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The Terminator Reboot: Is this a Good Idea?

The Terminator Reboot: Is this a Good Idea?

| On 07, Mar 2014

A new Terminator film is on the horizon and Emilia Clarke, better known as Daenerys Targayen from the HBO series “Game of Thrones” will be the new Sarah Conner. First seen as a timid victim on the run from the robotic hitman, she evolved into a vigilante warrior by the second Terminator film.

Emilia Clarke

The new Sarah Conner, Emilia Clarke, aka Mother of Dragons from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

But what must be a twisted way to continue two franchises; Arnold Schwarzenegger will “reprise” his most recognized role: T-800, better known as the Terminator or an entirely different character. What part he is playing has not been announced. The film is scheduled to be released on July 1, 2015, in a year already crowded with a record number of franchises.”Terminator: Genesis” will become the 5th feature film in a series dating back 30 years, and the first since the rights clawed its way out of bankruptcy proceedings four years ago.

Terminator: The First Four Films

The science fiction franchise began in 1984 with the release of “The Terminator,” making Schwarzenegger a superstar, questioning the morality of man vs. machine and coining one the best known quotes in movie history; “I’ll Be Back.” It also catapulted director James Cameron’s career and helped redefine special effects for a generation.

The series skillfully covered time travel and nuclear apocalypse and the human survivors in an armed resistance against technology. The early 1980’s witnessed several man vs. machine projects during a transitional period of analog-to-digital convergence, including the birth of the personal computer and shrinking electronic devices. Hollywood addressed these on the big screen with varying degrees of success.

The first film partly takes place in the year 2029, after most of humanity is annihilated due to man-created artificial intelligence corporation Skynet, achieving self-awareness and initiated a nuclear holocaust. A few humans survive the war and form a resistance led by John Conner, who battle cyborg assassins called Terminators. Humanity’s glimmer of hope causes Skynet to send a Terminator-assassin (Schwarzenegger) back to 1984 to find and kill Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), John Conner’s mother prior to her pregnancy.  Conner sends back Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect his mother and preserve the fate of humanity. Reese and Sarah Conner form a romantic bond and by film’s end, she is pregnant with baby John. 

Terminator

The future parents of John Conner: Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner and Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese

Several years later, the sequel takes on a slightly more biblical tone with the subtitle “Judgment Day,” an ominous reference to the Bible’s “Day of Judgment.” Schwarzenegger and Hamilton reprise their roles, each taking on a complete reversal of their original characters and surpass the second film in what is still considered one of the best sequels ever made. Hamilton’s Conner regresses from a timid and helpless damsel in distress into a desensitized warrior bereft of any humanity and Schwarzenegger’s robotic emotionless performance from the first film evolves into a humane best friend and protector of the young John Conner (Edward Furlong). Even the subtle humor that occasionally pops never tarnishes the monster cyborg image of the first Terminator.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The happy family of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Terminator 2: Judgment Day” sees Sarah Conner locked up in a mental institution due to her seemingly mad, dire warnings of the future; her 11 year old son John is trying to fit in with his foster family and a advanced Terminator capable of liquefying and morphing into humans it touches, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) is sent from the future to destroy the young Conner. Once again, the older John Conner sends back a protector, this time a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger), who successfully terminates the metallic liquid cyborg, and with the help of Sarah Conner, destroys Sknet’s Cyberdyne Systems before they are able to wipe out humanity and avoid Judgment Day.

Kristanna Loken

Kristanna Loken as the T-X assassin in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”

Schwarzenegger returns in the 2003 sequel, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” The events at the conclusion of the second film only postpone Skynet’s planetary takeover. A new terminator called the T-X (Kristanna Loken) is sent back in time not only to kill John Conner and his wife, but as many of his loyal lieutenants. The film ends with the start of the Skynet controlled nuclear holocaust and Judgment Day.

Christian Bale as John Conner in "Terminator: Salvation" the 4th film in the franchise

Christian Bale as John Conner in “Terminator: Salvation” the 4th film in the franchise

The fourth film was released in 2009 and is the first without Schwarzenegger, who was Governor of California at the time. “Terminator: Salvation” is set in 2018 during the war between Skynet and humanity and starred Christian Bale as John Conner during the early days of the human resistance, along with Sam Worthington (with CG-rendered Schwarzenegger’s face) as the original T-800 in an altered timeline. The film also follows the origins of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), Conner’s future father and is the only one not to deal with time travel.   

Terminator Analysis

In any time-travel related story, there are bound to be plot problems.

The first film has John Conner sending Kyle Reese back in time to protect Conner’s mother from the Terminator. But during the cyborg’s mad pursuit of Conner and Reese, their relationship becomes romantic and they conceive John Conner. Flash forward a few years and we learn that part of the first Terminator still exists, eventually becoming the initial phase of the future cyborg. So John Conner of the future triggers the events for not only the creation of the Terminator but his own existence.

Some of the broad questions asked by sci-fi laymen over the years included:

How can John Conner send his future father back in time to hook up with his mother in one of the most complex matchmaking events of film history? How does the outdated T-800 Schwarzenegger Terminator able to defeat the more advanced T-1000 in the second film and the T-X in the third film? Why are the assassin Terminator’s sent back to the random periods of the Conner family history? If biological matter is needed to travel through time, how do the Terminators travel? Why did the timelines get jumbled after the second film?

The most likely answer to most of these questions is because James Cameron was no longer leading the ship after the second film and for cold, hard cash further sequel will generate.

When discussing the reason why more advanced Terminators were not sent back to kill Sarah and/or her son John, you need to go back to the first film. Kyle Reese clearly explains that the future nuclear apocalypse destroyed much of mankind’s data, so the exact whereabouts of Sarah Conner were never clear. When the T-800 first arrives in 1984, he looks up several “Sarah Conner’s” in the phonebook and proceeds to eliminate all of them to reach his objective, which is never reached.

