Dana Goodyear‘s profile of Avatar director-writer James Cameron, titled “Man of Extremes,” in the current New Yorker is smoothly, beautifully written — a pure-pleasure, warm-butter read. Cameron “is six feet two and fair, with paper-white hair and turbid blue-green eyes,” she begins. “He is a screamer — righteous, withering, aggrieved.

“‘Do you want Paul Verhoeven to finish this motherfucker? he shouted, an inch from Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s face, after the actor went AWOL from the set of True Lies, a James Bond spoof that Cameron was shooting in Washington, D.C. (Schwarzenegger had been giving the other actors a tour of the Capitol.)

“Cameron has mastered every job on set, and has even been known to grab a brush out of a makeup artist’s hand. ‘I always do makeup touch-ups myself, especially for blood, wounds, and dirt,’ he says. ‘It saves so much time.” His evaluations of others’ abilities are colorful riddles. ‘Hiring you is like firing two good men,’ he says, or ‘Watching him light is like watching two monkeys fuck a football.’ A small, loyal band of cast and crew works with him repeatedly; they call the dark side of his personality Mij — Jim backward.

“The pressures on Cameron are extreme, never mind that he has brought them on himself. His movies are among the most expensive ever made. Terminator 2 was the first film to cost a hundred million dollars, Titanic the first to exceed two hundred million. But victory is sweeter after a close brush with defeat. Terminator 2 earned five hundred and nineteen million around the world, and Titanic which came out in 1997, still holds the record for global box-office: $1.8 billion.

“Cameron is fifty-five. It has been twelve years since he has made a feature film; Avatar, his new movie, comes out on December 18th and will have cost more than two hundred and thirty million dollars by the time it’s done. He started working on it full time four years ago, from a script he wrote in 1994.

AvatarThe Abyss and the liquid-silver man of Terminator 2 helped to inspire the digital revolution that has transformed moviemaking in the past two decades.

“The digital elements of Avatar, he claims, are so believable that, even when they exist alongside human actors, the audience will lose track of what is real and what is not. ‘This film integrates my life’s achievements,’ he told me. ‘It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done.’ Another time, he said, ‘If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.'”