James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction

2 out of 5

Hosted by: James Cameron

What’s your definition of history? Is it old, white dudes sitting around and talking about why they like or dislike certain things?

…While that might, unfortunately, be how some of our history was passed down, it’s not quite what I was hoping for from a series titled ‘The Story of Sci-Fi,” which admittedly _isn’t_ called _The History_ of sci-fi, but I suppose I inputted that reading, or at least assumed that The Story might involve tracing some roots of the genre. If I’m being honest with myself, though, the full title – James Cameron’s the Story of Sci-fi – putting ownership on the telling to the talented but boastful filmmaker, should’ve guided me to level my expectations somewhat, but I didn’t, and so here I am, telling you about the snoozefest of Cameron, and George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg talking about how spoooky robots are or aren’t, or why time travel is cool.

Now step back: Cameron and Spielberg have made slews of fantastic films, and I very much respect their skills as purveyors of entertainment. Lucas less so, perhaps, but he had one or two pretty grand ideas that he captured effectively once or twice, and we certainly owe him for that. But I’ve never considered the works of any of those guys as particularly “deep,” and especially now, decades past their more daring film entries, their thoughts on technology sound rather… dated. It’s my parents talking about computers. It doesn’t help that this mini-series was likely all shot together, then divvied up into approximate topics – the aforementioned ones, and aliens, and monsters – meaning that we just skim the surface on most of these, edited together in the most mundane manner such that most episodes don’t really feel like they have a trajectory with the conversations, or arrive at any sense of a conclusion to the conversation. Other worthwhile talking heads certainly float through, whether its actual specialists / writers on the topics, or guys I would listen to, like Guillermo del Toro, but as it’s all couched within this conversational lameness of Spielberg saying aliens are spoooky, these more worthwhile speakers can only offer so much before we have to cut away to a film 9000% of the population has seen, just so you can feel included and like you, too, are a sci-fi fan.

The concluding episodes – about intelligent machines and time travel – actual stand out as examples of more of what I wanted: tracing the roots of how the presentation of the subjects evolved in text and movies, including some off-brand flicks, and how that tied into cultural zeitgeists of the time, and what it might / could mean for future audiences. It seemed like we got good facetime with people who’re interesting to listen to, even if James Cameron kept cutting off his pal Arnold to completely butcher what Arnold was trying to say, which was often rather interesting and more conceptual than Cameron’s dumbing down of the sentiments.

It appears I might have a Cameron bias.

Anyhow, the show is dutifully put together, and is “functional.” My dad would probably like it. But for anyone who’s looking for more than confirmation that those big movies you liked were, indeed, about walking machines, the show is generally a bit of a slog, and steamrolls past most opportunities to offer up anything new.