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Cameron, James

Entry updated 20 December 2021. Tagged: Film, People.

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(1954-    ) Canadian-born film-maker. Originally a special-effects man and art director with Roger Corman's New World – where he worked on Battle beyond the Stars (1980), Android (1982) and several others including Escape from New York (1981), for which New World did the special effects – Cameron made an inauspicious debut as director with Piranha II: Flying Killers (1981; vt Piranha II: The Spawning) (see Piranha); Cameron was removed from the film and his own cut remains unseen. However, he made a major impression with his second film, The Terminator (1984), a Time-Travel thriller with a killer Robot. This low-budget success secured Cameron – and his second wife and producer/co-writer Gale Anne Hurd – the plum assignment of Aliens (1986), the follow-up to Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). Having improved on the original – especially in his 150-minute director's cut, later released on video – with this humanistic action movie of alien warfare, Cameron achieved a free hand with The Abyss (1989), the most expensive of several underwater sf movies released at that time (see Under the Sea), and managed four-fifths of an excellent film before fumbling with a climactic deep-sea close encounter; it was a box-office disappointment. The half-hour longer director's cut The Abyss: Special Edition (1992) is not notably superior. Following this Cameron separated personally from Hurd – who had in the meantime produced Alien Nation (1988) and Tremors (1990) – and married fellow director Kathryn Bigelow, whose Near Dark (1987) he had influenced to some degree, and whose Point Break (1991) he co-wrote. Cameron next directed Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), a huge-budgeted box-office success, and perhaps the most violent pacifist movie ever made.

His next, and strongest, screenplay was the Cyberpunk thriller Strange Days (1995), but when Arnold Schwarzenegger approached Cameron to write and direct the non-sf espionage comedy True Lies (1994), he passed Strange Days to his now ex-wife Bigelow to direct. After True Lies met with a mixed critical response, Cameron wrote the first draft of his Ecologically based Planetary Romance, Avatar (2009), but put it on hold, in part to allow digital filmmaking techniques to catch up with its ambitious all-digital alien world, while he made the historical disaster movie Titanic (1997). This emerged from a famously troubled production to become the highest-grossing film in history until Avatar overtook it twelve years later. His next project was to be the Marvel Comics vehicle Spider-Man (2002); though he eventually left the production and chose not to pursue a writing credit, the filmed version is close to his original draft. Cameron also purchased the remake rights to Solaris (1972), whose sentient ocean appealed strongly to his obsessions, but passed the project on to Steven Soderbergh (see Solaris [2002]), while remaining closely involved as producer. He created the television series Dark Angel (2000-2002), but abandoned the medium after the show's third season was cancelled at short notice to make way for Joss Whedon's Firefly (2002). For several years he devoted himself to deep-sea exploration, on which he directed a trilogy of IMAX documentaries, two of them in 3D; one of these, Aliens of the Deep (2005), deals in part with speculations on Xenobiology. Avatar finally went into production late in 2005, and was released four years later; it became a worldwide phenomenon, and two sequels were swiftly announced, with a third added during the long pre-production for a back-to-back trilogy shoot in 2015.

A scientifically and science-fictionally literate filmmaker and technologist of formidable versatility, Cameron has been in the driving seat of film history for three decades. Among the emergent technologies he has pushed beyond existing limits have been digital effects, underwater camera systems, performance capture, IMAX photography, and 3D; he has most recently been, with Peter JACKSON, an advocate of increased frame rates. Famous, particularly on Titanic, for his Type A behaviour on set, he combines a mastery of propulsive filmmaking with an old-school sf sensibility rooted in, and at times controversially indebted to, the classic texts of his youth. Never an enthusiastic writer of dialogue or completer of screenplays, Cameron is known for his long, highly detailed narrative outlines, for which he coined the now-standard term "scriptment"; these often have a driving energy beyond the reach of conventional screenplay form. He is an active supporter of space exploration, serving on NASA's Advisory Council and lobbying for a manned mission to Mars; the Curiosity rover, launched in 2011, has similarities to a design proposed by Cameron. In 2013 he made the second manned descent, and the first since 1960, to the floor of the Mariana Trench; the adventure was filmed for the 3D documentary Deepsea Challenge (2014). He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012. [KN/PN/NL]

see also: Cinema; Horror in SF.

James Francis Cameron

born Kapuskasing, Ontario: 16 August 1954



about the filmmaker


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