From the moment Arnold Schwarzenegger’s part human, part cyborg killing machine strode onto movie screens in 1984’s The Terminator, movie buffs counted cowriter/director James Cameron among the go-to guys for cinematic sci-fi thrills.
This month, AMC turns over its Visionaries docuseries franchise to the Hollywood multihyphenate for an exploration of the beloved genre’s roots, evolution and massive popularity via interviews with Schwarzenegger, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Greg Nicotero, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Will Smith, Sigourney Weaver and others.
“We tried to pick a few milestone pieces of popular culture — often movies or TV shows — and then go back to the origin of that idea and see how that idea had evolved over time and how it was taken up by that particular film,” Cameron explains, “and then, where possible, talk to the filmmaker and others who are knowledgeable in the field of science fiction and let them describe the significance of it, not only now but in its time.”
Cameron — who has new Avatar and Terminator films in the works — considered one topic in particular non-negotiable. “I asked for monsters, because I also wanted to draw some genre boundaries around science fiction for a casual sci-fi fan that just enjoys a good story and a good piece of entertainment,” he said in a recent roundtable with journalists.
The type of fan who’s finding more to choose from by the minute.
“Science fiction has bifurcated in recent years into the smaller, lower budget, more sociologically oriented stories which ask very profound questions and often hold up a mirror to society,” Cameron explained. “I’ll give you a good example. Recently, The Handmaid’s Tale — which was obviously about women’s role and rights in society taken through the lens of a kind of totalitarian, fascist state — that’s pure science fiction, but it’s completely sociological. There were no spaceships, robots and very little in the way of visual effects, but it’s pure science fiction. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the big, fun, epic spectacles like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Though Cameron clearly prefers a grand scale for his own films (“the particular images that I have in my head require the big train set”), the self-professed “super nerdy sci-fi fan” opted to keep it simple on Visionaries.
“I think my big contribution to the show, frankly, was calling up Steven and saying, ‘Hey, let’s do an interview.’ Calling up George and saying, ‘Hey, you’ve made a @#$%-ton of money off of science fiction. Let’s give something back to the genre. Let’s talk about it.’”
AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction airs Mondays, 10/9c beginning April 30 on AMC.