardoz at 11:28 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


the visual effects company Digital Domain

Who later went on to produce the Ford of Bruinen scene for WETA Digital for LOTR:FOTR. They were also involved with The Matrix. And unless I'm completely mistaken, they're Canadian!

As for the movie, I find myself torn: it's problematic in a really misogynist way (the racism is mild, by comparison), but it's a rollicking good ride. That whole kidnap/interrogation/stripping sequence is gross, there was no need for it, and Cameron should have known better.

On the other hand, Jamie Lee Curtis has, I think, never been anything than a strong and independent woman, and clearly has no trouble with having shot those scenes, it seems. So maybe my concern is paternalistic, in that case? I don't know.

zardoz said it better, on preview.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:29 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Jim (Cameron) said to me that we can't ever make a comedy about terrorism again, or certainly we can't for the foreseeable future

Four Lions. A Chris Morris comedy about inept British jihadists. Very funny.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:34 PM on July 18 [23 favorites]



I wish it were possible to accurately quantify the effect the inclusion of a Harrier had on the box office of True Lies.


I doubt I've walked out of more than ten movies in my life. True Lies was one of them so I never got to the Harrier scene, yet my life feels mostly meaningful anyway.
posted by philip-random at 11:37 PM on July 18


> Four Lions.

You should probably take the "we" in "we can't ever make a comedy about terrorism again" to refer to Americans.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:48 PM on July 18 [6 favorites]


It's weird to me that that is the sticking point for people, particularly because it is obviously being played for laughs.

Because it's sexual coercion played for laughs. It's super goddamn creepy.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:50 PM on July 18 [12 favorites]


This movie was oddly interwoven in my young life and, perhaps because of that, I was absolutely driven by this film.

Having grown up in Washington, D.C. I actually witnessed them filming in Georgetown where I went to school at the time in maybe 1993. My mother also worked downtown near E street and I saw them filming there too. I distinctly remember our usual schedules being disrupted due to filming. It would be hard to convey how excited I was that a Schwarzenegger film was filming in DC. It was blowing my young mind.

I was 12 at the time and this was especially relevant to me because around 1992 I had the opportunity to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was Pres. Bush (the first)'s fitness ambassador. At one point he went around to DC public schools for photo ops and all of us star-struck kids got autographed photos. I was fanatic about him.

In the summer of 1993, after having seen them film in DC, I had joined a friends family in Newport, Rhode Island on the way to summer camp in Maine. During my time there the local news reported on the "Schwarzenegger film" being filmed in the area. Again my young mind was blown. This was the third time in two years that Schwarzenegger was geographically proximate. Its like he was following me. Man, my life was exciting.

In 1994, the next summer at sleep-away camp, I ran into trouble when I attempted to leave the premises to sneak into the film by myself. My parents were contacted and the fallout resulted in my mom flying up to Maine and me leaving camp 2 weeks early. Once back in DC I snuck into the Uptown theater to see the film. I LOVED it as much as a 13 year old Schwarzenegger nut could love it.

A few years later on a high school biology trip to the Florida Keys we drove over the 7 mile bridge and my friends and I all shouted "the bridge is OUUUT." I couldn't help but think that my life was inadvertently turning out like a location tour of "True Lies."

This feeling again compounded when, later in life, I first came to LA for a conference and was booked in the Westin Bonaventure hotel which played a prominent role in the film. It looked quite the same at the time and I remember seeing clearly where Schwarzenegger rode his horse through the ground floor fountain.

Eventually I moved to LA full-time and ended up working at Digital Domain where the harrier model from the film hung in the hallway on the way to my desk.

I haven't seen the film in years and would most likely, as an adult, object to the creepy striptease / wifeassualt stuff that so many bring up in this post. Nevertheless...this film has sort of been brought into the sharp focus of my consciousness more than any other. I recognize so many of the locations from so many of the places I have visited and lived and for years passed by the models at the place that did the VFX. Its just bizarre.

