Director's answer to 'Xena,' 'Buffy'

Interview / James Cameron

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For a man whose name is synonymous with high-tech, high-testosterone movies, director James Cameron also has simultaneously explored a surprisingly empowered image of femininity over the years.

Who can forget the buff pecs of Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2?" Or fearless Sigourney Weaver as she faced down the terrifying "Aliens," or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as she ordered Ed Harris to drown her so they both might live in "The Abyss?"

This fall, Mr. Cameron elevates this interest from a side story to the main event as he makes his first foray into television with "Dark Angel," (premires Tuesday, Oct. 3, 9-10 p.m., Fox) a new science-fiction dramatic series.

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Cameron's heroine, Max (Jessica Alba), a genetically engineered superwoman, comes on the air in a season that already will be hopping with women warriors: "Witchblade" (premires on TNT Sunday, Aug. 27, 8-10 p.m.); "Queen of Swords" (airing on UPN this fall); and "Powerpuff Girls" (Cartoon Network), to name a few, not to mention the enduring "Xena: Warrior Princess" (in reruns on the USA Network), "La Femme Nikita" (USA), and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (WB).

But the director, whose name is known around the world for "Titanic," his movie saga about a doomed ocean liner, says he didn't hit on this subject matter simply to follow a trend.

"I just tend to write what I like, Cameron says, "so there's probably a very adolescent aspect of me that wants to see that, but I also think that it's something that ... women respond to."

Pointing to a film career that spans some 16 years, Cameron says society has experienced a sea change.

"You have a period of time when the power of women in society, not just in the United States, but worldwide, has been slowly growing, to the good of society. And I think that women respond to characters who appear strong, that appear capable."

The writer of such tough-guy films as "Rambo: First Blood, Part 2" is emphatic on one point, however. "You always have to balance that with vulnerability, so they're real."

While the premise of "Dark Angel" is heavy on the macho, the more thoughtful and emotional side of Max does come through in her decision to escape her military handlers and to search for others like her. She also teams up with an idealistic and good-looking rebel journalist who is fighting the oppressive powers that seek to recapture Max.

The inclusion of strong women does not appear to have hurt the box office of most of Cameron's films. Several have broken worldwide ticket-sales records, in particular "Terminator 2" ($516 million) and "Titanic" ($1.8 billion).

Perhaps a key to the phenomenal success of Cameron movies with both sexes is his awareness that empowering one doesn't have to alienate the other.

"I also find that men are not put off by strong women in films," he says, adding that this point took some selling to studio executives earlier in his career.

"I remember when I started doing these types of characters," Cameron says, "with 'Terminator' and 'Aliens,' and there was a sense among the powers-that-be at the studios that, 'Well, you know, this is going to push away your typical 18-year-old young male action audience.' And it's not true."

Speaking as a man who was once an 18-year-old moviegoer, he says, they want to see women warriors, too. "So it's a win-win, and it's the kind of character I enjoy writing."

Max is also a teen, which has new appeal to Cameron. His preteen daughter is growing up, and he is starting to see things from a different perspective. "I'm thinking ahead of time of what the life experiences are going to be that she's going to go through in a few years, and that's going to get fed into Max's character."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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