Dec 12, 2012

James Cameron's Xenogenesis

As part of a lawsuit to prove that Avatar is his idea, James Cameron's  Lightstorm Entertainment has released the short film he made in 1978 called Xenogenesis, the treatment and draft script for which they claim "contain material that was not used in the Avatar film but may be used in Avatar sequels." 

The film itself is fascinating, bearing more resemblance  perhaps to Cameron's Aliens and Terminator films: a duke out between two robots, a woman strapped inside a massive Exoskeleton, coming to the rescue of a man hanging over the edge of a vertiginous airlock. Fans of the director will of course know that this was the film Cameron made to throw hi shat into the ring after seeing  Star Wars and quitting his job as a truck driver.  Inspired by both Lucas's film and 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wrote a 10-minute script with two friends and then secured $20,000 in funding from  a group of Dentists seeking a tax write-off. Cameron co-wrote, directed, edited, shot, designed the sets, and created his own special effects. The dentists were disappointed in the resulting 35mm demo and pulled the funding, but it was enough to land Cameron his job with Roger Corman, where he built a "spaceship with tits", tormented maggots and got his directorial debut on Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.

The affadavit offers a fascinating look into Cameron's magpie-like way with pre-existing sci-fi tropes. His defense, in essence: it's all recycling. Here are some highlights, courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter:— 

  • Cameron says he has been pulling together elements of Avatar almost all his life. When he was in 11th grade, he did a pen drawing entitled "Spring on Planet Flora" which he says became the concept behind the alien jungle landscape on the moon Pandora, whereAvatar takes place. When he was in college, he co-authored a script about a wheelchair-bound man who elects to surgically remove all external sensory input, so that he can journey through his own mind. And in the late 1970s, he co-wrote a script entitled Xenogenesis, where characters encounter strange creatures on a planet.
  • Xenogenesis also deals with the idea of a sentience behind all nature, something that was also thematic in the great Polish author StanislawLem's Solaris. Cameron goes into detail about Xenogenesis, which became a stop motion film. The late 1970s work could indicate where Avatar is heading. Cameron writes that the treatment and draft script "contain material that was not used in the Avatar film but may be used in Avatarsequels."
  • In the early 1980s, Cameron worked on an unproduced project that was originally titled, "E.T.," but says he had to change the title to "Mother." Why? Cameron answers, "As I was writing it, I found out that Steven Spielberg was making a film called E.T. The Extraterrestrial, so I promptly changed the title of my story." The project was never produced, but Cameron says elements became incorporated into Avatar.
  • Cameron draws explicit direct connections between his works. He says the Paul Reiser character in Aliens was the direct prototype of the Giovanni Ribisi character in Avatar. He says some of the military gear of Rambo IIbecame inspiration for the heavily armed gunships in Avatar. He says the idea of a neural-net was first explored in his Terminator films. And so forth.
  • Cameron identifies nature as sentient being, colonization, corporate/military antagonists, valuable minerals in an alien land, a love story, protagonist as a military man, telepresence, a hostile planet and a female scientist as some of the central elements of Avatar and details his thoughts on each of these topics. He also traces inspirational reference points on the film to Lawrence of ArabiaThe Man Who Would Be KingThe Emerald ForestMedicine ManThe MissionThe Jungle BookFernGully, Edgar Rice Burroughs,Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard and more. He repeats what he has said in press interviews that Avatar is his "most personal film."

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