To this day if I am ever asked "for my invitation" the words in my head say (in Schwarzeneggers voice) "Here is my invitation....BOOM"
posted by jnnla at 11:54 PM on July 18 [33 favorites]


I watched this when it came out and felt horrified by how manipulative the supposed hero was. As others have mentioned, the strip tease was gross - a form of sexual harrassment. I still cannot believe that people find it funny that a man used all sorts of methods to spy on his wife.
posted by greenhornet at 11:55 PM on July 18


OK, and well played, exit. I thought it really was a reference to the fact that it became a thing to avoid for a while and came back again.
posted by dhartung at 12:08 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Man, this movie brings back memories. Not especially good ones... My father was married to an awful woman named Dolores at the time, and I saw it with my stepsister, who was something of a mini-Dolores. Basically, they thought that their lamp of dogs playing poker was classy and I was regularly told I was "pretentious" because I liked seeing dramas. It was not a fun time (I avoided them as much as humanly possible).

I mean, I enjoyed the movie when I originally saw it; but I had read the Ebert review before seeing the film, and I feel, in a way, that I went to the theatre prepared to subconsciously compartmentalize my distaste of all the sexism and racism, because I have NEVER, EVER had any desire to see the movie again.

I loved Jamie Lee Curtis, but Arnold Schwarzenegger's character is so... horrible. And there's the way that the secondary character Juno Skinner is treated (as a one dimensional evil femme fatale). It's kind of vague because I haven't seen it in twenty years (Eliza Dushku was in it? And Chuck Heston? wow, I don't remember them) but I've never had the desire to revisit it. There seemed to be a lot of cartoonish violence and destruction for destruction's sake that really rubbed me the wrong way.

Of course, I couldn't actually say anything, since that would be "pretentious." So whatever reservations I had about the movie, I buried it deep down inside, because there was no one to tell. And then I eventually forgot about it until now. Thanks, Metafilter!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:37 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


You should probably take the "we" in "we can't ever make a comedy about terrorism again" to refer to Americans.

The British have suffered jihadi attacks and riots. Plus a ton of terrorist attacks from the IRA. Yet somehow they're capable of making a comedy about terrorism, and Americans are not? A pity, that.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:46 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Yup. A pity.

/Hoping someone's going to pipe up and prove me wrong.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:51 AM on July 19


Yeah, but they were all bad.

Now, let's get the dipshit to pee in his pants again.
posted by mule98J at 1:03 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


/me too
posted by five fresh fish at 1:03 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


The Mandarin character in Iron Man 3 comes close.
posted by BinGregory at 1:26 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


To me True Lies comes from the same 'too much coke at every stage of the production' problem as Days Of Thunder
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:30 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


I think it may also be the last time Hollywood did a movie in which Arab Terrorists were the bad guys.

Not quite...
posted by MartinWisse at 2:38 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


True Lies sticks in my mind because when I saw it, the scene where the gun rolls down the stairs and shoots all the badies made me go "oh my god, that is one of most the outrageously hollywood thing I have ever seen!" Then some years later I saw La Totale (thank you SBS), the French film on which True Lies is based, and it has exactly the same sequence and I forced to think "well... shows what I know". It's not often I feel like I have judged America too harshly. ;)
posted by adamt at 3:05 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


the racism is mild, by comparison

Interestingly, I feel that the film got a bit of a free ride on its racism, because of the scene-stealing misogyny. But it really is truly, deeply, terribly racist in a super American retro-even-at-the-time way that, much like the misogyny, no amount of winking can excuse. It makes early James Bond films look like a bloody post-racial utopia, pretty much.
posted by smoke at 3:54 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Tom Arnold actually acting - the best James Cameron effect of all time.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:10 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Another thing I hope we as a society have outgrown is breathless articles about special effects in films. I read so many of these in the '90s that I can't even bring myself to watch the LOTR special features, though I'm told they're excellent.
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 4:16 AM on July 19


Did you guys know that the Nostalgia Chick recently reviewed True Lies? It's a really good rundown of the movie. It kind of sums up why I enjoyed it at the time but never wanted to see it again.

And... THE CRIMSON JIHAD... Bwahahahahaha!!!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 4:36 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Cameron has made exactly one non-great movie, and this is it.

