DVD Review: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction

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It's a lofty, ambitious, attention-grabbing title: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction. But in reality, it's best to approach this six-part documentary series (which originally aired on AMC in 2018, but is now receiving a home video release July 28, 2020) with reasonably low expectations. Ken Burns territory this ain't. Story of Science Fiction plays more like expanded versions of the "bonus features" typically found on specific movie releases.

While it doesn't present any kind of scholarly, chronologically-based look at sci-fi in film, it is breezily fun to watch. Each episode's title represents a loose theme: "Aliens," "Space," "Monsters," "Dark Futures," "Intelligent Machines," and "Time Travel." Hosted by Cameron, tons of star filmmakers and actors turn up to reminisce about the mostly very famous, very successful sci-fi far they've helped create. Not surprisingly, Cameron's own Terminator films, Aliens, and Avatar are discussed. George Lucas is on hand to talk Star Wars. Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Verhoeven, are Steven Spielberg are among the directors who share their thoughts and memories.

Make no mistake, though—most of the film clips and accompanying stories told cover well-trodden ground. Depending on any given viewers' age and filmgoing experience, there may be the odd revelation here or there. But in general, the focus is squarely on the last 40 years of movies. The series could've really benefited from more exploration of the precursors to the modern era of blockbuster sci-fi. There's some earlier stuff covered (2001: A Space Odyssey and a few even earlier examples like the earliest Frankenstein iterations), but far more is needed to provide proper context for the newer stuff.

Some of the films dealt with, like the Resident Evil for one, probably could have easily been sacrificed to make room for more seminal works. Yet there's Milla Jovovich basically explaining how generally derivative her signature series is... nothing against her or those films, but the time could've been better spent. Other actors who add their two cents are Sigourney Weaver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Keanu Reeves, Bruce Willis, Christopher Lloyd and many more. Often times they seem to be doing nothing more than offering brief synopses of their films with PR-friendly enthusiasm.

Credit Cameron and his series with allotting time to a few much lesser-known works, including Primer (2004) and Predestination (2014). More obscurities mixed in with the likes of Jurassic Park and Guardians of the Galaxy could've truly elevated Story of Science Fiction to a higher level. As it stands, these six episodes (average about 42 minutes each for a total running time of four hours and 12 minutes) are likely to, at the very least, entertain fans of the genre. At best, the series may lead viewers to discover those films they haven't yet seen.

The two-disc DVD set includes bonus interview footage with the aforementioned Spielberg, Lucas, del Toro, Schwarzenegger, as well as director Ridley Scott.

james cameron at table.jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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