The director tells us everything we want to know about this upcoming franchise rejuvenator
One thing's for certain. Terminator Salvation does not have fat hands.
Director McG thundered into the Director's Guild of America in Hollywood on Wednesday afternoon, toting a couple of "fresh from the edit bay" scenes from his highly anticipated franchise rejuvenator Terminator Salvation. And he was so confident in what he was about to show us, he didn't hesitate to unleash the "giant robot" that has caused so much online controversy this past week. He presented us with quite a bit without really showing us anything at all. The man talks a good game, and after hearing his speech and seeing some of the coveted footage myself, I was indeed eager to fork over my fourteen dollars to see the whole thing. Though we were only allowed about fifteen minutes of nearly finished film, it was the kind of cinematic magic that get you very jacked up. The movie could be dog dookie. But we wouldn't know it from the energy level McG brought into the room. The excitement was palpable, and I desperately want to say that what I saw looked "cool as shit." If I were to whisper those words in the vicinity of McG himself, I'd surely get a dissertation on the quote. He'd tell me where the term "cool as shit" comes from, and why it is a misnomer. "Shit's not that cool. Its messy, and gross, and it smells really bad. Temperature wise, its not soothing to the touch. It's hot. And steamy. And you probably shouldn't say that my film looks cool as shit. It just doesn't make sense."
That's the way McG rolls. And if you attempt to ask him a question, the Charlie's Angels auteur is sure to take you on a nonsensical journey through his own head before ever attempting to answer any and all inqueries. He's smart, intelligent, and just about the best darn Carnival Barker I've seen in recent months. Maybe it's the recession. But most studios have suddenly taken to presenting their upcoming film's in a Roadshow-like manner. They wheel in a couple of scenes, let the director talk, and then offer drinks and snacks afterwards. As both a lover of film and a critic, it's frustrating. Because they often show the best moments from the film. And no matter what might be behind that curtain, they are going to talk it up beyond any quaint expectations you may be harboring. You certainly can't trust these finely tuned programs. They're nothing more than live infomercials. You know that guy at the Shamwow kiosk? McG and him are doing the exact same thing. Trying to move product. McG is the ringmaster that strolls into town a week early. He has the alligator boy behind a curtain. And he is going to show you its leg. Maybe its tail. Holy cripes, it looks like a boy with alligator skin, all right. And you can't wait to view the whole monstrosity in its entirety. Maybe it's just some kid with psoriasis. Or maybe it's an honest to God Louisiana mutant. Either way, once this guy gets done teasing you, you're going to rush to hand him your money.
I definitely liked what he showed us. McG made a big deal about story and structure, and presenting myths as strong, realistic ideas. He claimed that this is a serious, entertaining take on what the first two Terminator's have previously set up. Christian Bale didn't want to do a weak sequel on the weight of its pyrotechnics alone. Bale wanted a story that would be enthralling if simply read by candlelight. And that's what McG and his team set out to accomplish. As he claims it, Terminator Salvation won't be all mindless action and nonstop thrills. It will be an honest to god seriodrama dripping with pathos. And with that, he unspooled his first set piece, which contained non-stop summer thrills and pulsating excitement, and very little in the way of in-depth character exploration and dialogue.
It's true; the giant robot stomping onto the center stage here does look familiar. Is it from Transformers or from the Terminator? Really, who cares? Because it's pretty fucking awesome. Sam Worthington's Marcus Wright and Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reese head into an abandoned and burnt out 7-11. There, they encounter a group of resistance fighters that aren't willing to share their food. Before proper introductions can be made, a huge Terminator robot the size of a two-story Cineplex guns down the impromptu meet and greet. Rugged men and women are fleeing in every direction as the thing scoops up the slowest humans and drops them into a herding ship like cattle. Kyle, Marcus, and a little girl are able to get away in a supped up black tow truck. And a chase ensues. Though it happens on a post-apocalyptic stretch of road, it is quite reminiscent of Arnie's motorcycle high way chase from the opening moments of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. After a quick shoot-out, they think they have blown this giant Terminator to hell. But in true James Cameron fashion, the metallic beast keeps lumbering after them. Down from its legs shoot two motorcycle Terminators. They look just like a Ducati without a rider. It takes awhile, but they are conquered in a breathtaking sequence that is as good as anything else we've seen in the franchise. As the tow truck hits a bridge, the cattle ship comes up over them and shoots a fireball into the asphalt. That's where the scene ends. Pretty exciting stuff.
The second scene features Christian Bale in a downed helicopter. He is forced to battle a couple of snake-like Terminators that come jutting out of a near-by river. Dark and intense, this is one of the best scary water sequences seen in quite sometime. As Bale is forced to wade to shore, more and more of these Matrix-like worms start coming after him. Just as he is about to collapse, Marcus, half of his face hanging off to reveal part of a metal skull underneath, tackles one of the worms. They battle to the death. Then Marcus and John Conner have a quite dialogue amongst the wreckage. Conner tells Marcus, "I know what you are, even if you don't. No one shot you in the heart, and I can see that thing beating a mile a minute." They have a short exchange about Skynet, and it becomes obvious that one of the main pushes of the story arch finds John and Marcus trying to rescue Reese from Skynet before his skin is flayed off and used as human rubber for a Terminator exoskeleton. Shamwow! Indeed.
