Relaunching a franchise is never easy. When you’re following in the footsteps of James Cameron, it becomes an absurdly difficult challenge. That is just one of the many obstacles director McG faced when he signed on to reinvigorate the Terminator franchise.
The director took the mic to host a special presentation of early footage from Terminator Salvation Monday at the Time Warner screening room in Manhattan. Most of the 15 minutes or so of clips shown were incomplete, with unfinished special effects and rough audio. However, the clips did provide a clear sense of the look and style of the film. Picture the grime and decay of “Mad Max” or “Children of Men”, and you have a pretty good idea of the aesthetic vision McG and his team have created for the movie.
We also have answers to some of the key questions surrounding the storyline — including one major twist that frankly, I was surprised they showed us — so if you want to remain completely in the dark about the plot of Terminator Salvation….STOP READING NOW!!!
The story takes place in 2018. The Human resistance force has yet to consolidate, with smaller groups scattered across the globe. The man who would be leader, John Connor (Christian Bale), is doing radio broadcasts, trying to find other survivors out there. After a mysterious visitor named Marcus (Sam Worthington) shows up, Connor comes to realize the future his mother always prepared him for, has been altered.
The first clip they showed was a quick montage that ends with John Connor and his band of resistance fighters encountering a Terminator in an underground tunnel. We also see the now-familiar shot of Connor putting a few rounds into the head of a Terminator stuck under a helicopter, as well as some shots of resistance fighters rappelling over a cliff down into battle. You see much of the wiring and harnesses the stunt team uses, which seemed to be by design.
McG said the film will use only minimal CGI. He wanted his actors to work alongside real machines, not green-screen creations. He credited the late Stan Winston for designing many of the machines used in the movie, and judging from what was shown, there will be tons of new Terminator toys onscreen.
He also pointed out that his intention to ‘keep it real’ almost backfired, because Christian Bale broke his hand during a fight scene with one of the Terminators. Luckily, it didn’t delay production.
The next scene we saw involved one of the staples of the Terminator franchise: the truck chase scene. Starting out at another staple of the series, the abandoned desert highway gas station (this one’s a 7-11), a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), Marcus and a small child run into a ragtag bunch of human survivors. Before long they’re attacked by a monstrous 40-foot plus tall Terminator. Most of the humans are killed, but others are captured and tossed into a flying transport ship, a Harvester. When Reese, Marcus and the girl take off in a run-down truck, two Terminator motorcycles unload from the giant machine and give chase. That’s right. TERMINATOR MOTORCYCLES.
This clip really showed off the ‘hardware worship’, the bulky, Soviet-style machinery McG talked about at the Terminator panel at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Bigger robots, more advanced machinery like the flying Harvester, the Terminator cycles…the future is here, and it’s apparently full of really cool machines.
The next scene featured was the highlight of the presentation. During a night time recon mission, John Connor’s helicopter is pulled into a river by Terminator tentacles that leap up from the water. His two chopper mates die and Connor is left alone in the water, against a swarm of attacking tentacles. Marcus shows up and saves him, but John isn’t feeling very grateful. Why?
SUPER [DUPER] SPOILER ALERT!!!!
Because Marcus is a Terminator! Or at the very least, he’s a machine of some kind. After fighting off the tentacles, Marcus’ face is damaged and his robotic features are exposed. The FX were incomplete here as well, but there was no doubt that Marcus is in fact, not human. But is he a Terminator? What are his true motives?? It’s not 100% clear to John or to the audience, because Marcus doesn’t remember anything except for his last memory, which was sitting on Death Row.
“I want to find out who did this to me,” are the last words he says to John in this scene before swimming away.
So why didn’t John kill him right then and there (or at least try)? Because Kyle Reese has been captured by Skynet, and Marcus could be the only way to save his future father — although in this movie, John has no idea Kyle will wind up being his father. Does he not remember because of the altered future that may or may not have been caused by Marcus’ surprise appearance? Or has the time continuum been affected in an even greater fashion?? My head hurts just thinking about it.
When asked about the complicated time paradox of the Terminator mythology, McG said the film does address the ‘Kyle is John’s father’ issue. He added that they had their own time-travel cop on the set in Bale, who questioned the producers and writers constantly about the time paradoxes.
The final scenes we saw were a rapid-fire montage where we learn other key story elements. In 2018, Skynet is years ahead of schedule in the creation of the T-800 that first appeared in the 1984 film. They are also using humans as guinea pigs to create human tissue for the T-800.
The resistance is also a divided force. The current head of the human fighting force is an old-school guy who doesn’t buy Connor as the future of mankind. Michael Ironside plays the military leader who butts heads with John over a planned assault on Skynet, and his appearance onscreen elicited big cheers from the small but enthusiastic audience.
McG said showing what happened after Judgment Day is what ultimately drew him to the project. A big fan of the first three movies, he said those brief glimpses into the future war between Man and the Machines they created fascinated him.
“That which makes us great, will be our undoing,” he said.
So to recap, here’s what we know about Terminator Salvation that we didn’t know yesterday:
* John Connor is not the leader of the resistance. Yet.
* The creation of the T-800, the original killing machine from 1984’s film, is the lynchpin of the plot.
* Skynet is more than a decade ahead of schedule, and it’s harvesting humans to create human tissue.
* The arrival of Marcus may or may not be the reason for the altered timeline.
* Marcus is a machine, and his true motives are unclear.
* Terminator motorcycles.
* Danny Elfman is scoring the film.
McG confirmed this and said Elfman was the perfect choice to create the score, which he says will sound like a cross between Wagner and John Williams.
There seems to be no lack of action in the movie, although I was encouraged by McG’s comments that some of the highlights of the movie involve Bale alone or with Worthington and Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Connor’s wife. He added that the film won’t involve rapid-fire, hard-to-follow editing. He wanted the action sequences to speak for themselves, and the chase scene they showed us seemed to back up that sentiment.
Warner Bros. took a bit of a risk with this event. The studio has nearly perfected this sort of buzz-building roadshow, having done it successfully for 300, The Dark Knight and most recently, Watchmen. But none of those presentations featured so much rough footage with visible wires, incomplete effects and exposed green screens.
That’s why it helps to have a director like McG. This guy knows how to work a room, and his passion for the project was obvious. He also wasn’t shy about discussing the beating he took from the online community when it was announced he would be helming the picture.
As for dealing with the inevitable comparisons to Cameron, McG admitted he sought out the Oscar winner’s blessing — and didn’t exactly receive it.
McG visited the set of Avatar to discuss the project early on and said Cameron was gracious, but “Jim said he reserved the right to like it or not like it. Fair enough.” He said he’s planning to show the film to Cameron in two weeks.
As for any nods to Terminator’s history, there was a shot of Bale looking at a photo of his mom, and it was Linda Hamilton. McG did not specifically discuss whether the original Terminator heroine would show up.
What about Arnold, you ask? McG joked that Warners forbid him from making one last reveal. When asked if it involved a certain California governor, it was the only time all night the director deflected a question. But he did it with a smile on his face.