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James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction DVD Review

July 31, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction
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James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction DVD Review  

James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction DVD Review

Hosted by James Cameron
(check out the show’s entire cast here)

Not Rated
Runtime– Approximately 252 minutes

Buy it here


James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction is a six-part event documentary miniseries that originally aired on the AMC cable channel back in the spring of 2018 (I seem to remember it airing on Monday nights). Now, two years later, the fine folks at RLJE Films and AMC Studios have put the miniseries on home video, on both DVD and Blu-ray starting July 28th, 2020. It’s a two disc set, with three episodes on disc 1 and three episodes on disc 2.

James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction provides an excellent overview of the various types of science fiction entertainment, with a heavy emphasis on movies and TV shows. There’s some talk of science fiction literature, comics, art, and video games, but the miniseries is mostly about movies and TV shows. And that strategy makes sense since the miniseries isn’t meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the genre. The show, at its best, is a breezy survey of each type of science fiction, with Cameron acting as a sort of host/master of ceremonies, interviewing various moviemakers like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, and Ridley Scott (Ahnold Schwarzenegger also pops in for interviews with his frequent collaborator Cameron). When Cameron isn’t talking to someone, various directors, actors, writers, movie critics, academics, and other assorted luminaries discuss the genre. There’s a nice mix of talking about themes in science fiction, what the themes may mean to the various people, and some behind the scenes stuff where we see what various filmmakers did to make their movies (the stuff about Star Wars never stops being fascinating to me, even if it’s behind the scenes stuff I’ve seen a million times before).

The six episode topics are “Alien Life,” “Space Exploration,” “Monsters,” “Dark Futures,” “Intelligent Machines,” and “Time Travel.” You don’t have to watch the episodes in any kind of order as the episodes don’t really build off of one another. Each episode is a self-contained endeavor. My favorite episodes are probably the “Monsters” and “Dark Futures” as they get into how the horror genre and science fiction share a lot of the same themes. The “Space Exploration” episode is also quite good as it’s probably the most optimistic of the six episodes. The balance between optimistic science fiction and dystopian science fiction is something that you see discussed throughout all six episodes, a topic that would no doubt make for a fascinating documentary all by itself.

Now, there are some omissions that may irk you as you watch all six episodes. The lack of director John Carpenter is a massive problem for me. Some of Carpenter’s movies are discussed, like The Thing, but the two Snake Plissken movies are totally ignored, Starman isn’t featured, and Ghosts of Mars isn’t talked about at all, even with a section of the “Space Exploration” episode devoted to Mars. Clips from They Live are shown, but there’s no discussion of that movie’s alien invasion themes and its sociopolitical context. I know that Carpenter isn’t as big of a director as Spielberg or Lucas, but he should have been a bigger part of the proceedings, especially since he’s made several modern classic science fiction movies. And where is David Cronenberg? Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly has a nice segment, with Jeff Goldblum talking about The Fly, but it would have been terrific to hear from Cronenberg. I know that he’s seen by many as a horror director, which he is, but I think an argument could be made that he’s also a science fiction director, too.

The second big omission is the lack of Twelve Monkeys in the “Time Travel” episode. The show does talk about Twelve Monkeys, very briefly, in the “Dark Futures” episode, but how the hell can that movie be ignored as a time travel movie?

And the third big omission: where the hell is Robert Zemeckis? The show talks with screenwriter Bob Gale about Back to the Future, which is great, but why didn’t Zemeckis appear on screen?

Of course, there’s a good chance that there’s tons of footage that never made the show. I have no idea if that’s the case but, hey, maybe there’s a mega cut version that could be made of the show if the home video release is a major success. It should be, because the show is terrific.

James Cameron does a great job interviewing people and acting as the sort of host of the series. He clearly knows a lot about the genre and moviemaking and it’s fun watching him interact with directors like Spielberg and Lucas and talk about the themes of their movies. In fact, that should be the next James Cameron docuseries; Cameron talking to the big directors like Spielberg and Lucas for an hour or so each. I bet each of those interviews/discussions would be amazing.

And that’s the ultimate takeaway from James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. It’s amazing. Terrific. A damn good overview of the science fiction genre. Could it have been more focused, more in-depth? Absolutely. I bet you could make a three hour documentary about each science fiction topic discussed in the show. But what Cameron and company do in the miniseries is, again, a good overview of the genre. It’s also very, very watchable.

If you’re a science fiction fan, you should absolutely pick up and check out James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. It’s definitely worth your time.

Has anyone read the companion book to the miniseries? Is it worth picking up, too?

Special Features

There’s a section of “extended interviews” on disc 2, where we see James Cameron interview Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, and Ahnold Schwarzenegger. These segments are typically no longer than 4 minutes, which is a shame since, as I said earlier, it would be awesome to see Cameron interview all of these people for extended periods, like a full hour. I think that’s something Cameron should consider doing at some point. People would watch that. I know I would.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction is a terrific six episode documentary miniseries that takes a look at the science fiction genre. There’s a heavy emphasis on movies and TV shows, but the miniseries does spend some time on science fiction literature, comics, art, and video games. James Cameron acts as a kind of series host as he interviews various big time directors, and the show features a diverse mix of other directors, actors, writers, movie critics, science professionals, academics, commentators, and a host of other people. Could it have been more in depth? Absolutely. And there are some glaring omissions (where the hell is John Carpenter?). But, overall, the series is a damn good overview of the genre, and it’s definitely something you should pick up and check out.