Wellll.... Piranha Part Two: The Spawning was probably a little further down the list of great films than this, but yes: enthusiasm for this for this racist, misogynist piece of middling action shlock has always mystified me. Maybe "disappointed" is a better term: after turning about the most unlikely candidate into a genuine iconic movie star in two earlier movies, this highly inventive screenwriter/director worked with him a third time and produced something unremarkable that melts into the Schwarzenegger filmography, pretty much of a piece with Eraser and Red Heat and Raw Deal.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:51 AM on July 19


I was an undergrad at Georgetown when this was made and I remember the filming at Georgetown Park mall. But I lived on the street that ends with the Exorcist stairs which was more exciting to me at the time.
posted by candyland at 5:01 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Piranha Part Two: The Spawning was probably a little further down the list of great films than this...

According to this, Cameron can't take more than a fraction of the blame for Piranha II, and he tried to have even less blame than that:

...Cameron, then a 26-year-old model maker and art director for Corman, was in Rome attempting to get his name off the ignominious Piranha II: The Spawning, a low-rent horror sequel he had directed for five days before being fired.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:48 AM on July 19


I wish it were possible to accurately quantify the effect the inclusion of a Harrier had on the box office of True Lies.

I remember watching a "Making of" special at the time, and the Marine officer consulting on the film said about the Harrier scenes something like "True Lies will do for Marine Corps aviation what Top Gun did for Naval aviation."

Um, no, not so much.
posted by zakur at 6:10 AM on July 19


Cameron has something of a Harrier fetish (he reportedly was responsible for adding the downswept tailfins to the dropship model in Aliens).
posted by Captain l'escalier at 6:18 AM on July 19


How much blame can Cameron take for Titanic?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:18 AM on July 19


He went back in time, and manipulated the iceberg into position so he'd be able to make the movie 90 years later. Obviously.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:23 AM on July 19


True Story about True Lies: In 1994, I was recovering from a ruptured appendix, and my wife was sent to a conference in Islamorada, in the Florida Keys, so we went together, and had a blast. One day, we decided to drive down to Key West, but upon reaching the Seven Mile bridge, found the bridge temporarily closed, and a long line of traffic. We sat in our rental car in the hot sun for a while, and were soon surprised by the proffer of plastic cups of iced soda from people in film production company logo T-shirts, who were working the line, thanking people for their patience, and trying to forestall an insurrection.

Our patience was soon rewarded by the sight and sound of a Harrier jump jet coming in low, and landing near our end of the bridge. Shortly afterwards, the bridge was reopened, and we drove across, marveled at the jet, and made a mental note that the gap in the old Seven Mile Bridge (which runs parallel to the new, higher-elevated bridge), and which had been visibly dressed with fake debris, would probably play a pivotal role in whatever upcoming film we had witnessed being made.
posted by kcds at 6:25 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


The Mandarin character in Iron Man 3 comes close.

. . .uh, that's kind of the point. I can't explain without spoiling the movie, but if you don't intend to see it, hover for massive spoiler.
posted by Ndwright at 6:47 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


La Totale ... this I'd like to see.

Walter Mitty with weapons

Hover for spoiler? TIL!
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 6:49 AM on July 19




I've always been impressed with Cameron's ability to appropriate other people's work. In Aliens, it was Heinlein's Mobile Infantry from Starship Troopers. No powered armor, but we do get Sigourney in an exoskeleton lift-loader. He saved the power suits for soldiers for Avatar.

Then, he read some William Gibson and thought to himself, "yeah, I can do that" and wrote Strange Days.

And in True Lies? Charlton Heston is totally Nick Fury and those guys are evidently working for SHIELD.

Cameron is like the walking personification of the adage that good artists borrow and great artists steal.
posted by valkane at 6:55 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


the scene where the gun rolls down the stairs and shoots all the badies made me go "oh my god, that is one of most the outrageously hollywood thing I have ever seen!"

They swear they did that by taking the gun and dropping it down some stairs.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:05 AM on July 19


I was so relieved when people started talking about the grossness of the striptease scene. I suppose it might be funny if you put yourself in the place of any of the men, but I watched that scene feeling like I might be Jamie Lee Curtis, and it was frightening and disgusting. It's the only part of the movie that's stayed with me at all.

