The Terminator

James Cameron calls B-movies "creatures of their moment in history"

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Jan 13, 2018, 8:51 PM EST

Mastermind of the Terminator series, the Avatar series, and more, director James Cameron has been a science fiction mainstay since his career began. Now AMC is giving him a chance to explore the genre’s origins as part of its new AMC Visionaries documentary series.

His section, entitled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, features interviews with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, and Sigourney Weaver to figure out why this section of speculative fiction so fascinates audiences.

Cameron, also executive producer of the series, spoke at his TCA 2018 panel about his thoughts on the genre, some trivia from his monumental career, and how movies people don’t quite take seriously can be used to effectively react against current events.

Tracking sci-fi since its days as the “red-headed genre,” Cameron says now this work encourages innovation and exploration. “People working on advanced robots are often inspired by science fiction, because I ask them,” Cameron said, after commenting on his own similarly influenced underwater escapades.

These adventures can be big or small, Cameron noted -- citing Ex Machina, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Handmaid’s Tale as recent examples -- as long as they have humanity. “The particular images in my head require a big train set, but it is easy to slip down the rabbit hole of just visuals and no heart. You can point almost every year to a sci-fi film that aspires to greatness and fails because they miss the heart,” said Cameron.

Giving an example of when scrappiness made great sci-fi, Cameron told a story about how, when he needed a specific door-opening shot in The Terminator (without access to set or star), he “took black tape and put it on my PA’s penny loafers, then used a 100mm lens to shoot the door opening in my office.” “I can’t do that now with Avatar,” Cameron lamented.

His love of this kind of tenacious genre filmmaking, which he said was often “responding to our angst over nuclear destruction in the form of a monster movie or an invasion movie,” name-dropped films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Forbidden Planet.

These metaphorical pieces of sci-fi are “creatures of their moment in history,” according to the director, who went on to praise George Orwell’s 1984 as “timely as it ever was.” This adoration of sci-fi’s basic tenets should whet fans’ appetites for his star-studded exploration of the genre.

James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction premieres on April 30.