The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron
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With the release of Avatar in December 2009, James Cameron cements his reputation as king of sci-fi and blockbuster filmmaking. It’s a distinction he’s long been building, through a directing career that includes such cinematic landmarks as The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, and the highest grossing movie of all time, Titanic. The Futurist is the first in-depth look at every aspect of this audacious creative genius—culminating in an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse of the making of Avatar, the movie that promises to utterly transform the way motion pictures are created and perceived. As decisive a break with the past as the transition from silents to talkies, Avatar pushes 3-D, live action, and photo-realistic CGI to a new level. It rips through the emotional barrier of the screen to transport the audience to a fabulous new virtual world.
With cooperation from the often reclusive Cameron, author Rebecca Keegan has crafted a singularly revealing portrait of the director’s life and work. We meet the young truck driver who sees Star Wars and sets out to learn how to make even better movies himself—starting by taking apart the first 35mm camera he rented to see how it works. We observe the neophyte director deciding over lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger that the ex-body builder turned actor is wrong in every way for the Terminator role as written, but perfect regardless. After the success of The Terminator, Cameron refines his special-effects wizardry with a big-time Hollywood budget in the creation of the relentlessly exciting Aliens. He builds an immense underwater set for The Abyss in the massive containment vessel of an abandoned nuclear power plant—where he pushes his scuba-breathing cast to and sometimes past their physical and emotional breaking points (including a white rat that Cameron saved from drowning by performing CPR). And on the set of Titanic, the director struggles to stay in charge when someone maliciously spikes craft services’ mussel chowder with a massive dose of PCP, rendering most of the cast and crew temporarily psychotic.
Now, after his movies have earned over $5 billion at the box office, James Cameron is astounding the world with the most expensive, innovative, and ambitious movie of his career. For decades the moviemaker has been ready to tell the Avatar story but was forced to hold off his ambitions until technology caught up with his vision. Going beyond the technical ingenuity and narrative power that Cameron has long demonstrated, Avatar shatters old cinematic paradigms and ushers in a new era of storytelling.
The Futurist is the story of the man who finally brought movies into the twenty-first century.
Cameron never had any intention of writing Ripley out of his script. But he knew what would happen next—Schwarzenegger’s agent called Weaver’s, who called Fox. And Weaver’s deal was closed that day. In the end, she was paid one million dollars for Aliens, about thirty times her salary for the original. The Garbage-Bag Test Perhaps the most indelible image from the first Alien film is the gruesome moment when the creature violently explodes out of John Hurt’s chest. Cameron knew he would
director had always been drawn to women who resembled his fiery heroines, and this time he went for the genuine article. The two intense personalities were pulled to each other like celestial bodies, as almost anyone working beside them could see. Despite their love affair, Cameron kept his decision about cutting the dream sequence to himself until the last minute. “I was sleeping with the man and he didn’t tell me, until we were looping,” Hamilton told Canadian film critic Christopher Heard.
possibly the most arduous shoot in Hollywood history, would fundamentally change Cameron as a director and as a man. As a teenager, Cameron discovered A Night to Remember, both the seminal 1955 nonfiction book by Walter Lord that detailed Titanic‘s final night and Roy Ward Baker’s faithful 1958 film adaptation of the story. Like the rise and fall of the great civilizations he studied in history class, the story of the glittering steamship’s sinking enthralled him. It was the end of the world—his
endeavor “Project 880” to preserve some secrecy. Cameron had been trying to decide which movie to make next, and there was fervent interest in Hollywood and among the director’s fans about his plans. The smart money seemed to be on Battle Angel, an adaptation of a series of manga comic books first brought to him by Guillermo del Toro and being written by Cameron and a little-known screenwriter named Laeta Kalogridis, who had penned a well-regarded spec script about Joan of Arc while attending
better. Slightly encouraged, Cameron went to his vacation house in Crested Butte, Colorado, to work on the script. After New Year’s, he relocated to his ranch in Santa Barbara County to continue writing. (Some writers move their laptop to another coffee shop when they need a change of environment; when you’re king of the world, you can shift among your multiple idyllically located homes.) Wherever he went, Cameron faced his usual writing demons. “I’m not one of these guys who can write from nine