Epic film triumphs after costs go nuclear

THE OPENING in Britain of True Lies, the latest coupling of sinew with cinema, rekindles a question that has been niggling at Hollywood's finer minds. How on earth did the movie, one of the season's big hits in America, come to cost such an astronomical sum?

The estimated dollars 110m ( pounds 71m) spent on the film has almost certainly secured it the title of Most Expensive Movie of All Time.

James Cameron, its Canadian-born director-writer, has put together explosions, car crashes, gun battles and all the other stunts and special effects that cost loads-a-money in a loads-a-muscle action movie.

Figuring out Hollywood finances is like looking into a kaleidoscope when someone elseis twiddling the end. But some figures jump off the page. One is the estimated dollars 15m paid to the star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fat fee by any standards but especially given the poor performance of Last Action Hero.

For True Lies, Cameron - who made the Terminator movies with Schwarzenegger - devised an atomic explosion, an elaborate pursuit on Florida's Seven Mile Bridge, and an attack by Harrier jump jets on a high-rise building.

The bills would have been even steeper were it not for US taxpayers. Three dollars 24m Harrier jets were lent to the production team by the US Marine Corps.

According to John Bruno, co-ordinator of visual effects for True Lies, the film is worth every cent because it pushes computerised effects to the limit.

It wasn't the only thing pushed to the limit. The patience of the movie craft union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (Iatse), wore thin when it discovered the director was talking about shooting his next movie outside the United States, after complaining that the craft workers had 'really stuck it to' him over True Lies.

The president of Iatse, Alfred Di Tolla, accused Cameron of ignoring his members' willingness to accept pay cuts.

Cameron fired back that union leaders were 'choking film production to death'.

He added: 'I will continue to bring epic entertainment to the global marketplace, by whatever means necessary.' When you have dollars 100m to spend on a movie, you can talk like that.

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