James Cameron brings star power to 'Story of Science Fiction'

Inside Disney's 'Pandora: World of Avatar'
Inside Disney's 'Pandora: World of Avatar'

    JUST WATCHED

    Inside Disney's 'Pandora: World of Avatar'

MUST WATCH

Inside Disney's 'Pandora: World of Avatar' 04:06

(CNN)The title doesn't lie in "James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction," a six-part series -- under the banner "AMC Visionaries" -- that draws heavily on the "Avatar" director's cachet and connections. Inevitably scattered as it flits from topic to topic, the show offers a breezy romp through movie and (sparingly) TV history, highlighted by Cameron's discussions with Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and other cinematic titans of the genre.

Cameron doesn't exactly bring an interviewer's touch to the task, instead engaging in what amount to peer-to-peer conversations with Lucas, Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan. Those chats provide the spine of the series, augmented by an array of actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, Keanu Reeves among them) there mostly for their star power, as well as authors, academics and critics.
Although each episode is built around specific themes -- aliens, space, monsters, dark futures, intelligent machines, time travel -- there's inevitably a fair amount of crossover and overlap among them.
" allowfullscreen>
Purists can quibble about the emphasis and oversights, which include giving short shrift to early movies and TV shows -- something like "The Twilight Zone" is mentioned, but not enough -- to focus on more recent fare, especially where there's big-name talent attached that's participating in the show. Sure, it's fun watching Cameron and Schwarzenegger banter, but his "Terminator" star doesn't really have that much to say on the subject relative to others.
    At its core, the project is elevated by its unifying love of the genre, and the sense of wonder the key filmmakers bring to reminiscing about movies that had a formative impact and influence on them. Del Toro, for example, recalls hiding under his seat during "Alien," while Lucas lauds "2001: A Space Odyssey" as "the best science fiction film ever made."
    There's also a bit of a mutual-admiration society, such as Cameron telling Lucas he always liked science fiction where the world looked "lived in," adding that Lucas "took it to a new level" with the rusted, scarred machines in "Star Wars."
    To their credit, the producers do make an effort to acknowledge contributions like those of "Alien" designer H.R. Giger, and the movie clips are bountiful and well curated.
    Beyond cashing in on Cameron's name, this "Story of Science Fiction" recognizes the ascendance of sci-fi and fantasy, heading into another summer destined to be dominated by such fare at the box office.
    Spielberg notes that the best sci-fi concepts are "cautionary tales," and Cameron concludes his chat with Lucas -- who believes people will eventually have to colonize space -- by dubbing it "an amazing brain jam."
    There's a bit of vision in that to be sure, but at least as much hyperbole. Still, even without the benefit of time travel, fans should enjoy this trip into the way-back machine, offering the kind of jam to which those with a fondness for the genre can happily hum along.
    "James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction" premieres April 30 at 10 p.m. on AMC.