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Xenogenesis (1978)

by on 2013/08/11

xenogenesis_1978“Who has been dusting the furniture?”

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They say everything you need to know about someone is revealed on the first date. The clues are all there if you are paying sufficient attention. Most of us don’t pay sufficient attention. Unfortunately.

In this first film short by James Cameron – produced with $20,000 borrowed from several California dentists, made with 3-D models Cameron taught himself how to make by reading books in the University of Southern California library – the clues are all there. Strong female leads, sentient robots, isolated worlds with hidden dangers.

I started out this month-long exploration of James Cameron’s films by watching this proto-film. I’m glad I did. I am now seeing the ideas first made film in Xenogenesis littered throughout his later films – with budgets that definitely exceed what he was able to borrow in this case from a bunch of dentists.

The premise is dead simple. One man. A deserted world. One robot. One woman inside a robot. A fight. The end.

Well, there’s a little more to it than that. The robot in question is a cleaning robot, a big, heavy tank-like cleaning robot who thinks thinks that a visiting human is a giant dust bunny. The man is William Wisher Jr. as Raj, the jump-suited space explorer. Wisher is a screenwriter who, in addition to being Cameron’s friend, wrote the screenplay to Judge Dredd and The 13th Warrior. He also does all sorts of cameos in Cameron’s films. 

When Raj gets himself in trouble with the bulky cyber-maid, Margaret Undiel as Laurie swoops in, or rather, lurches in mechanically into help. 

All the ‘King of the World’ jokes aside, watching Xenogenesis, you really have to admire what James Cameron has accomplished in his career. A kid from Ontario, in and out of high schools, college drop out, he drove a truck to make ends meet.

That is, as the lore has it, until he saw Star Wars.

Then he got mad. Or sad. Or determined. Or all of those things. Star Wars was the kick in the ass. He quit trucking and took a risk.

You can see that this 12-minute film was made with pure determination, force of will and ambition. While it didn’t work out exactly as planned, it was designed to be a pitch to make a feature film, it did land him a job with cult movie great Roger Corman.

It is amazing to think that Xenogenesis would eventually lead to Avatar. It is like getting to see da Vinci’s Grade School scribblings.

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12 minutes

Unrated

Watch the full movie

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