Cameron, James


Cameron, James
▪ 1999

      It was full speed ahead for James Cameron in 1998 as the Canadian filmmaker defied critics and logistics by building a Titanic that refused to sink. His screen adaptation of the doomed ocean liner's 1912 maiden voyage sailed into the record books, grossing more than $1.5 billion worldwide and tying Ben-Hur (1959) for most Academy Awards won (11). Skillfully blending special effects with a fictional love story between a penniless artist (played by American actor Leonardo DiCaprio) and an unhappily engaged first-class passenger (British actress Kate Winslet), Titanic stood atop the American charts for an unprecedented 15 weeks, earning well over $500 million in North America to become the highest-grossing movie in U.S. history.

      Bringing the luxury liner to the big screen, however, proved anything but smooth sailing. Written, directed, and co-produced by Cameron, Titanic experienced production delays and budget overruns—at a cost of $200 million, it became the most expensive movie ever made—as detailed sets and a model of the ship's exterior, 90% to scale, were built. As rumours circulated of Cameron's legendary perfectionism and demanding direction, many predicted disaster. Instead, Cameron and Titanic glided into cinematic history. After collecting Oscars for best picture and best director, it seemed only fitting when he declared himself "king of the world."

      Born on Aug. 16, 1954, in Kapuskasing, Ont., Cameron studied art as a child and later provided the drawings that figured prominently in Titanic. In 1971 his family moved to California. After studying physics at California State University at Fullerton, Cameron worked at a series of jobs, including machinist and truck driver, before a viewing of Star Wars (1977) inspired him to try his hand at moviemaking. In 1980 he was hired as a production designer, and the following year he made his directorial debut with Piranha II: The Spawning. A flop at the box office, the movie encouraged Cameron to write his own material. The result was Terminator (1984), an action thriller about a robot hit man that made actor Arnold Schwarzenegger a star and established Cameron as a bankable filmmaker. A series of high-tech and big-budget pictures followed, including Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989), both of which received an Oscar for best visual effects, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and True Lies (1994). In 1992 Cameron formed his own production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, and the following year he cofounded Digital Domain, a state-of-the-art effects company.

      Although his films met with success at the box office, many complained that they lacked substance, relying too heavily on visual effects. With Titanic Cameron demonstrated his ability not only to tell a story but, as was the case in 1998, to be the story.

AMY TIKKANEN

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▪ Canadian filmmaker
born Aug. 16, 1954, Kapuskasing, Ont., Can.

      Canadian filmmaker known for his expansive vision and special-effects-heavy films, most notably Titanic (1997), for which he won an Academy Award for best director.

      Cameron studied art as a child; he later provided the drawings that figured prominently in Titanic. In 1971 his family moved to California. After studying physics at California State University at Fullerton, Cameron worked at a series of jobs, including machinist and truck driver, before a viewing of Star Wars (1977) inspired him to try his hand at moviemaking.

      In 1980 Cameron was hired as a production designer, and the following year he made his directorial debut with Piranha II: The Spawning. A flop at the box office, the movie encouraged Cameron to write his own material. The result was Terminator (1984), an action thriller about a robot hit man that made actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Schwarzenegger, Arnold) a star and established Cameron as a bankable filmmaker. A series of high-tech and big-budget pictures followed, including Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989), both of which received an Oscar for best visual effects, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and True Lies (1994). In 1992 Cameron formed his own production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, and the following year he cofounded Digital Domain, a state-of-the-art effects company.

 Although his films met with success at the box office, many viewers complained that the films lacked substance and relied too heavily on visual effects. In 1998 Cameron defied critics with Titanic, his screen adaptation of the doomed ocean liner's 1912 maiden voyage. Written, directed, and coproduced by Cameron, Titanic became the most expensive movie ever made but grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide and tied Ben-Hur (1959) for most Academy Awards won (11). Skillfully blending special effects with a fictional love story between a penniless artist (played by American actor Leonardo DiCaprio (DiCaprio, Leonardo)) and an unhappily engaged first-class passenger (British actress Kate Winslet (Winslet, Kate)), Titanic stood atop the American charts for an unprecedented 15 weeks, earning well over $500 million in North America to become the highest-grossing movie in U.S. history.

      Following Titanic's unparalleled success, Cameron took a break from feature films. He created and coproduced Dark Angel (2000–01), a science-fiction television series about a genetically altered female warrior, and he made several documentaries. Expedition: Bismarck (2002) took the director and his crew deep into the Atlantic Ocean, where they captured footage of the sunken Nazi battleship Bismarck. The documentary won an Emmy Award. Other underwater excursions were chronicled in Ghosts of the Abyss (2003), which explored the Titanic, and Aliens of the Deep (2005).

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Universalium. 2010.

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