Following hot on the heels of recent roadshow presentations for Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters vs. Aliens, Warner Bros. brought director McG to New York City to preview footage of his upcoming Terminator Salvation for select press.
McG got a lot of people excited for his relaunch of the franchise after previewing early footage at Comic-Con International, but he was ready to screen entire scenes this time even if most of them were still unfinished with a lot of work still to be done by FX houses Industrial Light & Magic and Asylum.
The T-600 Model from Comic-Con was back on display, all eyes flashing, and the presentation began with a short bit of footage introducing John Connor to the world of 2018, showing his arrival with a group of soldiers in a helicopter. The always excitable McG was introduced by producer Dan Lin, and he bound onto the stage wearing a jean jacket that probably would have looked pretty cool back when the original “Terminator” came out*. He began by talking about the genesis of the project and how he came onboard. At first, he was dubious of the project, because he didn’t know why they needed another “Terminator” movie, having been a fan of the first two movies and other sci-fi classics from that time period like Alien and Blade Runner. Two specific things convinced him it was worth pursuing, the first being the idea that the movie would take place after “Judgment Day” and that it wouldn’t necessarily be a 4th “Terminator” movie but a new beginning. (McG cleverly slipped in comparisons to Batman Begins and Casino Royale, two successful franchise relaunches.) The second was realizing how resonant the idea of technology taking over might be with people who are obsessed with their iPods and BlackBerry’s, so he was excited to make a story that could explore the franchise’s themes of “that which makes us great will be our undoing.”
Though he admits not being that into the original script, he kept dwelling on doing the project, and once he decided he could do something cool with it that would honor James Cameron’s legacy, he thought that he better try to get Cameron’s blessing. McG flew down to the set of Cameron’s Avatar to talk to the original director about his intentions for the series, and while Cameron wouldn’t necessarily give a blessing, he said that he’d reserve the judgment to “like it or not like it.” Cameron will have a chance to see the movie in roughly two weeks time, according to McG.
McG’s next goal was to find a great actor to bring the project some credibility, and he came up with Christian Bale, who he complimented as the most talented and credible actor of his generation. McG flew to England to talk to Bale on the set of The Dark Knight but Bale would only sign on if they could get the script to a point where it could be performed on stage without all the action and digital FX. In order to accomplish that, McG sought out a writer who could come up with something that might appeal to Bale, and that was Jonathan Nolan, who had co-written The Dark Knight. The script they came up with ended up landing Bale to play John Connor as an adult. Then, in order to make the movie feel real and tactile, he went to Stan Winston who designed and built all of the machines for all three “Terminator” movies, because he was hoping to have some actual moving robots on set for the actors to interact with, rather than doing them all with CG. (Sadly, Winston passed away during the making of the film, which was very emotional for all involved, but McG said that the film will be dedicated to the memory of Winston and his work.)
The results, McG claims, makes his “Terminator” more like a war movie with the general premise being that John Connor is now a soldier in the war against the Skynet robots, who realizes that the events he thought didn’t take place until much later in time were happening earlier, that being the development of the T-800, the Skynet robot that could disguise himself as a human, making him unstoppable. It becomes important for Connor to save the life of Kyle Reese, played by Anton Yelchin, because those who saw the original Terminator will remember that he was the soldier who went back in time to save Sarah Connor from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and ultimately became Connor’s father.
Needless to say, McG is a great salesman for the movie, though he stressed that he wanted to let the film do the talking and speak for itself, so he quickly went to the first clip, which showed Reese and Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright arriving at a seemingly abandoned and overgrown 7-Eleven. When Reese spots an open bottle of milk, they realize that someone is there, and they’re confronted by a group of rebels. Before they can come to an accord, a giant crane-like claw crashes through the roof and starts grabbing people. This is our first glimpse at a Harvester, the immense robot sent by Skynet to take in human victims which we learned later would be used for R&D (research and development) in developing the synthetic skin needed to disguise robots as humans. True, one could say that the Harvester does look a lot like a Transformer, maybe because it was also created by ILM, but later, McG addressed this issue and stated that the Harvester is the only giant robot we’ll be seeing in the movie:
“Ultimately, our large robots have nothing to do with the Transformers robots. I say with respect, giant robots have been the theme of film for a real long time, so we want to do everything we can to create separation. Our film’s about T-800’s and the Marcus character and the Connor character, so to have people have a problem with that wouldn’t be working for us so we want to make sure there’s separation.”
