But money wasn't the only issue. A major brawl was shaping up over Titanic's release date, which had originally been set for July 2. When it became clear that Cameron wouldn't have the film finished in time, Fox, eager to get the cash flow going, pushed for an August release. Paramount said that was too late to tap the summer audience and proposed a holiday release in November. The suggestion was unacceptable to Fox, which was already planning to release two of its biggest investments of the year Alien Resurrection and Anastasia around Thanksgiving. At one point, at May's Cannes Film Festival, Mechanic and Friedman reportedly negotiated so energetically that fisticuffs almost ensued.
In the end, the studios compromised and arrived at Dec. 19, a date that would if nothing else maximize Titanic's Oscar chances. But then, as Paramount geared up to open the movie domestically with great ballyhoo in December, Fox stole its thunder by scheduling Titanic's overseas premiere at the Tokyo Film Festival on Nov. 1.
In the end, of course, what will ultimately determine if everyone has won or if all has been lost is that final print of Titanic Cameron is fine-tuning at his Malibu editing bay. "Filmmaking is war," he says, sounding like George C. Scott at the beginning of Patton. "There's no other way to look at it. It's a great battle. A battle between Business and Aesthetics."
While Titanic's next battle will be waged at the box office during an especially competitive holiday season, Cameron has yet to pick his next combat zone. It could be Avatar, his futuristic script featuring computer-generated actors. Or he may produce Anne Rice's The Mummy, which Fox has optioned for him. Or make a sequel to True Lies. But Cameron's immediate plans include only a honeymoon with his new wife, Linda Hamilton, his Terminator star and girlfriend of several years.
Except for the break he took to get married, Cameron spent the entire summer in his dark editing room, staring at a monitor, raising water levels, shifting images. "A responsible director," he says, "is like a great race-car driver. They still have to brake when you go into a turn, or they hit the wall. I've never hit a wall yet." Then he laughs. "I came close on this movie." He fixes on the monitor again, fingers flying across the keyboard with a pianist's glissando strokes. And the razor blade sits close at hand.
STUDIO EXECS ASKED: "A THREE-HOUR ROMANTIC EPIC? ANY HARRIER JETS, SHOOT-OUTS, CAR CHASES?" CAMERON SAID, "NO, NO, NO."