Terminator Genisys: Logic of New/Old Film

In 1984, a cyborg arrived from the future. He was called the Terminator, and played by Arnold Schwarzenegger..

Among the millions enthralled by this new icon were producers David Ellison and Dana Goldberg.  As Ellison recalls: “The Terminator franchise—and really James Cameron—is a seminal part of why I got into filmmaking in the first place; to me, he’s simply one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  I think Terminator 2 reinvented the modern day tent pole.  So, for me to get to work on a franchise that is literally something I fell in love with as a kid, and which led to my wanting to become a filmmaker, is just a dream come true.”

Rights Available

Dana Goldberg adds, “When it was announced that The Terminator rights were going to be available, we were obviously interested—as were many others in the industry, because it is such an incredible franchise.  The first two Terminators, in particular, are movies that David and I revere.  And at Skydance, we love making big, event movies.  The idea of resetting Terminator for both the audiences that loved the originals and a whole new audience was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

The rights under their belts, the Skydance Productions duo began to scout writers for the mammoth project, including writer/producers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier.  Kalogridis remembers, “David and Dana approached us around Christmas 2012, and our first response was ‘No’, as was our second and third response.  We said no because of respect for James Cameron’s universe.  I had worked with him for years—he’s an inspiration to me personally and cinematically—and I did not want in any way, shape or form to do anything that would not be respectful of what he had created.  It’s some of the most amazing science fiction ever, and he is certainly an inspiration to me, and not just me—he’s one of the greatest living filmmakers, and possibly, ever.”

But Skydance was persistent, so Kalogridis checked with Cameron himself, who not only granted his permission and gave his blessing, but started the ‘idea bouncing’ chain reaction inevitable in any great pre-production phase, advising Kalogridis: “Make sure you write a good part for Arnold!” Patrick Lussier comments, “Laeta became infected with the idea, and once we started thinking of the story possibilities—and re-watching the first two Terminator films—we could see how to revisit that world and those characters in a present day setting… and not in a present day setting.”

Kalogridis continues, “Time travel is embedded in the DNA of the material, which gives rise to the possibility of alternate universes and different timelines without affecting the original material at all.  Those stories exist and continue to exist, they still have happened, but you can tell a different story that branches off in a different direction using the characters that all of us love.”

Both the 1980s’ worlds of global politics and filmmaking that gave rise to the original films have changed tremendously.  The Terminator proclaimed “I’ll be back” a full five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and when the realization of the full potential of computer generated imagery was still decades away.  The light years that have passed since the first Earthly adventures of the T-800 opened up countless avenues of exploration to the Terminator Genisys filmmakers.

Cold War Era Films

“The Cameron films to me were really Cold War era films,” notes Ellison, “where the analogy that was being laid on top of the story was very much the threats felt during that time period.  The advancements in AI give us the ability to really update the franchise to today, to where Skynet no longer has to break free—we’re actually lining ourselves up and giving away our privacy, our freedoms, our information.  We’re standing in line for the latest in technology and software.  The canon lends itself to comment on what is actually going on today in a way that’s new and fun and exciting—it comes across in a big entertaining way. To me, science fiction is at its most effective when it’s actually taking real world events and placing them in a fictional setting.”

At the heart of it was the ‘dysfunctional family’ and its love story Cameron placed at the center of the films—among the Terminators, the potential obliteration of the entire human race, the filmic feats of illusion.  The same story hook resonated for the project’s director, Alan Taylor.

Producer Ellison says, “We knew we had to have a director who cared about character, and the love story of this family.  Yes, there’s a lot of action in ‘Terminator’ movies and we definitely plan to live up to that promise.  There are a lot of people who are great at shooting action, but only a handful or so that we thought could get true character-driven performances in the midst of it all.  We all pray at the altar of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones,’ and we thought ‘Thor: The Dark World’ was phenomenal.  And, sure enough, when Alan came in, he said that we could talk about what the Terminators are going to look like, and how many of them there are, and the different types, and how the third act fight is going to look, but the love story and relationships have to work.  He said that in our first meeting, and we thought, ‘Okay, this is the right guy.’”

