James Cameron describes his life these days as “time-management hell and no personal life.”
It’s little wonder.
In addition to working on four ‘‘Avatar’’ sequels, planning a reboot of the ‘‘Terminator’’ franchise and producing the big-ticket anime adaptation ‘‘Alita: Battle Angel’’ (due in December), Cameron has a new documentary series that made its debut Monday on AMC.
‘‘James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction’’ explores how the genre went from niche to mainstream, tracking its evolution through deep dives into the backstories and themes of landmark stories and films such as ‘‘War of the Worlds,’’ ‘‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’’ ‘‘Alien’’ and, naturally, ‘‘Avatar.’’
Along the way Cameron interviews the creators and stars of those and other sci-fi films, emphasizing titans of the genre: Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro and Christopher Nolan.
Although Cameron has seen tremendous success outside of science fiction — see ‘‘Titanic’’ — most of his career has been dedicated to futuristic fantasies. Pioneering films such as ‘‘2001: A Space Odyssey’’ and the original ‘‘Star Wars’’ are what pushed Cameron to become a filmmaker — and now he’s credited with introducing his own game-changing technological innovations to the craft.
He recently discussed the new series, ‘‘2001: A Space Odyssey’’ and other topics.
Q: What was the first science-fiction movie you ever saw?
A: That’s a good question. … I would say probably something like ‘‘Earth vs. the Flying Saucers’’ or ‘‘20 Million Miles to Earth.’’ In terms of something memorable, it would be a black-and-white monster movie from the late ’50s or early ’60s.
Q: This year marks the 50th anniversary of ‘‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’’ which you credit as the movie that made you a filmmaker. Why did it have such an impact?
A: What blew my mind was that a movie could be pure art, like a painting or a symphony. I was a movie fan — but, to me, they were stories, entertainment. I didn’t think of them as art, and that was a big shift for me. It was the first time I ever thought to ask, ‘‘Who did this?’’ And not only did I want to know who did it, I wanted to know how it was done. I wanted to study how that movie was made, and that’s what got me from being a fan to being a practitioner. I got a Super 8 camera. I started filming spaceship models. Then I started just filming anything — walking around town just shooting — neon signs, cars, whatever.
Q: You played a major role in sci-fi becoming the blockbuster genre it is today. Did shaping the AMC series feel like a memoir, evaluating your own career and impact?
A: I saw it more as giving something back to a genre that I loved and that I had been successful in. And that was my pitch to the other filmmakers. It’s like, ‘‘Guys, we’ve all made a lot of money doing science fiction. Let’s take casual science-fiction fans who don’t know the literary underpinnings of the source materials and let’s draw those roots back.’’ Whether it’s going all the way back to Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, or the Golden Age classics of the ‘40s and ‘50s — you know, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon and writers like that. They all responded to that because they knew their own references.
Q: You are developing four ‘‘Avatar’’ sequels at the same time, which seems like an enormous undertaking. Why did you take that approach, and how has it gone?
A: It’s been great. We basically went down and developed a pathway for the technology that would be amortized across four movies. And in parallel with that, I wrote the four scripts. And in parallel with that writing and pipeline development process, we also designed all four films.
We finitely designed movies two and three, meaning every single set, every object, every prop, every setting, every creature, every blade of grass. We’ve broadly designed movies four and five, meaning all the main characters and main settings. So we’re actually in really good shape. The entire universe is well in focus for us, and now we’re just grinding through the actual production process. (We just had) our 100th day of performance capture out of a 175-day schedule. That’s two movies combined.