10 ways to save the Terminator franchise

The Terminator franchise seems to have lost its way of late, but there’s still hope for the next film if we follow ten simple rules...

We’d be extremely surprised if anyone was at all pleased with the news that the creative team behind the Fast And The Furious sequels are being linked to a possible resurrection of the increasingly beleaguered Terminator franchise. In fact, we’d wager that only two people on the entire planet were cheered up at all by the announcement. Their names are Chris Morgan and Justin Lin.

While both script scribbler Morgan and megaphone yeller Lin have got a couple of poor to middling action distractions under each of their belts, the impression that this is a brave and exciting new beginning for the once peerless series is not exactly being exuded with enthusiasm. That is to say, the general consensus of the whole world is something along the lines of: ‘Please, just leave it alone and go and do something else!’

Yet, with the brand under the ownership of Pacificor, a hedge fund, no less, it may be safe to say that, for no other reason than shameless economics, a new film is inevitable. It appears we are simply going to hope for the best.

But in this dot com digital age there is a chance (just a tiny chance!), that, if we yell loud enough, someone with the power to influence the way the film turns out hears and heeds our pleas, meaning that perhaps we do not have to just sit idly by and let feckless, money-driven accountants wring whatever essence of good remains in the once mighty Terminator name.

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So, Pacificor, if you are reading this, here’s ten things you could try to give your film a fighting chance of not being a steaming pile of glooping rubbish. You will not be able to do all of them, but one or two would be wise, indeed, not to mention much appreciated.

And please, fellow Terminator-ites (Termites?), leave your own suggestions in the comments below. We will be heard.

Firstly, and not at all surprisingly…

1. Hire a serious director with a real name.

McG, in hindsight, was such a bizarre choice to helm the fourth instalment of the series that it almost seems amazing we even managed to get a mediocre film out of it. With T3, Jonathan Mostow did at least attempt to preserve something of the first two films. And while T3 has its critics, it was a decent attempt from a proven director, while McG, in comparison, had just spent two films dicking about with Charlie’s Angels.

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The example always given of a talented director rescuing a franchise is always, of course, Christopher Nolan, and the reason Batman Begins worked so well was that it got to the stoic, yet emotional core of a character who had previously been caricatured beyond ridicule. It is character motivations and suspense, not day glo action, that should be at the forefront of any potential director’s mind.

Simon suggested Duncan Jones in an article the other week, but how about Neill Blomkamp, David O. Russell, or Danny Boyle? It’s a shame Darren Aronofsky’s a bit busy, too.

2. New characters.

A script with new characters set in the same universe would be a brave move, and could allow for any number of new possibilities and unknowns set in the modern day or in the possible future. This would be a risk, though, as it would be effectively be setting up its own its own tale, independent of the work laid out by Mr Cameron.

Another possibility would be to go halfway and tell the story of some of the side players from the previous films. How about the tale of Danny Dyson’s efforts to undo the work of his late father, for instance? The character showed up in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and characters like his could be intriguing inclusions.

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The universe itself is so rich and keeping the focus on the original group of characters may be limiting the options of the writers a little too much. A slight departure could retain the essence of the mythology, whilst freeing up the possibility of telling new stories, to which we do not already know the end.

But, if the well knowns are to return, please…

3. Start with a story that deserves to be told.

If Salvation can be commended for anything, it should be in its desire to distance itself from the ‘robots sent back in time’ trope that had already begun to test credulity in the third instalment.

Time travel stories are so susceptible to paradox and plot holes that another modern-day John Connor tale would either have to work so hard to thread itself into the canon that it would starve the narrative of surprise or suspense (in that we would already know where the main players end up), or it would have to do a Star Trek-esque ‘no fate’ reset, thus rendering the large parts of the mythology already laid out entirely redundant.

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The moneymen with the power may be unlikely to commission any script that they deem to deviate too much from the well worn paths trod by those prior, however. This is a shame, as a bold new direction may be the only thing to rejuvenate interest in an increasingly overexposed group of characters whose fates we are already familiar with. And this is the problem.

Yet, there is a gap in the years just after the bombs fell that are, as yet, unexplored, and surely a desperate mankind’s realisation that, not only is it on the brink of extinction, but now at total war with some really very nasty machines, could produce a decent yarn? A pre-Salvation, if you will.

This is a potentially terrifying and paranoid time to be a human, and a film set soon after Judgment Day could possibly be great.

4. Make it scary, sweary and violent.

This idea seems so dunderheadedly simple that it’s a huge shame that the filmmakers will doubtlessly suggest it themselves, before ignoring it completely to gain the all- important PG-13 rating. Gah.

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The first film was a horror movie. A sci-fi horror, yes. But Schwarzenegger’s antagonist was a cold-blooded serial killer akin to Michael Myers or Leatherface, remorseless, invincible, and utterly relentless.

In the hands of any other director, the Terminator name could now be attached to the ninth film in an increasingly awful series of low-budget horror abominations (with fromage subtitles like ‘The Machine Takes L.A.’), but it decided to go down the sci-fi action route instead, and keep its sequels, for a time, to a minimum.

Making the new film less about spectacle and more about the dread of being pursued by a machine whose reason d’etre is to make you die horribly would distance it admirably from the surge of summer blockbuster action abominations it will, no doubt, be competing with, not to mention the weaker films under the Terminator umbrella.

Necessary in instilling this fear is, unfortunately, proper violence.

