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The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron [Hardcover]

Rebecca Keegan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 15, 2009
With the release of Avatar, 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 resolves to make his own space blockbuster—starting by building a futuristic cityscape with cardboard and X-Acto knives. 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-equipped 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 $3 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Coinciding with the release of Avatar, James Cameron's first film in over a decade, Time reporter Keegan's solid biography of the dynamic director sheds welcome light on his cinematic achievements. Growing up in Ontario and later Los Angeles, Cameron was an accomplished artist and budding scientist who would bring his fascination with new technology to all his films. From his days doing grunt work for Hollywood indie legend Roger Corman—including his first directing job, helming Piranha 2—Cameron pursued his artistic vision with a passion that often translated into a tyrannical on-set presence. His string of action hits in the 1980s—Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss—made him one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood, and he continued through the 1990s, culminating in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic. With each film, Cameron strove for new technological feats, from shooting tricky underwater dialogue scenes in The Abyss to the reconstruction of a near life-size version of the doomed ship in Titanic. Keegan explores not only the director's achievements on film, including an in-depth look at the 3D-film Avatar but also his often tumultuous personal life (including his five marriages). Fans of the charismatic director will welcome a look behind the scenes of some of the biggest movies in the last two-plus decades. (Dec. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

There have already been several books about James Cameron, the director of such films as The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar. But this is the one fans of moviemaking books will want. Keegan interviewed dozens of Cameron’s friends and colleagues, including actor Bill Paxton, special-effects wizard Dennis Muren, and fellow director Peter Jackson. Unlike previous writers, Keegan appears neither to idolize nor revile Cameron; she admires him as a filmmaker while acknowledging his often abrasive and controversial on-set behavior. She explores how the director’s big-budget movies are products, not of an overactive ego, but of a fertile imagination and a lifelong dream of telling stories in pictures. She hits the expected high points—the stunning success of and the near-universal predictions of failure for Titanic—but she also spends time on some of the lesser-known episodes from the director’s life, including his battles with a British crew on the set of Aliens (reminiscent of George Lucas’ similar struggles when he was making Star Wars). A fine book, in the same league as J. W. Rinzler’s splendid The Making of Star Wars and The Complete Making of Indiana Jones. --David Pitt

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Archetype; First Edition edition (December 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307460312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307460318
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #401,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reads like an overlong magazine article August 23, 2011
By R D L
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rebecca Keegan is a Hollywood based contributor to Time magazine, as the dust jacket of the book explains. And from the first page that's very apparent.

This book is not badly written. Well paced with simplistic language it makes for a fast and easy read. It reads, in fact, like an overlong magazine article.

What I disliked was the content, specifically the lack thereof. It has the same amount of information of an exploded Wikipedia entry on the man. After reading all 274 pages of the book, back to front, there is nothing beyond a very short biography, surface deep overviews of each of his movies and snippets detailing James Cameron's undersea explorations.

Every one of James Cameron's movies has enough behind the scenes drama and technical difficulties to fill a books worth of material on each film, so it's extremely disappointing to see only one or two problems from each movie - well known situations that are listed first after a quick Google search. And none of these situations are explored in any depth - Keegan simply explains the problem and how Cameron's innate genius solved them all, usually in the space of a 100 words.

This book is lacking any depth and utterly fails to really get behind any of the difficulties Cameron regularly experiences with his films and the people that work on and fund them. This is a bare bones book which even worse almost comes off as a pure propaganda piece about James Cameron. The opportunities to call him a genius, revolutionary character are never missed and shoehorned in wherever Keegan can find. The whole read you can't help but feel the presence of Cameron over Keegan's shoulder. Cameron is an infamous man when it comes to control and domination of the people around him.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Weak Book February 18, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was very disappointing. Not very in-depth and consisting mainly of previously written articles, books, and DVD commentaries and interviews as its source material. In fact, in many instances, author Keegan uses words and phrases as her own that I've already heard uttered from the filmmakers on behind the scene documentaries. Next time, she might want to try a thesaurus. Obviously written pretty quickly.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just finished reading this book and while it is somewhat informative regarding Cameron, in many ways it left me wanting more, and not because it was so great. It left me wanting more because much of it feels like a rough superficial look at Cameron's career that was rushed to the printer in order to ship to book stores before Avatar was in theaters.