The Roger Ebert review was never on my radar, but I'm glad he spotted the problem. I had no idea there were people out there who thought it was cruel, but maybe that's because the class of friends I had in the early 90s was awful.
posted by immlass at 7:08 AM on July 19


I remember virtually nothing about this movie, but I do remember sitting with my family at my grandmother's house as it played on TV. My grandmother was amazed that the movie had been released before 9/11, and declared that if only "they" had seen it, the whole business could have been prevented. Flabbergasted silence ensued.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 7:08 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Other than the Bill Paxton peeing himself, the whole jealous husband plot is unwatchable. But like most Cameron films, the action is stupendous. The "you're fired" sequence is what a popcorn movie is all about.
posted by Ber at 7:08 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


...Cameron, then a 26-year-old model maker and art director for Corman, was in Rome attempting to get his name off the ignominious Piranha II: The Spawning, a low-rent horror sequel he had directed for five days before being fired.

In fairness, that's actually most of the time it takes to make a Corman film.
posted by maxsparber at 7:15 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Wait. Cameron as a misogynist? Didn't he create some of the most formidable "woman as action hero" role models in recent cinematic history?
posted by temporicide at 7:26 AM on July 19


True Lies is a film from the rape culture. I'm so grateful for that phrase "rape culture" because it makes it easy to identify in shorthand exactly what's wrong with a movie like this. And once you look at the treatment of women in film through this simple lens, it's easy to see how problematic so many movies are. Add in the Bechdel Test and you start to despair.
posted by Nelson at 7:35 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


"Simple lens" indeed.
posted by temporicide at 7:40 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


My favorite film review of True Lies was IIRC in The Nation, and pointed out that for a story driven so relentlessly by sexual power and sexual manipulation, there was a rather puzzling lack of actual sex onscreen.
posted by localroger at 7:41 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


This is an incredibly racist movie, but unremarkable in that anti Arab racism in Hollywood is so pervasive. Apparently it's also one of the last acceptable types of bigotry. Even the members here don't seem overly concerned by as they no doubt would if the target was a different minority.

There have been thousands of negative portrayls of Arabs in Hollywood films and it's almost impossible to think of a positive portrayal.
posted by cell divide at 7:59 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


I read so many of these in the '90s that I can't even bring myself to watch the LOTR special features, though I'm told they're excellent.

You should. They really are excellent and trace the development of the movies from Tolkien's early life to shooting the final pickups for the ROTK extended edition. FX are part of it, of course, but there's a huge emphasis on design, conceptualization, miniatures shooting (though they were hardly 'miniatures', they called them bigatures), and the really incredible bonds the principal cast and crew developed between each other. Best 'making-of' I've ever seen.

Interestingly, I feel that the film got a bit of a free ride on its racism, because of the scene-stealing misogyny

Yes, absolutely... that's why I said by comparison. The racism was gross; the misogyny was grotesque.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:31 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


"There have been thousands of negative portrayls of Arabs in Hollywood films and it's almost impossible to think of a positive portrayal."


1999's "The 13th Warrior", with Vikings!!
posted by Chitownfats at 8:36 AM on July 19


Thanks be to (whatever omnipotent power you pray to) that we have finally moved beyond bigotry!
posted by temporicide at 8:43 AM on July 19


Weirdly, I suppose, I don't think I was ever squicked out by the striptease scene. I am inordinately fond of this movie, I know, and I hope I'm not just finding excuses for its terribleness to justify my liking it, but here goes.

For me, the spy stuff is a metaphor for intimacy. Helen is unhappy with her marriage because Harry is not sharing his true self with her, and she is unfulfilled in her own life. She's tempted by Simon, but what he's offering her is a fake intimacy as well, since he's a fake spy. So, I didn't see Harry's made-up mission in the hotel room as him trying to punish or humiliate Helen, but as an attempt to bring her into his spy world i.e. be intimate - which fails, because he's still not being fully honest with her, and he is rightfully smacked down for it (via getting clocked with the telephone).

And I don't think Helen was squicked out by doing the strip tease, because we have that transformation make-over sequence in the hallway. Unfortunately, this goes straight into rape-culture territory of Harry manipulating her into a situation because he 'knows she wants it' and ugh. But it still works for me because there was something glorious about Helen's transformation from timid to kick-ass. Because by the end of the movie she has gotten what she wanted, a true and intimate marriage.

