Nationality: American. Born: James Francis Cameron in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada, 26 August, 1954; moved to the United States in 1971. Education: Graduated in physics at California State University, Fullerton. Family: Married 1) Sharon Williams, 1974 (divorced 1985); 2) Gale Anne Hurd, 1985 (divorced 1989); 3) Kathryn Bigelow, 1989 (divorced 1991); 4) Linda Hamilton, 1997 (separated); one daughter with Hamilton: Josephine Archer, born 1993. Career: Financed early screenwriting with truckdriving; first professional film job as special effects man and art director for Roger Corman, 1980; set up production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, 1990; co-founder and CEO of visual effects company Digital Domain, 1993; True Lies first film to cost over $100 million, 1994; Titanic first film to cost over $200 million, 1997. Awards: Razzie Award (USA) for Worst Screenplay, for Rambo: First Blood Part II (shared with Sylvester Stallone and Kevin Jarre), 1986; ShoWest (USA) Producer of the Year, 1995; Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Director, Directors' Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for Titanic (shared with
Pirhana II: The Spawning ( Pirhana II: Flying Killers , The Spawning )
The Terminator (+ co-sc)
Aliens (+ co-sc)
The Abyss (+ sc)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day ( T2 ) (+ co-sc, pr)
True Lies (+ sc, co-pr)
T2 3-D: Battle across Time ( Terminator 2: 3 ) (+ co-sc)
Titanic (+ sc, co-pr, co-ed, ro as extra)
Battle beyond the Stars (co-ph)
Escape from New York (co-ph)
Rambo: First Blood Part II (co-sc)
Point Break (exec pr)
The Muse (ro as himself)
Dark Angel (for TV) (sc)
With William Wisher, Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The Book of the Film, an Illustrated Screenplay , New York, 1991.
Titanic , New York, 1997.
Interview with R. Yates, "Ship Happens. Jim'll Fix It," in Observer Review (London), 11 January, 1998.
Interview with Garth Pearce, in Total Film (London), February 1998.
Interview with Anne Thompson, in Premiere (New York), February 1999.
Heard, Christopher, Dreaming Aloud: The Life and Films of James Cameron , Toronto, 1997.
Parisi, Paula, "Titanic" and the Making of James Cameron: The Inside Story of the Three-Year Adventure that Rewrote Motion Picture History , New York, 1998.
Shapiro, Marc, James Cameron: An Unauthorized Biography , Los Angeles, 2000.
Ebert, Roger, review of Aliens , in Chicago Sun-Times (Chicago), 18 July 1986.
Chase, Donald, "On the Set of Terminator 2 : Reinventing a Science-Fiction Classic for the Nineties," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 12 July 1991.
Kilday, Gregg, "Brave New World," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 20 August 1991.
Jancovich, Mark, "Modernity and Subjectivity in The Terminator : The Machine as Monster in Contemporary American Culture," in The Velvet Light Trap (Austin, Texas), Fall 1992.
Thompson, Anne, "Five True Lies about James Cameron," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 29 July 1994.
Richardson, John H., "Iron Jim," in Premiere (New York), August 1994.
Arroyo, Jose, "Cameron and the Comic," in Sight and Sound (London), September 1994.
Burr, Ty, "Cameron Focus," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 13 July 1995.
Larson, Doran, "Machine as Messiah: Cyborgs, Morphs and the American Body Politic," in Cinema Journal (Urbana), Summer 1997.
Parisi, Paula, "Man Overboard!" in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 7 November 1997.
Masters, Kim, "Trying to Stay Afloat," in Time (New York), 8 December 1997.
Arroyo, Jose, "Massive Attack," in Sight and Sound (London), February 1998.
Hughes, David, "Magnificent Obsession (Dispatches from the Set of Titanic )," in Premiere (New York), December 1998.
* * *
In his acceptance speech at the Golden Globe awards in 1998, James Cameron asked whether the success of Titanic proved once and for all that size matters. Everything about the film was big. At over $200 million, its budget was the biggest in movie history; an entire new studio had to be constructed for the production, including a huge water tank to hold a ninety-percent sized replica of the original ship. In fact, Cameron's remark could have applied to any one of his films since the mid-1980s. Titanic , which he once called his "190 million-dollar chick flick," was merely the biggest of a series of films that have earned the director a reputation for taking on groundbreaking and ambitious projects.