Sure, this is just a shallow jumping off point for the rest of the movie. But I like what I saw. Terminator Salvation is shaping up to be one of this summer's best offerings. Just from hearing the premise and seeing a couple of quick action scenes, I'm confident that it's going to be everything we could want in a Terminator film. But first things first. At last night's presentation, McG all but confirmed what we've heard all along about Arnold Schwarzenegger's involvement in this fourth film. If everything works out, Arnie's face will be CGI'd onto Roland Kickinger's body. Here's what McG had to say about it:
We've got to go show this movie to the Governor of California shortly and see to what degree he wants to be a part of it. That is one of the fun tricks we have up our sleeve. I don't want to give too much away about the manner in which that is going to be expressed. It is going to be a big challenge in regards to our special effects. With visual effects, there is a big responsibility in any Terminator movie to give into the lexicon. I think it is critical to push the effects forward. I think, when we all saw Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Robert Patrick's head came off and became reanimated, that was pushing it forward. We've hired a guy named Charlie Gibson that has won two Academy Awards. He did Gore Verbinski's last couple of movies. He's over there cooking it up with ILM. But these things, I can say in fairness, aren't what you expect. That's why I'm comfortable talking in front of these producers about this issue. The truth is, only four people in the world know the end of this movie. Three of them are in this room. We have built several ways to get out of this picture prior to getting into the notion of time travel. Which is an interesting thing that we can explore within the world of Skynet.
McG also chimed in about Kickinger's presence in the film:
Again, this is getting into the whole "Is it?" Or, "Isn't it?" Scenario about what we are planning. The simple fact of the matter is, there is an archetype shape to the T-800. And in the spirit of my not wanting to say, "Hey, Christian, just imagine that the Terminator is there." We needed a body type to suggest the combatant. So Roland had a good body type. He is a giant. His shoulders are wide. I can give you my word on this: Roland Kickinger the individual is not in the movie. And that adds to the riddle of what we have done. The fact that he played Schwarzenegger in a movie had nothing to do with it. He just had the right body shape. He was a good body double. There is nothing more to it than that.
The other rumor that popped up online this week was that Linda Hamilton was somehow involved in the production. When pressed about her participation, McG asked, "Well, what does this room think?" Every one shouted, "Yes!" The director continued by saying:
Who wants to hear Linda Hamilton via the tapes that we all know she left to educate her son in order to survive? This would bring us in and out of the movie, and articulate the rules of the movie. Who wants that? Having Conner do the narration would give away too much. I like the idea of Sarah Conner, by virtue of the tapes she has left behind, being brought into the film. A big through line is that: You would die for your kid. I am serious. That is the story of this movie. That emotion doesn't make sense. That is the fatal error of Skynet. Skynet doesn't understand that principle. And that is their Achilles hill.
Did McG ever consider keeping the fact that Sam Worthington is a Terminator quiet?
Who says that Sam Worthington is a Terminator? If you had a bad hip, would you advocate getting an artificial one? That's what is interesting to me about this movie. The glory days of 70s and 80s science fiction was so foreign. Artificial intelligence was just being talked about. In this day and age that we live in, its here. Everybody has a blackberry in their pocket. If you spell a word wrong, it corrects it for you. There's your artificial intelligence. If you have a bad knee, all day long, they will put the titanium one in there. And that's progress. Clone a sheep. Get a 70-year-old woman pregnant. Deconstruct the human genetic code. I am depressed. I don't want to talk about your mom and dad. I am going to manipulate my serotonin uptake inhibitors. And I am going to feel better in two weeks. Its here. I've always loved the stories of, "What will make us great will be our undoing." That's a page that I stole from Martin Scorsese. Look at Raging Bull. That which is great will be his undoing. That is why I am comfortable sharing that sort of thing.
About the end of the film, McG says:
It's not what you think. The ending of this thing? It's elliptical. It's going to make a lot of people mad. It is going to have a lot of people scratching their heads. It's not a disposable thing. Its not going to have people applauding, "Yes! I forgot about it before I even got to the car port!" It's going to make you think. And give pause. That's the Christian Bale influence, for a better way of putting it. Don't believe what you are seeing. There is more to it.
Is John Conner aware that Kyle Reese is his father? McG confirms he is:
Indeed. John Conner has been told by his mother Sarah to protect Kyle and send him back. But he cannot tell Kyle the role he plays. He must lead by example. In our film, you see the true and literary sense of the word Salvation. To show that Kyle Reese wants to go. If he goes, he can never come back. He still wants to go. This is the movie about how he makes that choice. Of course John Conner couldn't say what Kyle's role was. Because, after all, Kyle is a guy. If he told Kyle his role was to go back and bang a girl, he'd fuck it up. If he says, "You've got to go back and save her." Then he thinks he's got a shot." But if he knows he has to land the girl, he would flounder and fuck it up, and Michael Biehn would have been lame. John Conner had to keep that a secret.
Hopefully, you will be able to see more from Terminator Salvation soon enough. Look for a full-length trailer to be coming soon. The film opens May 22nd, 2009. So, we really don't have long to wait and see if this is worth McG's undying energy or not. My money is on him to deliver. I honestly think we're going to like what we see.