Deeply Obsessed
Credit: Photograph by Chris Buck

James Cameron's assistant tries to distract him one more time – he is an hour late for an appointment – but he can't be stopped. Even when Cameron finally apologizes and says that he must go, I have to ask only one more question about the last hours of the Bismarck, the legendary German battleship, and he is up on his feet, colored felt-tip pens in his hand, drafting diagrams and schematics on the large board that runs along the meeting table in the Santa Monica offices of his production company, Lightstorm Entertainment ... drawing out the ship's construction, its armor belt, the "armored citadel" within it, the offset stairways ... sketching missile trajectories, torpedo paths, and listing angles ... exhorting the merits of plunging fire ... telling of the Swordfish torpedo that initially slowed the Bismarck and compromised its rudder with a one-in-a-million shot ("A great story! It's like Luke Skywalker attacking the Death Star!") ... and on and on, entranced by his own excitement at what he knows, and what you do not. His words are those of a smart, persuasive storyteller, part prosecutor, part scientist, clearly fluent in a wide range of disciplines, but his body language is that of an excited child in a bathtub, playing with his battleships.

Although he has dipped his toe into television by producing the sometimes-engaging, now-canceled Dark Angel, James Cameron has not made a feature film since 1997's Titanic, the most successful movie of all time. His next movie project will be announced before the end of the year, he says, but he has been concentrating on other adventures. This summer, for instance, he visited the Bismarck's wreck and became the first person to guide cameras inside the ship since it sank, in May 1941, with the loss of more than 2,000 German lives; a two-hour documentary airs on the Discovery Channel on December 8. At one point in our conversation, I mention that the keenest fans of his work, as much as all this interests them, might be wondering why he is not making movies.

"Because," he retorts, "I'm not living my life for them." And exploration is what has possessed him recently. "Hey," he says, "I was a wreck diver before I was a filmmaker. As far as I'm concerned, there are plenty of wrecks out there. And every wreck is a story. I've been doing this for 25 years, and I could do it for the next 25."