Michael Edwards briefly played John Connor in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"

Michael Edwards briefly played John Connor in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”

Skynet’s first attempt to assassinate Sarah Conner takes place at a precarious time for Skynet. The John Conner-led human resistance is closing in on Skynet, and the first Terminator is their Kamikaze attempt to avert impending doom without any repercussions of altering the time/space continuum.

Probably the most important relationship in the franchise, more than Sarah Conner and Kyle Reese, is the bond between father and son; John Conner and Kyle Reese. One cannot exist without the other. Conner would not of been born if he didn’t send his father back to protect his mother, and Reese’s life was saved by Conner in “Terminator: Salvation,” thereby preserving his existence.

Terminator: Salvation

“Terminator: Salvation” had the most expanded version of John Connor (Christian Bale) and Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) relationship

Did John Conner ever know that Kyle Reese was his father, and if so at what point in time did he find out. It is obvious from the first film that Reese never knew he would fall for Sarah, but if John Conner did know, that would make him a potentially disturbed and flawed individual, as his own parents’ matchmaker. What was going through John Conner’s mind when looking at that one picture of his mother? This was never fully explored in the previous films, but it could be an interesting character development in the reboot.

It’s also worth noting that Kyle Reese went back in time 10 years before his own birth. Reese’s back-story was never revealed, and because most of the records are destroyed in the future, John Conner was certainly taking a big risk with assigning Reese the task to protect his mother. This leads favorably to the fact Conner knew for some time that Reese was his father, and he had no other choice but to send him back.

But why are future Terminators dispatched to different time periods, each one superior than the previous model. Besides the obvious answer to mint more money with sequels, there is another possibility that can be addressed with the new film.  

Each Terminator goes back on an alternate timeline, thereby affecting only their specific future. For example, the T-800 is destroyed at the end of the first film, changing the course of its history, possibly averting the holocaust. By the second film, an alternate timeline is still in effect whereby Skynet sends the T-1000 back to destroy the pre-teen John Conner, and the alternate resistance gets wind of this plan and sends back a modified T-800 to protect Conner. The events of the T2 universe (altered from T1), inadvertently triggers a new timeline which begets the events of T3, and so on.

Terminator 2

Was the T-1000 a prototype and the final cyborg sent back by Skynet?

Each film in the present day spawns at minimum 2 alternate timelines, so by the fourth movie there are potentially several different realities talking place. For a clearer understanding, one has to review how “Back to the Future” dealt with time travel. The Robert Zemeckis trilogy needed to be told in more broad strokes for its wider audience, but the same plot points are there. Marty McFly and the T-800 have similar story arcs, just the venue has changed.

Another theory is that each Terminator was sent back in different order than the released films. This was not the original plan of course, but the story evolved when sequels were developed. For example, the third Terminator (T-X) was sent back first to kill Conner and his lieutenants. When she failed, Skynet decided to alter time and send back the older T-800 model in the first film. When he failed, the prototype liquid metal T-1000 of the second film was Skynet’s last attempt to destroy Conner, a model that Skynet believed it could not control but was its only way to guarantee its existence.

Then again, it can all be one consistent linear timeline, propelling the action forward with minimal flashbacks or flash-forwards to confuse the audience. This is probably the cast with the 3rd and 4th film, but may not be the case with Cameron’s first 2 films.

We have to remember that James Cameron intended to end the series with the second film. The two that followed was the studio’s attempt to milk the franchise.

Terminator: Genesis

The fifth film is set to go into production sometime in mid-April with Alan Taylor, best known for “Thor: The Dark World” at the helm.  Schwarzenegger and Clarke will be joined by Jason Clarke and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese on the four ½ month shoot in New Orleans. It has been rumored that this is not a direct sequel to the first four films, but a series reboot with an alternate timeline, very similar to the approach J.J. Abrams took with the recent “Star Trek” reboot.

A new television series is also in development, reportedly taking place from events triggered during the first film, possibly on an alternate timeline as well. Both the series and film will somehow intersect, expanding the storyline across a proposed trilogy of feature films.

Schwarzenegger’s age should eliminate him as a new Terminator, since it’s been 11 years since he played the ageless cyborg.  A smart handoff to a different timeline should use Schwarzenegger as the human model for the Terminator, but I’m not holding out any hope here. Schwarzenegger did film a scene that was deleted from “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in which it was explained in a promo video that he was Chief Master Sergeant William Candy (with a southern accent dubbed by Samuel L. Jackson).

The first two films succeeded because it was an original story with great direction and excellent casting. A cleat attempt at a money grab on a rehashed story that not many will be interested, doesn’t worry the  . The summer of 2015 will already see franchise recycling from “The Avengers”, “Fast and the Furious”, “Mad Max”, “Jurassic Park” “Fantastic Four” a fifth “Bourne” film and many more. The slate was so crowded, “Star Wars: Episode VII” was pushed back to December. This new “Terminator” film may get lost in the crowd and lost in irrelevance.

The question that should pop up is what is with all of this 80’s cinematic revival of recent years? An abundance of remakes and reboots have been released or are in development; “Total Recall”, “RoboCop”, “Prometheus” (Alien franchise), “Mad Max”, “Blade Runner” and more are moving forward, all with varying degrees of success and failure. There is no time limit anymore between the end of one franchise and the reboot of the same story. “Spider-Man” created a creative-less precedent and “Terminator” is the next vehicle.

The disappointing commentary in this is the audience that appreciated the sci-fi films older than 20 years old is shrinking and soon these films will no longer be regarded as classics but as relics from a campy era.

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