Indie Intros: James Cameron’s Xenogenesis

“Xenogenesis” is the first film directed by James Cameron back in 1978. It’s showcases an impressive amount of special effects, something Cameron would be known for throughout his career. It’s also chock full of themes and scenarios that fans of Cameron will immediately recognize. The plot involves a team of two that go to explore an abandoned ship. They come across a robot that is still operational and as “Xenogenesis’s” Wiki page describes, “Combat Ensues.”

“Xenogenesis” really is an interesting watch for anyone who is familiar with James Cameron’s films. Many of the central themes and plots in his later works are addressed in “Xenogenisis”. The initial setup for “Xenogenesis” is very similar to films like The Abyss, Aliens and Prometheus; a team of specialists set out to investigate an alien local and then inevitably encounter danger. To add to the Cameron lore, the central theme of Man vs. Machine that he explores in films like The Terminator is also a big part of this short as the two main characters must fight off a giant machine that doesn’t take kindly to intruders.

Aside from plot and theme similarities, “Xenogenesis” also foreshadows other characters, scenes and techniques that Cameron would later expand upon in his later films. The character of Laurie is not unlike Ripley from Aliens or Sarah Conner from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a woman who can take care of herself and doesn’t fall into the old damsel in distress trope. On top of that, Laurie’s battle with the giant robot is almost identical to Ripley’s battle with the Xenomorph Queen in Aliens.

Cameron’s use of stop motion animation from movies like The Terminator is also on full display here. It’s clear that both robots use stop motion to come to life, much like when the T-800 walks out of the fire in the original Terminator. Also Cameron throws in a little hidden homage to stop motion. The score to “Xenogenesis” is taken from the films Jason and the Argonauts and Mysterious Island both directed by Ray Harryhausen, one of the biggest pioneers in stop motion movie making.

James Cameron has always been one of those directors that come to film with a very clear “vision”. His work with special effects has come to define his career and it’s interesting to see where the roots of a film like Avatar came from. Also, like many great directors, Cameron revisits certain themes throughout his catalogue. “Xenogenesis” shows that much of what we would come to see in films like The Terminator and Alien franchises were a result of his ponderings during his early filmmaking years.

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