by: Christopher Rockwell
Details surrounding the latest Terminator reboot have leaked and the news is disconcerting…
I have always considered The Terminator the first blockbuster1. It’s true that the numbers and the facts don’t line up with this viewpoint, as this honor surely goes to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a film that in the summer of 1975 reigned supreme at No. 1 at the box office for fourteen consecutive weeks, en route to making history as the first film to gross more than $100 million. And although I have come to love Jaws with all my heart, at the time of its release I was three years from arriving on Planet Earth. Even when I first glimpsed that scary ass shark, and those grizzled, unkempt fisherman, I presumed the film was for my parent’s generation. There were no robots, no aliens, no flying Luck Dragons, no five-fingered men, and no fucking hoverboards. No, The Terminator was where I fell in love with the sensationalized. Where my imagination was emboldened, and where I developed a fascination with the concept of time travel, mechanical assassins, cheesy yet menacing one-liners, endoskeletons, and action films in general.
Released thirty years ago last month2, The Terminator was a revelation in science fiction film-making. With an ingenious and causative storyline, the film was like nothing before seen on the big screen. The Terminator premiered on the brink of the Digital Revolution, a period of time when the idea of computerized machines from the future becoming self-aware and turning on the humans who created them incited paranoia. It was a logical backlash, borne of an appreciation of the repercussions of jumping into the hi-tech pool without properly testing the waters, and I immediately fell victim to the hype. On a 6.4 million dollar budget, The Terminator grossed $78 million dollars worldwide. What was, in essence, an independent film, fashioned stars out of its actors, its director, and unwittingly unleashed a transcendent franchise unto the world.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day finally surfaced seven years later. In that time Arnold Schwarzenegger had blossomed into an international action megastar. Gifting the world with era – and genre – defining phenomenons such as Predator, Commando, The Running Man, and Total Recall, Arnold was a larger than life movie star, and Judgement Day was a larger than life film. In fact, T2 aided in composing modern Hollywood as we know it (for better for worse), defined by its budget-bursting sci-fi and fantasy epics. It was the sequel that whet our appetite for sequels moving forward, and T2 is a key moment in the evolution of Hollywood-as-franchise-factory. It was a juggernaut, a domineering success that built on the innovative narrative of the first Terminator film, expanding the world of Skynet, The Connors, and the T-800 with tenacious proclivity.
T3: Rise of The Machines was next in line, and following T2’s theatrics it had a whole lot to live up to. And, in hindsight, the film was serviceable at best. It did well at the box office ($150,371,112 in domestic gross) and, most importantly, progressed the series storyline with care. T3 caught up with a teenage John Connor on the verge of Skynet becoming self-aware, and as the movie came to its climactic conclusion we were at an amazing point in time in terms of the Terminator narrative. Leaving us smack-dab in the heart of the Skynet’s requital, with John Connor safely shielded from their wrath, Rise of The Machines set us up for what could be the greatest Terminator film of them all. The one where we would be witness to Skynet laying waste to humanity’s civilization, while a group of defiant insurgents fought tooth and nail for the survival of the human race. Instead, sadly, they gave us Terminator: Salvation.
It is safe to say that the most redeeming quality of Terminator: Salvation, the reason it still lingers on in our collective nerd-consciousness, is Christian Bale’s on-set rant. To this day nothing is funnier than Bale laying into a member of Salvation’s production staff. “Ohhhhhh good for you!” are words that I will not soon forget, and will never not find funny. But as for the film, The Governator skipped the installment, and the $200 million film grossed only $125 million domestically. This dud, it seemed, would be the end of the Terminator franchise. But hardcore fans knew that the Terminator would live to see another day, and soon word leaked of a sequel, a fifth installment that will be released on July 1, 2015. In fact, this sequel would be part of a trilogy with additional films scheduled for release May 19, 2017, and June 29, 20183. The Terminator, as promised, would be back.
Details surrounding the upcoming film, entitled Terminator: Genisys, are beginning to surface. And concern has eclipsed excitement with the most recent developments. But let’s start with the good news, in the fact that the cast is sound. Joining the triumphant return of The Governator is The Mother of Dragons herself, Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke, who is playing Sarah Connor. Leading the human resistance as John Connor will be Jason Clarke, known chiefly for his impassioned performances in Zero Dark Thirty and Dawn of The Planet of The Apes. And rounding-out the troop is Jai Courtney (Divergent, Jack Reacher) as Kyle Reese. Excellent casting all around.
And now for the bad, beginning with that gratuitous “y” in the title. A little too cute (“cyte”) for me, a tad forced. But it is within the proposed plot-line where things really get bizarre. As in the original film, Genisys finds Connor sending Reese back to 1984 to save his mother, Sarah, from a Terminator programmed to kill her so she won’t ever give birth to John. Fair enough. That’s how it went down. But that is the beginning of the end of the Terminator canon as we know it. As what is planned will essentially erase everything we know about the Terminator Universe.
Directed by Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and written by Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry), Genisys throws Sarah Connor into circumstances that literally explode the known Terminator narrative we all know and fucking adore. According to an Entertainment Weekly article which broke the story this past week:
Sarah Connor isn’t the innocent she was when Linda Hamilton first sported feathered hair and acid-washed jeans in the role. Nor is she Hamilton’s steely zero-body-fat warrior in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Instead, the mother of humanity’s messiah was orphaned by a Terminator at age 9. Since then, she’s been raised by (brace yourself) Schwarzenegger’s Terminator – an older T-800 she calls “Pops” – who is programmed to guard rather than to kill. As a result, Sarah is a highly trained antisocial recluse who’s great with a sniper rifle but not so skilled at the nuances of human emotion.
Rewriting the entire back-story of Sarah Connor is a fiery, vociferous red flag. And more than that, proposing a storyline where a pre-pubescent Sarah Connor is coping with all the dynamic angst of adolescence with the help of a Terminator father feels like the premise of a low-rent film on the SyFy channel, not the next fucking Terminator film. Sure, John Connor as played by Edward Furlong, had some campy moments with the Terminator sent back to protect him in T2, but John was certainly not raised by the T-800, nor did he utter the word “pops.” But the real troubling aspect of this development is what it means for every moment spent with Sarah Conner in the first two remarkable films.
GONE is Sarah Connor’s revelation within a smokey eighties nightclub that Kyle Reese is her savior, and her life is in danger from a muscled cyborg from the future. GONE is Kyle Reese’s beautiful admission that, ”I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you. I always have.” GONE is “You’re terminated, fucker.” GONE is the poignant conclusion of The Terminator when a young Mexican boy offers a telling portent of the future. “What did he say?” Sarah Connor asks the old man at the gas station. “He says there’s a storm coming in.” GONE is the panicky, gasp-inducing backpedalling within the halls of the insane asylum when Sarah first catches a glimpse of the T-800 in T2. All gone. Gone because Sarah grew-up with a Terminator as her father. What the fuck?
In 2008, the U.S. Library of Congress designated The Terminator as worthy of preservation in the National Film Registry. Only those films held to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” are deemed worthy. A more fitting film to be locked in safe-keeping for future generations to revel in I cannot think of. So that future generations are aware that we well knew the risks of our actions. That we understood the potential dangers of the advance technologies we breathed life into. That we knew playing god had consequences. Because we did know. James Cameron made this perfectly clear. The Terminator and T2:Judgement Day should be locked away for preservation so that all those that reside in a Skynet-free future can behold their grandeur. Let’s just ensure the one where Sarah Connor has breakfast with her T-800 “pops” doesn’t mistakenly tag along.