Born on July 23, 1960 in New York City, Landau was raised in the trendy Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood by his father, Ely, a studio executive and producer responsible for "Long Day's Journey into Night" (1962) starring Katharine Hepburn and "The Pawnbroker" (1965) with Rod Steiger, and his mother, Edith, also a producer. Having grown up in and around show business, Landau naturally gravitated toward the industry. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a film degree in 1983, and began working in production management on various productions, including the cheesy break dancing flick "Beat Street" (1984). Landau was the production manager on the cult hit "F/X" (1986), and served as the unit production manager on "Manhunter" (1986) and "Making Mr. Right" (1987), before receiving his first producer credit on the college comedy Campus Man (1987). From there, he co-produced Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989), an affecting family comedy about an erstwhile inventor (Rick Moranis) who accidentally reduces his kids down to a quarter inch with his an electromagnetic shrinking machine. Despite some criticisms for its straightforward execution and sentimentality, the film was a hit both at home and overseas.
Landau went on to co-produce Dick Tracy (1990), a big-budget action comedy based on the famed comic strip detective created by Chester Gould. The film starred Warren Beatty - who also directed - as the squared-jawed Tracy, who traverses Chicago circa 1938 and tries to clamp down on the crime spree spawned by Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino). Though stylish and certainly unique, "Dick Tracy" failed to win over critics and was criticized mainly for lacking emotional or psychological depth. Meanwhile, Landau joined 20th Century Fox as an Executive Vice President of Feature Film Production, where he supervised such films as "Die Hard 2" (1990), "Home Alone" (1990), the woeful "Alien 3" (1992), "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992), "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), "True Lies" (1994), "Waiting to Exhale" (1995) and "Broken Arrow" (1996). After five years on the job, Landau left to begin his collaboration with James Cameron, which started on Titanic (1997), the director's epic romantic adventure about forbidden love aboard the doomed ocean liner. The film starred Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater, a young high society woman about to enter into a loveless marriage with her rich snobbish fiancé (Billy Zane), only to be rescued from dark despair by the penniless, but exuberant Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio), leading to both falling in love before the ship famously sinks. Despite a chaotic production that saw a megalomaniacal Cameron screaming at virtually everyone, cost overruns that pushed the budget over $200 million, and an angry crew member who laced soup with PCP that sent 50 people to the hospital, "Titanic" became a mammoth international hit, becoming the first film to ever earn over $1 billion. It also won a record-tying 11 Academy Awards, including a Best Picture Oscar for Landau.
Having survived "Titanic," Landau merged his Blue Horizon production company with Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment in 2000. Along with the director, he produced the sci-fi remake of Solaris (2002), which starred George Clooney as a psychologist whose investigation into unexplained behavior among a group of scientists aboard a space station connects to a nearby mysterious planet. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film was well-received by critics, but failed at the box office. Landau went to work producing another Cameron labor of love, "Avatar" (2009), a massive undertaking that took 15 years to make. The futuristic sci-fi adventure, which featured a revolutionary 3-D filming technique pioneered by Cameron, focused on a paraplegic ex-Marine (Sam Worthington) recruited to infiltrate an indigenous humanoid race by entering the body of one of the natives in order to clear the way for an incredibly lucrative ore beneath their tribe. Also starring Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez and Cameron alum Sigourney Weaver, "Avatar" vaulted past "Titanic" in global box office and became the first film to ever surpass the $2 billion mark in worldwide receipts. While it was nominated for a slew of Academy Awards - nine all told - "Avatar" failed to live up to "Titanic" in terms of Oscar glory, winning three while losing Best Picture to scrappy upstart "The Hurt Locker" (2009), directed by Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow. Meanwhile, Cameron and Landau announced that they were definitely making two and perhaps three "Avatar" sequels to be released sometime in 2014 or 2015.
By Shawn Dwyer
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