I never bothered seeing Avatar, but all of the Cameron movies that I've liked have had female protagonists that are equal to or of greater importance than the male protagonist (rather than being just the 'love interest'), and I never saw True Lies as an exception to that. For me, True Lies was Helen's movie as much as Titanic was Rose's movie or Terminator was Sarah's or Aliens was Ripley's.

I agree that there's no getting past the racism in the choice of Generic Bad Guy™ though. I do think that by having the Chief Good Spy™ be Charleton Heston in an eye-patch, and by letting an atomic bomb go off in Florida, they were trying to make the violence as cartoonish as possible, but still.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:44 AM on July 19 [13 favorites]


Count me as one of the few mefites that actually liked this movie. Kind of weird to see so many negative posts following an excellent and well thought-out FPP.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:58 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Oh don't get me wrong, I love this movie. It just has some severely problematic elements.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:15 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


This is an incredibly racist movie, but unremarkable in that anti Arab racism in Hollywood is so pervasive. Apparently it's also one of the last acceptable types of bigotry.

Yeah, other than not really finding it funny at all and being utterly bemused (as per usual) by Ahhnold's inability to act, my main reason for leaving the theater was the racism, like shit icing on what was a sub-par cake anyway. But a couple of years earlier, I suspect I would've stuck with it. The difference being that my sister had recently married a guy of Greek descent and I couldn't shake the fact that ALL the bad guys sort of looked like him, and were thus easy cannon fodder for Ahhnold and the good guys ... like a contemporary (1994 version) of the old "the only good Injun is a dead Injun" vileness that used to propel Hollywood westerns of the 1950s.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


For the curious, here's the trailer for La totale !. For the French public, it was an amusing experience to see Thierry Lhermitte reincarnated into Arnold Schwartzenegger.
posted by elgilito at 9:22 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Never seen True Lies. By some fluke, my primary association with the movie is the time that Bob Dole gave a speech denouncing violent media that “revel in mindless violence and loveless sex.” — but mentioned True Lies as an exception to this trend. Here's an old article about it.

I have no idea why this ancient political speech stuck in my head, other than that it was one of the first times I really noticed that right-wing culture warriors cared less about the actual content of media, and more about whether or not the media was produced by a powerful person on their side.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:37 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


The whole premise of the film is that Arnold lies to his wife for years and years, but when the table is turned on him (so he thinks), he abuses his power in such a sadistic way that really is cringe-inducing terrible.

I remember briefly thinking the movie was going to do something interesting with that whole idea. But then all the gross stuff they do just made me sad. I'd recently been married when I saw this and I remember thinking, "Wow, what kind of sad, screwed-up relationships have Cameron and Schwarzenegger had that they could think this is amusing?"
posted by straight at 10:23 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


A racist caricature to be sure, but I'll say this. There's a scene where the Crimson Jihad leader is ranting to the video camera and says something like "You bomb our cities from afar like cowards, and you dare to call us terrorists!" I remember as an adolescent thinking "You know, that's a pretty good point."
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:41 AM on July 19 [8 favorites]


I saw this movie in the theater - I was never a huge fan of Arnold, but I liked some of his movies all right. After this, I never saw another one. I hated how his character treated Jamie Lee Curtis' character, and the striptease scene was so gross that it is literally the only thing I can remember from True Lies. I definitely didn't remember that Eliza Dushku played Jamie Lee and Arnold's daughter.
posted by 41swans at 10:46 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


It's peculiar how spoilery that Ebert review; it opens by describing the climactic action sequence and then goes on to mention pretty much every set piece, up to and including the strange Arnie-dances-the-tango scene.

He does fit in some criticism; but overall it's a strange shopping list of a review. Maybe that's revealing in itself: 900 words of "meh" that suggest that the movie failed to engage Ebert.

What I remember at the time -- in the UK -- was a lot of nasty chatter around Jamie Lee Curtis pulling off a "sexy" role despite (a) this lingering urban legend and (b) her age.

the same 'too much coke at every stage of the production' problem

It does have that all-the-dials-turned-up-to-11 overkill about it; as if in every scene they asked themselves "are we really going to do that" and replied "OF COURSE WE ARE." It's only surprising that they didn't jump the horse off the hotel roof.

he is rightfully smacked down for it (via getting clocked with the telephone)

Which yes, he totally rightfully deserves.

