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.
There is clear and compelling evidence of James Cameron’s talent and style in this delightful short. The shots used to cover the entry of the giant robot are fully consistent with James Cameron’s cinematographic and editing style as revealed by his later works, and as the plot develops into a showdown between two robots, the similarity with his 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 wasn’t 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 – James Cameron never completed Xenogenesis, presumably because he ran out of money. Nevertheless, it affords a fascinating look at the young James Cameron’s talent, and it was good enough to get him hired at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, where he thrived on the chaotic environment and quickly outclassed his peers. As a foreshadowing of a brilliant director’s future achievements, Xenogenesis is right up there with Steven Spielberg’s 26-minute film Amblin.