“Every shot matters,” declares a resolutely serious McG in Terminator: Salvation‘s behind the scenes featurette. Orchestrating an army of special effects technicians, a near $200m budget, and, perhaps more impressively, a battle-weary Christian Bale, you can’t doubt the determination and passion of the man. For while Salvation is the Terminator franchise’s attempt at forging a new identity post-Schwarzenegger, it’s also McG the film-maker’s concerted effort to prove he’s a serious director.
And McG wasn’t kidding. Salvation, on Blu-ray especially, looks incredible. Every shot of it. The disc’s behind the scenes featurettes paint a picture of every man, woman and child doing their damnedest to honour James Cameron’s legacy. True to their word, all of those dollars look like they went on screen. Terminators, both old and new, flood the desert. Things explode.
The apocalyptic future has never looked so good.
But in nailing the specifics, McG has forgotten the biggest and most important thing of all: a story. T3 screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris return and try to fill in the Terminator mythology by showing us how John Connor and Kyle Reese came to be (this is almost a Terminator romcom – When John Met Kyle). Yet as interesting as that relationship could be, Salvation is a film desperately in need of some oomph.
Where Cameron’s original was ruthlessly efficient, McG’s is wandering and aimless. It has no real threat, no conflict, and precious little drama, rendering the film’s rugged beauty somewhat moot. It’s all icing with no cake. The streamlined simplicity of the first three Terminators and their foe’s relentless pursuit (so perfectly captured by Michael Biehn’s Reese in the original as a boogeyman that “will not stop ever, until you are dead”) is sorely missing.
Instead, the film gives us three lead characters – Bale’s John Connor, Anton Yelchin’s young Kyle Reese, and Sam Worthington’s Terminator-in-waiting Marcus – without a single purpose between them. It leaves Salvation frustratingly inert, a Terminator film not as chase movie, but as road movie, with only the characters to hold the attention.
Most interesting of these is Yelchin’s Reese. Almost unrecognisable from his Chekhov in Star Trek, he makes a completely believable young Biehn, despite looking nothing much like him. When he’s on screen, the film sparks to life. Shame then, that he’s given the least screen time of the three.
Salvation has the air of a muddied script, one that started out focusing more on the young Reese but then beefed up the Connor role once Bale came on board. It’s the film’s biggest misstep. If the last Terminator instalments taught us anything, it’s that John Connor isn’t that interesting a character. His fate has already been drawn, his character arc already written. In Salvation, Bale is given little to work with beyond a man driven to do what he needs to. What’s most alarming, however, is that he lacks any screen presence. There’s lots of shouting, and that gravel voice carried over from his Batman, but nothing behind it.
Worthington’s Marcus, meanwhile, has his motives revealed far too late in the film, leaving him a blank canvas for much of the running time. CGI Arnie cameo toward the end reminds us what we’re missing. Without him, Salvation has a hole where its heart should be. And perhaps just as importantly, it lacks any humour. Granted, a step away from T3‘s often camp silliness was needed to inject some much needed gravity back into the franchise. But did it have to be so grim?
Likewise, McG fails to maintain a consistent grasp of the Terminators themselves. After the almost comical Kristanna Loken and playfulness of T3, Salvation‘s opening shows a Terminator ruthless and unequivocally terrifying. An early scene establishes the threat of a Terminator – even torn in half, it has Bale’s Connor gasping for survival and breathless. It’s a terrifically choreographed scene. Along with a stunning mid-film set piece of Marcus and Reese pursued by foot, bike and air it shows McG’s sure handling of action. Sadly, the film soon loses its way, turning its Terminators into misfiring drones. Or worse, Bond villains unwilling to inflict a fatal blow.
You can see McG’s watched Terminator and T2 a fair few times. Salvation is swimming in subtle, and not so subtle, nods to Cameron. A smashed-out truck windscreen here, a Guns N’ Roses song there. But the weight of those films hangs heavy over proceedings, much of it by the film’s own making. A factory-set climax that mimics T2‘s own goes a step too far, crossing over from homage to carbon copy. It serves only to remind how good a storyteller Cameron is. In his world, action serves the story. In McG’s, it’s there instead of it.
True, it looks great, and you can’t but wonder at the visual splendour on show. But like much of Salvation, there’s nothing under the surface.
Suffice to say, Blu-ray is a perfect showcase for Salvation‘s aesthetic and aural charms.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track and 1080p content will impress your friends and annoy your neighbours. We also get a Director’s Cut, which is pretty hard to distinguish from the Theatrical Cut included here. An extended shot of Moon Bloodgood undressing in the rain may be the most notable addition. Not that I was looking.
On the extras front, there’s more here to enjoy than the actual film. First up is Blu-ray exclusive Cinechat, a twitter-style feature that allows you to chat to buddies online, only appearing on screen during the movie. Interesting concept, although the tutorial’s example text of someone writing “This part coming up is great. I love being able to chat with you guys!” might put you off straight away if that’s the type of people you’ll be dealing with. And voiceover man’s use of the word “buddy” four times in one sentence does get very creepy.
Next up is Maximum Movie Mode, which runs alongside the feature as a series of mini featurettes and trivia tracks. Initially a bit odd, with McG dressed in casual jeans and tucked-in shirt hosting a virtual ‘how did we do it’ with two screens running behind him. Cheesy, yes, but stick with it and you’ll be treated to a richly detailed breakdown of the creation of the film.
A Re-forging the Future featurette (running 19 minutes) has all principal cast and crew talk about what went into designing a world post Judgement Day, including how they created that Arnie cameo. The most interesting revelations? Yelchin has the whitest teeth this side of Simon Cowell. And that is Terry Crewes in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as a corpse during the opening Terminator attack on John Connor.
Elewhere, a Moto-Terminator featurette (8 minutes) is half Ducati motorbike advert, half intriguing delve into how they created the terminator bikes. Some BD-Live content rounds out an interesting package that shows the incredible amount of work that went into making Salvation. Shame no-one paid the same attention to the script.
The Film:The Disc:
Terminator Salvation is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.