Regardless, the Harvester looks pretty badass even in the unfinished form seen in the footage with huge cannons that blast anyone trying to escape from the scene, including a trailer that’s blown into smithereens. Trying to take down the giant robot, Marcus and Kyle use a tow truck to push a gas tanker at it, then Kyle tries to shoot at it with a shotgun but fails, so Marcus lights a trail of gas with a flair, leading to possibly the biggest explosion I’ve ever seen on film, as literally the entire complex–the 7-Eleven, the gas station, the surrounding building, everything–goes up in an enormous fireball, and the people drive off in various vehicles. As has been the case with previous Terminator models, the Harvester proves to be just as unstoppable and it bursts out of the fire and unleashes two “Moto-Terminators,” which look like robotic motorcycles. The ensuing chase would have felt right at home in one of the first two movies as the trucks try to evade the two pursuing robots. A lot of the similarities in look and feel might be credited to editor Conrad Buff, who also edited James Cameron’s “T2,” but it was an impressive bit of action with lots of explosive destruction. One of the trucks hits a car and sends it flying towards one of the Motos, which as the truck hits a car that flies through the air towards one of the Motos, which leans to one side, riding nearly horizontally with the road, to avoid it. The trucks get to a gauntlet of abandoned cars and start weaving through them as the Motos continue to pursuit, one of them flying high over a bridge to catch up, before a large wrecking ball is released from the back of one truck to take out out one of the pursuing Motos. The clip ended with the truck driving onto a tall bridge high above a chasm just as a Hunter/Killer jet shows up ready to blast it.
The second clip featured a scene with Bale and Worthington together, starting with a helicopter flying over a swamp and being attacked by Hydrobots, long metallic snake-like creatures that can be found in water with a claw on one end and a long stinger on its tail. These flew out of the water at the helicopter attacking those on board and bringing the copter down into the water. As John and Marcus try to get out of the Hydrobot-infested water, there’s a fairly big reveal about Worthington’s character, which we won’t spoil, but let’s just say that there’s something about him that makes Connor not able to trust him. The scene was somewhat overwrought with drama and confusing, not knowing what happened earlier, but it’s obvious that the tense relationship between these two men is going to be the driving force behind the movie. (In fact, McG couldn’t answer our question later about their relationship in fear of giving too much away.) At the end of the clip, they go their separate ways with Worthington’s character swimming off to “find out who did this to me.”
McG did talk about why he cast the Australian actor opposite Bale though: “The reason I wanted to cast Sam was because I needed somebody who could stand up to Bale in a shot like that. It’s very chic for actors to be kind of heroin skinny and waify, and Bale’s a really tough and physically commanding guy. Alan Horn, the head of Warner Bros., only half-jokingly said, ‘If you want a tough guy, go to Australia.’ Sam is a bricklayer from Western Australia, and he has this authenticity and this ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ attitude’ that I think is critical of what’s required of him in the film. The few times we’ve watched the film, people have been really excited about what he’s done. It’s fun watching these two actors and seeing them take material to the highest place.”
