James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction arrives home on Blu-ray and DVD after the six-part documentary series aired in 2018.
This limited documentary series, which originally aired on AMC, features just about every major person ever associated with the genre. Whether it’s filmmakers, visual effects designers, actors, or commentators, there is no shortage of commentary. The commentary, of course, is expertly weaved in with montage of film clips or archive footage. Most importantly, James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction works as the be-all, end-all documentary series on the history of science fiction in film.
All the major aspects of science fiction are explored in the series. This includes aliens, outer space, monsters, the future, machines/robots, and time travel. We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been. It’s a phrase that I think about a lot but it’s so true. Look at how many science fiction films pay homage to films that came earlier. Anyway, each episode runs around 45 minutes. You can honestly make a feature-length documentary to discuss every the main subjects that Cameron opts to tackle in the series.
Science fiction also has a way of serving as a metaphor. One such example is Best Picture contender District 9. Another example is Cameron’s Avatar, which actress Zoe Saldana describes as being an alien encounter from the alien’s point of view. You know, this is the first time I’ve thought of the James Cameron film in this way.
The whole concept of space travel is fascinating in and of itself. According to Matt Singer, Star Trek draws from Forbidden Planet in terms of the Enterprise’s design. Similarly, Star Trek is a series that could only work by taking place in the future. By using stories set in outer space, the Star Trek writers could tackle contemporary issues of the day. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a game-changer in terms of accuracy in film. It took years for science to catch up with the film.
But just as no discussion can take place without 2001, you also can’t ignore the impact of Star Wars. George Lucas might not be the best screenwriter but he’s certainly among the greatest world-builders in fiction. The film’s visual effects were an evolution in and of itself.
Of course, the genre can also have an impact on the future in terms of its vision. I’m talking about films like Blade Runner or the first sequel to Back to the Future with the original film celebrating 35 years this year. This is a franchise that would take viewers into 2015 for the first sequel. Come 2015, where were the flying cars? Back to the Future did make some correct predictions but flying cars is one area where the film is wrong. And then you have a time travel film that is like nothing that ever came before: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Steven Spielberg–who joins host James Cameron in appearing in all six episodes–certainly makes for an interesting case. While the filmmaker has made some important films in terms of having a message, he’s one of the top-notch directors in the science fiction genre. One of the main themes of the Spielberg genre–as I call it–is the father-son relationship. It’s also not uncommon to see families impacted by divorce in his films either. This all goes back to the idea of writing what you know.
“I stay away from sharks but I don’t stay away from UFOs,” Spielberg tells Cameron as the first episode wraps up.
The fourth episode in particular focuses on dark futures. This could be living in a dystopian reality or life through Christopher Nolan’s eyes. There’s an argument to be made about The Dark Knight Rises being dystopian fiction. Or it could be a film that is told through the world of technology such as The Matrix franchise. Adam Rutherford points out that science fiction depicts “a horrific future” but we’re still able to find that “beacon of hope.”
If you’re looking to learn about a filmmaker’s technique in bringing the genre to life, this series isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to learn about the genre in general, it’ll be both educational and fascinating from that stand point. Plus, there’s nothing like filmmakers going head to head in conversation.
In addition to the six episodes that originally aired in 2018, we’re also treated to a handful of extended interviews. These interviews include Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Other notable interviewees include Will Smith and Sigourney Weaver.
- Alien Life
- Outer Space
- Dark Futures
- Intelligent Machines
- Time Travel