But the movie isn't playing it that way; at that point Helen is blindfolded and is still unaware that her shadowy "contact" is Harry. He gets clocked with the phone, but it's ha-ha-mistaken-identity, not misogynist-prick-gets-his-comeuppance.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:19 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


but it's ha-ha-mistaken-identity, not misogynist-prick-gets-his-comeuppance.

What can I say, it played as comeuppance for me? Because in the strip tease, Helen is nominally in control of the situation and coming into her own power as a spy, unlike when things move to the bed and things get infinitely more creeptastic. But then she turns the tables and still gets the bug-planting done.

I guess because the spying metaphor works for me on Harry's side too. He's as unhappy with his life as Helen is, because he has no way of showing his true self to her (or his daughter). So I didn't see his actions in regards to Simon as typical possessive abuser behavior (even though I know it would be so in the real world). I didn't see it as him being angry at her for betraying him so much as frustrated with how the secrecy was destroying his relationship. It takes a truth serum and the threat of nuclear annihilation to get him to finally be completely honest with her, but they get there in the end.

So I love their ridiculous tango at the end. Because now they are the world's shmoopiest goofball superspies together, which is what both of them really wanted.
posted by oh yeah! at 12:19 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Please help me understand -- is the problem that brown people were villains or is the problem with the way the brown people behaved as villains?
posted by bpm140 at 1:44 PM on July 19


Because in the strip tease, Helen is nominally in control of the situation

She's in control of the situation that her husband creepily orchestrated? That doesn't really make much sense. If any man ever pulled crap like that (ok obvs I'm never going to be a superspy, I mean the levels of deception involved), the only thing he'd get hit over the head with is divorce papers and a lawsuit. Yuck.

is the problem that brown people were villains or is the problem with the way the brown people behaved as villains?

Both?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:54 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


The film is interesting in an 'anti-Cameron' kind of way = so many of the things that make Cameron films great are inverted - one speculates that he was going through a real rough patch:

The Horror of the Atom:
Terminator: Horrible post-nuke world
Aliens: ticking time bomb of terraforming plant going nuke
The Abyss: another ticking time of a nuke - will Ed Harris stop it in time?
Terminator 2: genuinely horrific scenes of nuclear destruction invoking the Holocaust
True Lies: while flying to Miami Schwarzenegger is asked if the nuke will go off and he gives a comedy 'grimace' face - the nuke is PLAYED FOR LAUGHS.

so something strange is going on here.

there's a sour, misanthropic vibe that's layered over the whole picture; in evidence from the very beginning - could go on and on but gotta walk the dog.
(sand spider line is great though)
posted by jettloe at 2:43 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


is the problem that brown people were villains or is the problem with the way the brown people behaved as villains?

Both?


yeah, as I recall, it was just basic, sloppy "bad guys who are BAD look like this" racial stereotyping. Of course, one of the guys on Ahhnold's side was also of that skin tone, but that just felt conveniently token.
posted by philip-random at 3:07 PM on July 19


I enjoyed the movie for the over-the-top action stuff, which it did very well, corny catchphrases and all.

But I agree that the striptease scene was both uncomfortable and unfunny. Arnold Schwartzeneggar's character, who as supposed to come across as this patriotic super spy who, although he was torn apart by what he felt was his wife's infidelity, recognized his own culpability I. Neglecting and lying to her for decades, just came across as vengeful, creepy and clueless when it came to his own wife and marriage.

Several other scenes in the film did a poor job of showcasing Jaime Lee Curtis's comedic skills, and a very poor job of convincing the audiences she would be an asset as an operative in the field, as well.

First, her character is incredibly naive and gullible, as evidenced by Bill Paxton's storyline. She is a professional woman, married for many years, raising a teenage daughter, and yet we are supposed to accept she doesn't suspect this guy is actually hitting on her?! Yes, he says he's an agent. But she ought to be more suspicious than she is. I would have liked her to quiz him a bit more, trip him up before the helicopters swoop in and catch them together

Frankly, it would have made more sense if their teenager had been the one taken in, and Jamie Lee Curtis only finds out Arnold is a spy when he calls in the cavalry to rescue their little girl.