Before going to questions from the audience, McG introduced a sizzle reel roughly four to five minutes long, including some of the footage shown at Comic-Con as well as unfinished footage, behind-the-scenes and anamatics of some of the other action scenes. The character that really jumped out of this footage was the one played by sexy Moon Bloodgood, who seems to be pretty badass, especially in a scene where she’s faced by a group of horny men looking to have their way with her. One leering guy talks about what he and his friends plan for her, to which she replies, “Maybe they can carry you home when I’m done.” Sure enough, we get to see her take them on. We also got to see a few scenes with veteran actor Michael Ironside (Total Recall, Top Gun) as General Ashdown, the current leader of the resistance, and there seems to be a conflict between Connor and the General, as would be expected since it’s been foretold that Connor would one day lead the resistance to victory and save earth. The General doesn’t exactly believe Connor’s warnings about the future based on what he’d learned from his mother and various time-travelers. Obviously, Connor is running out of time to convince him since the game’s changed with the early arrival of the T-800 models.
In general, the film has a cool look from the barren wastelands of New Mexico to the special film stock McG’s team created to film the movie and give it a unique and gritty look. McG’s goal is hoping that his movie will join Iron Man and The Dark Knight in the current trend where “the big movies are the best movies” while treating the material with “maximum respect.”
“I’m happy to report the passion of Christian in particular,” McG gushed about his collaborator on the project. “Christian Bale’s in my editing room, six and eight hours a day because I asked him to be and we really get passionate about taking the material to its highest level. He has a very interesting pedigree, this Christian Bale. He’s a very serious guy and he doesn’t give a frog’s fat ass about fame, he doesn’t care about money, and he wants to make the best film possible.”
Afterwards, McG fielded questions from the audience, including the burning one about the film’s potential rating. “Here’s the funny thing,” he said. “Jeff Robinov, who runs Warners for Alan (Horn), he’s the only guy in the world we would have to placate, and he doesn’t care. He’s like, ‘If it’s R, it’s R, if it’s PG-13, it’s PG-13.’ We shot a picture without giving any consideration whatsoever to rating, but I must say if the ‘Dark Knight’ is a PG-13 picture. I think that film was made compromise-free. I don’t think, ‘Oh, if it would have been a twist more gory, I would have enjoyed it more.’ I think it was made at the highest level. I’m not afraid of a PG-13 rating but we don’t aim for a rating whatsoever. The only person who’d require a rating would be Jeff and he doesn’t care, so that’s the ultimate freedom, when the head of the studio is like, ‘We’ll make an R, that’s cool.’ ‘The Matrix’ was R, and they were rewarded for that, so he’s not too uptight about it. We haven’t shown it to the MPAA yet; we’ll see what happens.”
McG confirmed that he’s remaining true to the mythology set up in the first two James Cameron movies, but can’t possibly include things introduced during Fox’s series “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” “Hats off to the third movie, but we paid attention to the first two pictures, and I’m buddies with Josh and everybody who runs ‘Sarah Connor Chronicles’ but from my experience in one-hour episodic television, those guys are in the writers’ room banging out stories left, right and center and for us to chase those story threads, I think would be a disservice to our picture. We honor Judgment Day timing, we honor the 2029, we honor the coming of the T-800.”
While McG admitted he’s arced out the story for two more movies along with Jonathan Nolan, he’s confident there’s a lot they can still do with the franchise hinting that “time travel has yet to be explored” in the upcoming movie, but it would be one of the themes of the next movie after that.
Now while we don’t know for sure whether the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger might be making an appearance in the movie as rumored–McG did say he wanted to save some surprises–but we asked McG whether there were any plans to do any sort of recap of the first two movies for those who didn’t have a chance to see them. They were still figuring that out, although he suggested that one option might be to have Sarah Connor doing a voice-over at the beginning. It’s unclear whether this means that he’s going to try to convince Linda Hamilton to come out of “Terminator” retirement or find a soundalike.
One can probably expect a lot more footage and surprises to come out about McG’s Terminator Salvation at this year’s New York Comic-Con and WonderCon, leading up to its release on Memorial Day weekend, May 22.
*Just kidding, McG… payback for calling me out on the name thing at the presentation!