Cinema and Media Studies James Cameron
by
Bruce Isaacs
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0294

Introduction

James Cameron (b. 1954) is now widely regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers working within the American studio system. While Cameron has directed relatively few films, and certainly significantly fewer than contemporary Hollywood filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis (with whom he is often compared), his meteoric rise within the Hollywood system was due in large part to his pioneering use of film and digital technologies, an innovative approach to narrative and visual film form, and an extraordinary series of box office successes with films such as The Terminator (1984), Aliens (1986), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009). Biographical sources describe a young Cameron fascinated with technology and science, and a keen explorer of amateur filmmaking. Like so many of his American film contemporaries, his initial venture into professional production was with Roger Corman’s studio, working on special effects and model making, before deciding to develop his skills as a screenwriter, producer, and director. The Terminator and Aliens demonstrate Cameron’s imaginative flair for visual and aural form, with each work clearly making a significant contribution to the development of mechanical and optical effects production. Both films also fed into an era in the mid-1980s of increasing experimentation with narrative and genre. Terminator 2: Judgment Day represents a paradigmatic shift in the development and use of special effects within the American film industry, essentially mainstreaming digital effects production for the decade to follow. The success of Terminator 2 as a film blockbuster fed into a growing trend among Hollywood studios to integrate cinema into other media technologies; Universal Studios premiered the interactive attraction T2: 3D Battle Across Time in 1996, a staggering intertextual 24-million dollar production in its own right. But it is Cameron’s two most recent blockbusters, Titanic and Avatar, that have attracted the greatest attention from film, media, and cultural studies scholars. Both films represent at their point of production the highest budgeted and highest box-office grossing films of all time. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Titanic and Avatar define a particular auteuristic vision for the filmmaker, and represent a nexus for discussions of film form, ideology, and politics across his body of work.

Reference Works and Biographies

There are several biographies on Cameron, some more reliable than others. Keegan 2010 provides a fairly expansive overview of Cameron’s development as a filmmaker, as well as critical information on his early career development, while Parisi 1998 presents a vivid dramatization of the production of Titanic. Robb 2002, Fischer 2011, and Keller 2002 offer valuable and significantly condensed accounts of Cameron’s career and engage several of the films thematically, with some level of critical and theoretically oriented assessment; Keller’s chapter is particularly insightful in its reading of thematic and formal aspects of the films. Fitzpatrick 2009 and Duncan and Fitzpatrick 2010 are essential sources of information on Cameron’s production of Avatar.

  • Duncan, Jody, and Lisa Fitzpatrick. The Making of Avatar. New York: Abrams, 2010.

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    Comprehensive account of the production of Avatar, now almost mythic in its size, scale, and grandiosity. The volume also boasts a beautifully designed layout in text and images, and provides an essential point of entry into understanding the complex production processes at the highest end of the Hollywood studio system.

  • Fischer, Dennis. “James Cameron.” In Science Fiction Film Directors, 1895–1998. By Dennis Fischer, 107–125. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

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    Contains a useful general overview of Cameron’s early life, film influences, and career development after leaving Corman’s production company. The chapter presents a combination of anecdotes, interview excerpts, and general descriptions of Cameron’s films.

  • Fitzpatrick, Lisa. The Art of Avatar: James Cameron’s Epic Adventure. New York: Abrams, 2009.

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    Less a stand-alone volume than a useful companion to Duncan and Fitzpatrick 2010. The book is especially valuable for its focus on the graphic foundations of many of the digital production processes that would later be overlaid onto the manual artwork.

  • Keegan, Rebecca. The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010.

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    The most authoritative (and certainly most frequently cited) of an ever-growing collection of biographies on Cameron. Keegan is a film and entertainment journalist, and as such there is not a great deal of objectivity in her accounts of Cameron’s achievements. Nonetheless, as the book jacket suggests, Keegan enjoyed extensive access to Cameron, his colleagues and collaborators, and the production set of Avatar.

  • Keller, Alexandra. “James Cameron.” In Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers. Edited by Yvonne Tasker, 81–90. London; New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    Tasker’s invaluable reference work on film directors includes a substantial entry on Cameron authored by Alexandra Keller (see also Keller 2006, cited under Scholarly Books and Anthologies). Keller reads the cinema of Cameron through the lenses of auteur theory and authorship, genre form and theory, and politics.

  • Parisi, Paula. Titanic and the Making of James Cameron. London: Orion, 1998.

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    A thoroughly engaging dramatization of the making of Titanic from an author that had extensive access to production accounts and materials. The book is part reportage and part melodrama. In the vein of Lillian Ross’s landmark Picture (1952), but certainly not as substantial as that work.

  • Robb, Brian J. The Pocket Essential James Cameron. Harpenden, UK: Pocket Essentials, 2002.

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    Very useful background and biographical material, bolstered by a rigorous examination of Cameron’s films and their textual and generic properties. While offering a general overview of Cameron as filmmaker, this slim volume is an excellent introduction to scholarship on the filmmaker.

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