Known in Hollywood as "Iron Jim," it has been said that working on one of Cameron's projects is like waging a military campaign. Cameron can now demand the highest standards from his cast and crew, but it was as a special effects expert for Roger Corman, providing additional direction on Battle beyond the Stars (1980), that Cameron made his first professional steps as a filmmaker. His first solo work as a director, Pirhana II , from which he was fired before completion, did not suggest the beginnings of a glittering career. Its clunky special effects and ludicrous storyline about pirhana fish that learn to fly are closer to B-movie horrors from the 1950s than the director's polished later output. It was not until 1984, and The Terminator , that Cameron had his first major success.
With Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T800, a cyborg back from the future, The Terminator cost only $6.4 million, about the same as six minutes' footage from Titanic. The Terminator became something of a surprise hit, rescuing Schwarzenegger from a career of bodybuilding films and Conan sequels, and launching Cameron into the big league. It brought thoughtful science fiction to a wide audience, addressing concerns about nuclear war and the revolution in computing and robotics that was taking hold in the early 1980s. Widely recognized as a science-fiction classic, The Terminator confirmed Cameron's abilities as a director and led to him being hired to make the high-profile sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien. With Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Ripley, Aliens sees her awakened from hibernation fifty-seven years after her first ordeal and returning to the mysterious planet from which she escaped in the earlier film. Although the plot is rather derivative, the special effects are impressive and the action relentless. One critic, Roger Ebert, advised viewers not to eat before going to see it, but declared it "a superb example of filmmaking craft." Aliens , and later films like The Abyss and Terminator 2 , all contain strong female characters, and Cameron is often noted for creating positive roles for women, but in reality his feminist credentials are far from certain. Writing in Entertainment Weekly , Ty Burr even goes as far as to suggest that the presence of strong female characters is thanks to Cameron's collaborators, Gale Ann Hurd and Linda Hamilton, and notes the misogynistic language in True Lies , which is all Cameron's own work.
Special effects and slick direction redeem the otherwise disappointing The Abyss , which opened in 1989 to less than enthusiastic reviews. Set on a drilling rig on the seabed, the film is slower paced than Aliens and contains few sympathetic characters. It is a landmark film, however, because of the way computerized images are integrated with live action. Cameron has been a pioneer of computer generated effects, and in the early 1990s co-founded the IBM-backed digital effects company, Digital Domain, in order to develop the technology further. After the lessons learned on The Abyss , Computer Generated Images (CGI) were used still more effectively in his next film, Terminator 2. Like the column of water in The Abyss , the "liquid metal" T-1000 can change into any shape. But Terminator 2 set new standards for the integration of digital images and live action by applying the "morphing" technique to a live actor. Even apart from the stunning effects, Terminator 2 is a better film than the original, combining humor, real human drama, and large-scale set pieces in what is probably Cameron's most balanced work.
Cameron's third Schwarzenegger vehicle, True Lies , is a comedy about a spy whose wife doesn't know what he really does for a living. Like Terminator 2 , it is also heavy with CGI, but whereas Terminator 2 put the special effects on display, in True Lies , Cameron aimed to make the action as realistic as possible, concealing computerized shots from the audience. In one stunt, for example, a truck was supposed to leap off the end of a broken bridge and land in the water. When it unexpectedly made it to the other side, Cameron had it removed digitally from the bridge and made to plunge into the sea. Impressive for its technical accomplishments, True Lies is rather bloated and too long for its flimsy plot.
Because of the enormous financial success of his films, Cameron is one of the most influential figures in filmmaking, while his production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, allows him almost total autonomy in choosing film projects. Titanic is Cameron's most ambitious project to date, and its earnings take the gross box office income of his films to over $1 billion. But although the film was successful at the box office and at the awards, it has been criticized for the weakness of the romantic plot at its center, and for its failures as a human drama. In a Cameron film, however, none of this really matters: the director's real strengths lie in his technical brilliance and his willingness to take risks. After Titanic , it is difficult to imagine filmmaking on a grander scale. Yet as Cameron himself explains, in the era of digital movie making, "There are no limits to what you can do. Only money."