Has TV saved real science fiction? James Cameron thinks so.
With movies like The Terminator and Avatar under his belt, James Cameron is ready to spend a long time talking about science fiction in all forms of media.
AMC Visionaries: James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction premiered on AMC on April 30, featuring the director talking to practically anyone and everyone he could find that has their hands in the genre, but he’ll be the first to admit it’s not what it once was. In fact, it hasn’t been for a long time.
Though many of Cameron’s films are classified as sci-fi, he believes there was a turning point that definitively changed the genre.
“To make science fiction mainstream, they pulled the conscience out of it. In the ’60s, it was mostly dystopian stories — Soylent Green and stories like that, Planet of the Apes,” the director says during an interview with a small group of reporters including IGN. “They were warnings. And then George Lucas came along and made science fiction guilt-free and fun.”
After Lucas launched the Star Wars universe, sci-fi took a turn into what Cameron calls “neo-myth.” He explains, “We now have our pantheon of mythic characters, whether they’re Transformers or Marvel or DC superheroes. That’s most of what’s driving science fiction now at the highest money-making level.”
You can’t dispute Cameron’s assessment. Were you to look at the highest-grossing domestic films of 2017, five of the Top 10 are either comic book films or part of the Star Wars franchise. Cameron concedes that there is still sci-fi with a conscience out there, though. “I think television has taken over where movies tried to go in the ’60s and the ’70s and didn’t really succeed,” he admits. “Television is now the place, and sometimes it’s because of budget limitations. You can’t do the sprawling space epic on another planet, so sometimes you have to do something that’s a little closer to home and that usually falls into the category of near-future.”
One show in particular that stands out to the director is Netflix’s Black Mirror. “[T]he near-future is, ‘Okay, where are we going? Where is technology taking us?’ Black Mirror is a perfect example of cautionary near-future science fiction,” Cameron says. “I think it can be a pretty good show, not all episodes obviously.”
He also cites the critical acclaim for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which just launched its second season and won eight Emmy Awards for its first. “Dystopian literature is still manifesting in science fiction all the time,” he says.
Is there still a place for that kind of storytelling in film, though? Both shows could be viewed as cautionary tales, while Cameron says the Star Wars franchise “doesn’t attempt to do that at all, except to caution us about good and evil in the same way that myths and parables have in all of recorded history… Avatar’s probably about as far as you can go putting an implicit warning in a movie and still keep it entertaining,” he says.
AMC Visionaries James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC. For more about AMC Visionaries, check out IGN’s coverage of each creator that will contribute. Additionally, you can take a look at the latest news about Cameron’s four — yes, four — Avatar sequels.