Spoilers for the Terminator films follow.
Three billion human lives ended on August 20th, 1997... just kidding.
By Matthew Gohn
Let's clear the air before I go any further. Any film after Terminator 2: Judgment Day is non-essential. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was good and led to a great ending with the bombs falling, and Terminator: Salvation I thought was a great step forward in the franchise, opting to continue where Rise ended show us the war against the machines audiences had been teased since 1984.
But as good as Rise and Salvation are, they shouldn't have been made in the first place. The ending of Judgment Day is perfect. The horrid war against machines is the reason John Connor sent a Terminator back in the first place. At the end of Judgment Day his mission was a success. The whole point of telling Sarah about the war was to motivate her to prevent it.
And she did. Terminator 2 left no loose ends and a hopeful uncertainty of the future.
Enter Hollywood. Terminator is now a franchise and they'd like it to continue. Clearly the themes of motherhood, man and machine, and oh yeah robots and explosions are reason enough to keep making these movies. Undoubtedly someone was hoping to make this...
But even Hollywood can't just ignore all previous films in the franchise. So Rise of the Machines became a necessary step forward. After one more outing with Arnold and John before the bombs fell, we saw the beginning of the end. The finale of Rise set up the war perfectly.
Then director McG gave us the war of the future in Salvation. However, the purple lasers and nighttime skirmishes audiences expected were replaced with traditional guns and bleak wastelands under a scorching sun. This displeased everybody. Salvation according to Box Office Mojo brought in a cumulative total of 371 million against its 200 million dollar budget. Critically the film did even worse earning an average 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.
So there we were in 2009. After four films with no true consistency outside of Arnold Schwarzenegger's face it was time to consider options. Personally, Salvation I thought was great. And the original ending would truly done something legendary with the franchise. But after Salvation's actual ending, it seemed the logical next step was to continue the war in the future.
In 2015, Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Thor: The Dark World) will direct Terminator: Genysis. Details of this are still under wraps for now, but it will reintroduce Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, parents of John Connor, and founding members of the Resistance. Interestingly, Entertainment Weekly has said the villain is "a man/machine hybrid they’re keeping under wraps." I wonder if McG's orignal ending isn't going to come into play in some way. Oh, and even though Arnold is 67 and not in Terminator shape anymore, he's still going to show up.
The Terminator franchise is one of the best science fiction stories ever. But as the fifth film comes out it's starting to look like a camel. Everybody is building onto what came before but adding their own spin. And Genysis is meant to be the first film in a new trilogy. After seven films in the franchise, who will be able to tell anymore what's going on? That's assuming the trilogy won't beget more Terminator films. (It will.)
This is why we should scrap everything and reboot it. Clean house and start from the ground up. Here's how.
Nicole Sperling in her EW piece wrote "The threat of nuclear holocaust that freaked out ’80s audiences has been eclipsed by our fear of cyberattack." This is one of the things that intrigues me most about the next film. The Terminator was a nuclear and Cold War product, and Skynet is a computer network bent on killing us all. Now our world is hopelessly dependent on computers. Drones and surveillance have become very real world fears. Any good writer would be able to adapt these fears into a new Terminator story. The Terminator is still scary, intimidating, and relevant, perhaps more so than in the 80s.
Hollywood should focus on one trilogy. Reboot the entire story. The Terminator is a product not of nuclear war, but technological advancement. The core elements can be respected. In a future where machines are hunting people down, two Terminators are sent back in time. One is there to kill and the other is defend Sarah Connor, preventing her from giving birth to John Connor, future leader of the resistance and only hope for mankind. This would be the first film, an overall remake of The Terminator.
The second film would have need to take the best parts of Judgment Day and Rise of the Machines. Now, Judgment Day is a film that should never be remade. And I stand by that. So instead of remaking Judgment Day beat by beat, it should do its own thing. The plot of this entry should stem from the failures in Terminator 1 as focus on Sarah and John prolonging the inevitable war. The finale of this film should be similar to the finale of Rise of the Machines. However it should opt to stylistically present this similar to what director Jonathan Mostow did in Rise and not how Zach Snyder presented Metropolis' destruction in Man of Steel.
The final film would be the future war, but don't drag it out. We fast forward to the final days of the war against the machines. I have no opinion on whether humanity wins or loses, as long as the film builds to the last battle and the story ends.
That's it. Beginning, middle, and end.
The film should also have a production schedule like Peter Jackson did with his Middle-Earth films. One director, one writing team, one production team, and one set of actors. This will make the films feel like a cohesive story and not as if they're one director cherry picking his favorite parts of the previous film to build upon. Terminator needs continuity and direction. Otherwise it's in danger of turning into the The Walking Dead after Darabont left, aimlessly continuing with no visible end in sight.
Now ultimately I don't need any more Terminator films. But I also know they will keep being made whether I see them or not. This is my opinion on how to do them right. Wipe the slate clean and make a trilogy released over three years with a clear cut beginning, middle, and end.
I feel audiences have been subject to too much adaptation and not enough original content in Hollywood for a very long time. In spite of that, a Terminator reboot could be a very good thing. Ideally my reboot would have occurred before the third film was ever made, but what can you do? The universe is still so full of storytelling possibility. I proposed a time jump between my second and third films, but you can bet your ass there is a great Band of Brothers miniseries that could be set in the war. I'm all for building upon the foundations, but the trilogy needs to be respected above all else.
Terminator Genysis releases in 2015. We'll then see if this new trilogy adds to the legacy or if it'll further dilute impact of this.
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