Later, when Arnold is claiming he doesn't know JLC and she's just a hooker he picked up (in an effort to get the terrorists to let her go), she vehemently protests that she is his wife, going out of her way to prove it, a move which makes no sense at all (even within the confines of the skimpy plot). Anyone with a lick of sense would have realized that was the wrong move. Even if she believes the terrorists are actually after her, rather than her husband, she ought to act like she doesn't know Arnold, to protect him.
posted by misha at 3:39 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Frankly, it would have made more sense if their teenager had been the one taken in, and Jamie Lee Curtis only finds out Arnold is a spy when he calls in the cavalry to rescue their little girl.

Ok, I wish I'd seen your version. Mom & Dad reconnect over saving their daughter, he comes clean, everyone's happy. And you still get to blow up ALL THE THINGS.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:52 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I mean seriously

INT: Tasker's house. MRS TASKER is drinking a cup of tea. MR TASKER enters.

MR TASKER: (sighs). Honey, there's something I need to tell you...

__

She doesn't believe him at first, he proves it, they both go to save the day--and get nabbed themselves, which lets that entire gross subplot get cut right out and they still end up in a tin shack in the Keys, him with an armful of sodium thiopental or whatever it is.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:57 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Even better, they get nabbed on purpose, thinking to rescue their daughter from the inside.

Leaving the limo conversation & fight with Juno to be about mother defending her daughter--squeaking by the Bechdel test.

Recast the terrorists as part of some international, I dunno, network that's not tied to any one religion or ethnicity and... ok hi i'm from metafilter and i could overthink a plate of beans

I can't believe I'm saying this but Hollywood pls do a shot for shot remake minus the gross bits with I dunno, are Clooney and Julianne Moore close enough in age for it not to be yet more grossness?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:01 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


She's in control of the situation
Not in control of the situation - by 'nominally in control' I just meant that I think in the beginning of the scene she is taking an active role via the makeover and the strip tease, that the power dynamic shifts in her favor, as compared to the end of the scene.

that her husband creepily orchestrated? That doesn't really make much sense. If any man ever pulled crap like that (ok obvs I'm never going to be a superspy, I mean the levels of deception involved), the only thing he'd get hit over the head with is divorce papers and a lawsuit. Yuck.

I'm not defending it as making sense, and, yes, if anyone in real life pulled this kind of stunt it would be unforgivable. It's just that, for me, the movie doesn't take place in anything remotely like the real world. It's taking place in the non-reality of a guilty pleasure romance novel, or some sexual fantasy that is hot as a masturbatory fodder but nothing you'd want to actually fulfill. I mean, the atomic explosion is just a background for the big kiss, it is a deeply & deliberately unrealistic movie.
posted by oh yeah! at 4:40 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


I just meant that I think in the beginning of the scene she is taking an active role via the makeover and the strip tease, that the power dynamic shifts in her favor

Um, the striptease was dictated to her. Her husband literally turned her into an object. The makeover was about making herself more sexy for a man--her husband, who had orchestrated the entire creepy thing.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:30 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Recast the terrorists as part of some international, I dunno, network that's not tied to any one religion or ethnicity and...

Ah, yes, the point at which the critique tries to meet the demand of contextualization and... can't.

Then again you could just make all the brown people space aliens and have the white guy save 'em all. That's totally not racist.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:09 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Look dude I was just spitballing, not working out the complex details of a plot. There are ways to put together a team of badguys without relying on brown = bad. The Bond movies tend to do it, Cameron could have done it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:29 PM on July 19


Relax, nobody's blaming you.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:35 PM on July 19