For Taylor, some of the appeal of making the film was the challenge of how to do it: “It’s funny,” admits Taylor, “I was looking at various potential projects but this was the first one that felt like I couldn’t at the beginning tell exactly how to do it: it was a puzzle to solve it and that made it exciting and interesting. There’s so much to love in the Cameron mythology, and so much that the audience we’re hoping to reach is already in love with. At the same time the story’s moving forward – it’s got to get bigger and go into new directions and unlike other sequels this felt like a whole new ballgame and I wanted to see how we could pull that off.”

Taylor collaborator (and his future Sarah Connor), actress Emilia Clarke, sees the director’s accomplishment in his honoring the subject matter while giving it a new relevancy.  Emilia Clarke observes, “Alan manages to get a beautiful marriage of old meets new, but also puts a very sensitive, intelligent spin on it.  I think one of his goals with this movie is to ask what it is to be truly free as a human being, and the choices these characters have to make in deciding that.  I think we are paying a lot of respect to the Terminator that has been before, and bringing it to this new audience today.”

“What we’ve tried to do,” says Taylor, “is to begin in timelines that we know from the mythology and then take them in new directions, and do it in a way that makes sense so we see a future that we saw glimpses of in the previous movies and then we dive to a past that we’ve seen glimpses of in the past movies but this film tries to take us into new territory behind that while not contradicting any of the things we already know about this mythology.”

Producer Goldberg comments, “To me, great science fiction is always more than just the bells and whistles of things blowing up.  I still remember watching ‘The Terminator’ and thinking, way back then, ‘Oh wow, this is a love story.’  It’s this amazing science fiction movie and Arnold Schwarzenegger is this killer robot—it’s all incredibly cool.  But to me, it all boiled down to the line, ‘I came across time for you, Sarah.’  And somehow, Cameron figured out a way to present this love story to mass audiences as this unbelievable science fiction movie.

“In ‘Terminator 2,’” the producer continues, “one of my favorite parts of the movie was in a Sarah Connor voiceover, where she talks about how the Terminator that she hated so much [in the first movie] would be the perfect father for her son. He’d never abandoned him, he’d never hurt him, he would always be there for him—in Cameron’s movies, you have both the incredible visuals and the groundedness in reality, the emotional story at the center of it all.”

To begin the telling of “Terminator Genisys,” filmmakers open the movie with the final assault of the remaining humans on the machines, led by John Connor and Kyle Reese, in what could be the twilight of mankind.

Dana Goldberg explains, “We open with Kyle Reese as a child, talking about what had happened before he was born—that humans beings basically got complacent and allowed machines to take over the world.  Eventually, the machines decided that humans were a threat, seizing control of missile defense systems and wiping out three-billion people.  That was Judgment Day.”

In this film’s current day, 2029, the resistance rallies, and believe they have conquered Skynet, only to discover that the machines have launched their version of a fail-safe—the first tactical time displacement weapon, sending a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, John’s mother, before she has a chance to conceive and give birth to the future leader of the human resistance.

Fans will no doubt recognize the Terminator’s arrival in the Los Angeles of 1984, but will also soon realize that this story launches into new, splintered directions.

David Ellison notes, “The 1984 that our characters travel back to has been altered since the original movie—events have transpired that have driven it in a completely different direction.  Also those films were always set in present day, not in the future, not in the past.  Ours bends that set-up.  And so, through a series of events, our characters find themselves traveling forward to 2017 in an attempt to stop Judgment Day from ever happening.”

Dana Goldberg acknowledges, “We wanted to be incredibly respectful to the characters Gale [Anne Hurd] and James Cameron created.  So we finally arrived at the place of whatever timeline you’re talking about, when you’re talking about the Terminator world, there’s always going to be a Sarah Connor, a Kyle Reese, a John Connor, a Terminator—they just might not be the identical people they were in the prior films.  That’s the attitude we started and stayed with going into the development of the script.  They are all here…just not exactly the people that have been represented in films previously.”

Filmmakers did get to delve into their inner sci-fi geeks, with a fairly meticulous recreation of the initial sequence of Kyle Reese landing in 1984, down to the homeless man in the alley and the dog.  But along with the familiar is a T-1000—a huge signal of all expectations being blown sky high.

Per Goldberg, “Reese goes back as he did before, being told that Sarah Connor is a fairly helpless woman working as a waitress—she’ll have no idea what you’re talking about, but you’ll need to save her, even though she doesn’t believe.  Then, not only is he greeted by a Terminator, which completely surprises and confuses him, but then Sarah arrives in a huge fashion, and it’s her character that has the famous line, ‘Come with me if you want to live.’”