X E N O G E N E S I S
In the late seventies James
Cameron was told by a friend that a consortium of investors was interested in
financing a movie for tax-shelter purposes. James Cameron shot a quick 16mm
teaser and the investors liked it, giving him a further $20,000 to produce a
short demo in order to raise money from a group of partners. The result was
Xenogenesis, a 12-minute film that James Cameron shot on 35mm. This short film
is amazing in many ways.
Rumor has it that Cameron spent a half-a-day dismantling the rented
35mm camera package just so he could understand how to run it. Cameron co-wrote,
directed, edited, designed the sets and even did all of the camerawork. Self
taught in the field, Cameron created most of the special effects himself on the
There is clear and compelling evidence of James Cameronís talent and style in
this delightful short. The shots used to cover the entry of the giant robot are
fully consistent with James Cameronís cinematographic and editing style as
revealed by his later works, and as the plot develops into a showdown between
two robots. Also, the similarity between the evil giant robot in Xenogenesis and
the ground Hunter Killer from Terminator movies is striking.
The second robot is driven by a single female inside it, and this detail, along
with the way James Cameron filmed her at her command post, is very strongly
reminiscent of the scene in Aliens in which Ripley uses the power-lifter to
fight the queen alien. The similarity is truly heart-warming; Xenogenesis is
pure James Cameron.
Another James Cameron trademark in Xenogenesis is his fondness for showdowns in
which the complications steadily accumulate until the spectacular resolution. In
this short film, the female character battles the other robot, and while this
happens, the male character is hanging on the edge of the cliff. Then, as if
this wasnít enough, her weapon becomes unavailable as it re-charges, and the
hostile robot goes right up to
the male character, threatening to dislodge him. Threat upon threat, in true
James Cameron style.
At this point the film stops Ė James Cameron never completed Xenogenesis,
presumably because he ran out of money.
Nevertheless, it affords a
fascinating look at the young James Cameronís talent, and it was good enough to
get him hired at Roger Cormanís New World Pictures, where he thrived on the
chaotic environment and quickly outclassed his peers. As a foreshadowing of a
brilliant directorís future achievements, Xenogenesis is right up there with
Steven Spielbergís 26-minute film Amblin.
Apparently the investors were expecting something more along the lines of Star
Wars, and decided to pull out after screening this short 35mm demo. Xenogenesis
landed Cameron a Special Effects gig with Roger Corman, under whom he eventually
got his directorial debut with Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.
William Wisher, the lead actor in the film, went on to co-write Terminator 2:
Judgement Day and have cameos in both of Cameronís Terminator films, as well as
The Abyss. It is also interesting to note that Xenogenesis
means ďbirth of an alien speciesĒ.