True Lies was for many years my most hated movie. It wasn't just that I was stuck watching the utterly revolting interrogation/strip-tease scenes, "forced" to stay in the theater because (a) I had never walked out of a show before, and (b) I was surrounded by chortling friends (female, as it happens) whose affections I was afraid of alienating. More, I think, it was because as a teenager at the time, up until then I had given almost no thought to politics in movies (or anywhere else, really), and so I was only gropingly aware of what it was that was so disturbing me, and who I should blame for it. Schwarzenegger (whom I already disliked for his embodiment of the over-muscled, self-amused bullies who had long plagued me)? His character? Whoever had put them into this situation? The writer of the movie? The director -- whatever that was? There seemed something deeply wrong, greater than any of these men, extending beyond them to the audience who was lapping it up, including my close friends ... which of course made me doubt myself (my usual position) all the more. What was wrong with everyone? It's not like we weren't close enough that I couldn't rant about it a little after it was over, but they just shook their heads at me in the end, an attitude I've since gotten very used to as I make my PC objections to movie after movie over the decades. But at the time it was a shock to discover just how sick all of us were, and how sick I must have been for blithely enjoying so many other such things before -- and presumably must continue to be while enjoying stuff my newfound PC sensitivities (a term that was at its height in 1994) yet remained oblivious to. Anyway, as with all such things, its power now much weakened, there's no need to hate this movie as vehemently as I once did. I even harbor some affection for it as a minor coming-of-age moment. But it's still a grotesque and diseased piece of work.
posted by chortly at 8:27 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I wish these guys would quite making misogynistic movies laced with racism, and get back to mowing down generic bad guys. I'm loving all the zombie stuff because you can kill them, safely, because they aren't human. Any more. Machine guns are okay, but machetes and hammers are better. I like the misty, red spray. Grenades would be cool, too, if you have body parts flying around. Swordfights and flying knives. Oh me.

Or we can have some guys kidnap someone's daughter, so he can pull the fingers off the lower ranking henchmen, then put the head schmo into the wood chipper after twenty minutes of car chasing through crowded malls and another twenty minute of slugfesting where they club each other with bits of steel tubing and smallish items of furniture.

And machine guns in the hallway. And all those other fuckers we get to turn into slaw on account of they are, you know, aliens. Kraist on a krutch, just thinking about it makes my tongue come to a point.

....okay. I am calm now. I remember a terrible movie from the 70's, called "The President's Analyst" or some such. James Coburn (one of my favorite actors) is walking down dark street with a typical family: mom, dad, two teen aged kids. Thugs jump them. The typical woman shouts: Oh Boy! Muggers! and they proceed to variously shoot and/or kick the living daylights out of the muggers. The misogyny in other parts of the movie would make you groan nowadays, I suppose. I don't remember any racist parts just now, but I imagine they were there. It's a good thing we ain't like that anymore.
posted by mule98J at 10:09 AM on July 20


mule98J: "I'm loving all the zombie stuff because you can kill them, safely, because they aren't human. "

Weren't people complaining that the zombies in The Walking Dead didn't represent the racial makeup of the victim pool (IE: Few black zombies in 50% black Atlanta)
posted by Mitheral at 12:05 PM on July 20


Not to derail, but the film THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST is satirical in nature.

The scene referenced above where a family shoots muggers, (after just having a conversation about the politically correct way to refer to a Chinese restaurant), is meant to horrify - in fact as the family shoots the attackers the film cuts to Coburn’s horrified reaction; this, combined with the film’s intense opening scene dealing with systemic racism in the U.S., (Godfrey Cambridge’s fantastic “Run, run here comes the Nigger confession) and the picture’s examination of internal U.S. security politics, the futility of nationalism and the true villains being corporate overlords make it one of the great satires of the 60’s.
posted by jettloe at 3:12 PM on July 20 [2 favorites]


The President's Analyst is a great film. If Godfrey Cambridge is in a 60s film, there is a good chance what you're seeing is a corrosive satire of race relations.
posted by maxsparber at 3:22 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


The bathroom fight scene was amazing.
posted by mlis at 4:51 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


Weren't people complaining that the zombies in The Walking Dead didn't represent the racial makeup of the victim pool (IE: Few black zombies in 50% black Atlanta)

Cynical answer: Maybe there are less black zombies walking around Atlanta because the white (now zombie) folks made sure the majority of them were locked away in jail when the outbreak occurred.
posted by misha at 10:18 PM on July 20


Or something something doesn't effect sickle cell anemia and therefore something something.

Or my favorite rando explanation to justify fiction for your veiwing pleasure is Godzilla showed up and something something, because if we're just making stuff up why not?
posted by P.o.B. at 12:26 PM on July 21


I though the reason was basically all the survivors are white and it would look really bad to be shooting lots and lots of black zombies, tbh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:14 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Nah, it's because racist zombies
posted by P.o.B. at 7:23 PM on July 22


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