On the plus side, author Keegan does reveal some of the behind-the-scene studio battles waged by Cameron and the various Fox minions and explains some of the editorial decisions that went into the various cuts of Abyss and Aliens. I also enjoyed learning what led to some of the casting decisions i.e. Leo DiCaprio for Titanic.

That said, the relative dryness of the writing and poor attempts at humor by the author (did she really make an early-90's SNL reference to Mike Myers character on Sprockets?) are distracting and clumsy.

And there are glaring holes in the research -- While Keegan gives us plenty of recollections from Tom Arnold regarding the True Lies shoot, there is hardly any mention of Ed Harris in the Abyss.

And to me probably the biggest omission in the entire book is that there is no photo gallery whatsoever. When you're putting together a book about one of the most successful and visually-oriented directors of our time -- who works in a visual medium, no less -- and neglect to reproduce even one photo or sketch, you are doing the subject of the book and the entire medium a disservice, in my opinion.

The book was worth the read and is a nice appetizer -- especially considering the lack of existing material available about the man -- but this is by no means a definitive tome concerning Cameron and his filmmaking. Consider it Cameron-lite.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great subject matter, mediorce writer May 30, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The book was not poorly written, simply...written. It was the equivalent of a high school paper doing a feature article on James Cameron and he is a subject matter that is much more deserving than this.

The book covers his career relatively well, but could have delved deeper. I did enjoy the anecdotes of his early efforts and his fearless attitude on whatever new movie he was working on. Would have liked to hear more about his opinion on the content of his earlier movies rather than his insight of actually making the movies.

Also, the post Titanic content was pretty weak. It focused more on his non-film work, but it would have been interesting to really dig and ask some probing questions on his new found celebrity and the implications of having the biggest box office film in history.

Occasionally we would hear Cameron's opinion's on particular subjects and some movies, but would have enjoyed reading a lot more like this. It was briefly noted that Speilberg and Peter Jackson visited his Avatar set - what a great meeting of the cinematic minds. What about some questions on what that conversation was like? Or asking Cameron's opinions on various films? I've read some recent interviews with him and Cameron is so brutally honest on subjects it quite refreshing. Cameron is a major cinema buff - why not more questions on what films he liked/disliked and why?

Mediocre book...cameron is deserving of much better.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 star book!
Best book I ever read. Period
Published 11 days ago by John Pingolt
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
great read by 1 of the Greats of modern Cinema. connected many curious dots I had formed regarding Mr. Cameron. Read more
Published 5 months ago by TimDax
4.0 out of 5 stars A balanced & satisfying biography of a world-class Creative
Clearly written. Avoids both idolatry and partisan sniping. JC's fearless imagination more than offsets his titanic ego, at least in the eyes of his audience. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Buster P.
5.0 out of 5 stars Zach Thomson
It was a great purchase. It was interesting learning more about Jim in this book. I didn't know how intelligent he was even when I worked for him years ago. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Zachary Thomson
4.0 out of 5 stars Falls Short at the End
I enjoyed this book up until the last part about the movie Avatar. The author does a great job of telling us about James Cameron's life as a child, young adult and man. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Dottie Randazzo
4.0 out of 5 stars James Cameron is the best
This book about James Cameron's films and life gives clarification and correction of details found in other books about Cameron. It is well-written and enjoyable. Read more
Published on June 15, 2012 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Had me on an emotional rollercoaster
This is a fabulous, fabulous book. It's just dripping with awesome. At the end of each section I felt myself gulping for air and close to tears, as if I were in Cameron's... Read more
Published on March 7, 2012 by f1vespeed
5.0 out of 5 stars The Modern Day Dr. Ballard
James Cameron is my favorite film director. He's directed some of my choice films like: Terminator 1 & 2, True Lies, Titanic and Avatar. Read more
Published on February 15, 2012 by D. V. LIPPERT
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick, fun bio of a great dreamer
Although doom often looms over the characters in his movies, Cameron's ultimate message seems to be one of hope and love. Read more
Published on July 15, 2011 by Nancyhua
5.0 out of 5 stars The man behind the movies
"The Futurist" is an entertaining book. It's enjoyable and very enlightening about one of the great filmmakers of all time. Anyone who loves Cameron's work will like this book. Read more
Published on April 24, 2010 by Guy P. Harrison
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