Not the cop-out stuff from the most recent two films. Remember, we saw Arnold punch a hole right through Bill Paxton! We saw the T-1000 skewer a fat security guard’s tear duct! Then we saw the T-X do, erm, not much, because the camera panned away. Boo. And the less said about the soulless pyrotechnics of the future, the better. Give us blood, swearing, real fear, and death to PG-13.

5. Get the budget, then give back three quarters of it.

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We are a fickle bunch, engorged and uninterested by increasingly unlikely car chases, bland CGI and (probably) very expensive explosions. We don’t care if you can make fifty million Terminators and silly little flying things whizz about in stupid 3D. We are only concerned with whether you should. (Clue: Don’t.)

It was either Plato, or possibly Pat Sharpe, who said “necessity is the mother of invention”, and you only have to look at the negative correlation between any film series’ budget and the quality of the films themselves (Harry Potter notwithstanding).

When a budget is vast, there are so many investors desperate to get their money back that the film becomes completely risk-free, a benign and dull exercise in gaining the maximum amount of return. Because James Cameron wasn’t merely a hired gun, he had the clout to stick to his vision, while making T2 the most expensive film to date at that point. But whichever director they bring for the new film will not have this enviable and liberating level of influence.

We may be left with another negative correlation, this time between budget and directorial control, and the suits could stifle the intriguing film trying so desperately to get out, as they did with Alien 3.

Many directors also do their best work with their back against the financial wall, too. So, why not give them no money at all and watch them get creative?

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6. Tell Arnold you like him very much, but he is just too old to be a Terminator.

The Big Man just about got away with it in T3, but only just.

Trying to adequately explain why an ageless robot has aged by thirty years as the films have progressed would probably add a good fifteen minutes of unnecessary runtime and is probably a situation best avoided altogether.

Yet, Schwarzenegger has recently announced his desire to return to acting after ruining California, and The Terminator has always been his golden ticket. So, what to do? The producers may turn him away if, by some coincidence, a flying pig happens to glide past the blue moon of a frozen hell, but that is moderately unlikely. So, the safe money is on him being involved somehow, if he wishes it to be so.

The only feasible way to squeeze him in would possibly be to have him play the human on which the original T-800 was based, which would also open up the notion of him playing the hero once more. However, with Schwarzenegger comes money, and to address this problem please see point 5.

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7. Cast it with proper actors.

It has to be said that Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, two extremely solid leading men, were wasted on a loud, meandering, orange mess that ended up resembling a cross between a cutscene from Killzone 3 and a high-concept car commercial. This is a shame as, as mentioned previously, the prospect of this new character arc was an intriguing one, and these two actors together in a Terminator film should have been awesome, a sci-fi dream, even.

This doesn’t mean the new film should shy away from trying to attract some quality talent (if it, as is likely, ends up with a budget north of $100m), but it needs to provide brains, not brawn. This means no Channing Tatums. No Gerard Butlers. No bloody Vin-pissing-Diesels. And if I go to the pictures to see the film and The Rock so much as shows his face, I will personally find a child, any child, and punch it hard in the side of the head.

A cast full of actors would go a long way in gaining the production some much needed credibility, but (as Salvation showed) this will only work if the script is up to scratch. Gruff muscle-bound buffoons or skimpily-attired misogyny will simply reduce the film to common action fare, whether the script is any good or not, and this is something it would do well to avoid.

Kristanna Loken just wasn’t menacing, and was made even less so by the crude attempts to draw attention to the fact she was a hotty. Give us some uggos acting their chops off, instead.

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8. Don’t completely ignore The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Taking into account that a spin-off from a cancelled TV show just absolutely will not happen, the film would benefit hugely from an analysis of the positive traits of the programme.

It brought back the possibility and paranoia of anyone potentially being a Terminator, itself a prospect well worth revisiting, in a dense and tightly plotted follow-up to the events of T2, and was taken off the air just as it was beginning to shine in its own right.

Where the show sits in canon is debatable, and any new film will more likely be taking its cues from the movies, but The Sarah Connor Chronicles had a level of intrigue and twisty surprise that could surely be of use in the movies.

It seems daft to not at least get some of the writers of the show involved in the film, doesn’t it?

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9. Give it a proper human element.

The first two films were so strong because, at their absolute cores, they were love stories, the first between Kyle Reece and Sarah Connor, and the second between John and his estranged mother and an unlikely father figure.

The films fleshed out these characters perfectly, helped in no small part by the performances of Michael Biehn, Edward Furlong and the incredible Linda Hamilton. The TV series also continued in this mould (as it had more than enough time to develop its relationships effectively and believably).

The third and fourth films didn’t quite manage it, however. The third was simply in such a hurry to reach the end, while cramming so much in along the way, that it didn’t have time to give the relationships space to breath as Cameron did in T2 by, effectively, slowing the film down to a crawl for large portions of its runtime. The fourth film almost did away with the human aspect of the story altogether, leaving in its place the interesting, but poorly realised idea of a machine believing it was human.

With strong character relationships comes audience bonding, and with this comes suspense when the characters we are invested in are in danger. With this comes a great film.

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10. No ‘comedy’, please.

No Elton glasses. No ‘talk to the hand’. No funny expressions when grabbed by the plums. None of it. Just, stop it. Okay? No more. It was awful.

A return to the bleak, serious tone of the first two movies is, of course, what we want, whether it be in the modern day or in something closer to Cameron’s vision of the future.

Cameron managed to squeeze in a few lighter moments without making anyone want to be sick, but if you are unsure how to do this well, Mr Potential Director, please just don’t bother at all.

Are there any other possible ways the new Terminator film could not be rubbish? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

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