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So You Think You Know… James Cameron?

James Cameron

James Cameron (Courtesy of Photofest)

If any person in Hollywood has cracked the secret of achieving simultaneously critical and commercial success, it’s James Cameron. Avatar and Titanic have claimed the number one and number two spot on the list of highest grossing films of all time respectively, with each film raking in over a staggering $2 billion a piece. The feat is remarkable and audiences are clearly all in favour of Cameron’s narratives – although, the director never compromises quality for mainstream appeal, incorporating both components into a winning formula. It’s been years since Cameron released his last fictional feature, Avatar, but the film-maker has been occupied with the small task of fathoming four future instalments of the 2009 smash hit. His return to the big screen will be warmly embraced.

Born in Ontario, Canada, Cameron was indecisive about his career as a late adolescent, enrolling at a community college to study physics before switching to English and then eventually dropping out before the start of autumn semester. Whilst working as a truck driver, he became fascinated by special effects and self taught himself the craft by reading library books about film technology. Cameron’s first foray into film-making came when he wrote, directed, produced and production designed the ten minute short Xenogenesis (1978), but his first ever feature was The Terminator (1984). Studios were hesitant to allow the largely inexperienced Cameron to direct his self-penned script, but Hemdale Pictures took a chance on him and the film eventually earned over $78 million worldwide against a $6.5 million budget.

James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver

James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver (Photo: Robert Ascroft)

Cameron’s list of favourite films is genre eclectic but his choices are unsurprising; The Wizard of Oz, Dr Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Godfather and Taxi Driver. Not only are they considered some of the greats, but several of them heavily utilised practical effects that may have influenced Cameron who used a similar approach in his earlier work. However, as the industry progressed and technology advanced, Cameron has shifted his attention to grand scale special effects and is an irrefutable pioneer. For example, in The Abyss, Cameron demonstrated ground-breaking effects to digitally depict the water tentacle and this breakthrough convinced him that a liquid metal villain in T2 was achievable. Cameron’s technical prowess has never been more evident than it is in Titanic and Avatar, where the CG visuals of the sinking ship in the former film are, to this date, still considered some of the best in cinema. Meanwhile, Avatar was comprised almost entirely of computer-generated animation; Cameron had to delay production of the film since the 1990’s, citing that technology was not yet advanced enough to realise his vision. Cameron has always been leaps and bounds ahead of the game – it’s technology that’s been slow on the uptake.

Cameron’s quest for perfection has been well documented, with his collaborators, Bill Paxton and Sigoruney Weaver, lauding his attentive nature. Weaver has stated, “he really does want us to risk our lives and limbs for the shot, but he doesn’t mind risking his own” but the intense demands he places on his actors and crew have become notorious and garnered him a tough reputation. Titanic starlet Kate Winslet has claimed that she would only work with Cameron again if she was paid “a lot of money” (Winslet is set to star in the four Avatar sequels) and he has been accused of being cruel and selfish by author Orson Scott Card, whom Cameron worked with on The Abyss. Cameron’s reputation can be interpreted in many ways, but there’s no denying that his methods produce winning results.

Unmissable Picks:

The Terminator (1984)
Aliens (1986)
The Abyss (1989)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Titanic (1997)
Avatar (2009)

By Evie Brudenall

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