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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Terminator Salvation 20Min Preview & First Look At More Concept Art!!

By Ron Henriques

"He turned it around, he brought us back from the brink. His name was Connor. John Connor.

--Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese in "The Terminator" (1984)

As a die-hard fan of James Cameron's original "Terminator" films, I wasn't too happy when the franchise landed in hands other than his. Cameron had not only crafted a unique sci-fi action series, but one that excelled in dramatic material. The films stood apart from most sci-fi features because first and foremost they told a great story and featured dimensional characters. I was absolutely furious when the third film landed in the hands of director Jonathan Mostow and the final result felt like nothing more than a recreation of what we'd seen earlier.

Time has actually been kind to Mostow's movie and catching bits and pieces of it on cable recently, I realized the picture ain't bad. Though it was a rehash, "Terminator 3" really had no direct effect on the story or the franchise. Released twelve years after "T2" all it did was bring the series back into public consciousness (and maybe help get Schwarzenegger elected Governor of California) and that's a good thing.

When rumors surfaced of a fourth film I was immediately against it because A: Arnold was obviously too busy to do another and B: the series had run its course. Then I heard that the film would be set in the distant future, years after "Judgment Day", the event where the machines initially attempted to destroy humanity with nuclear weapons. Former series producer Gale Anne Hurd had stated years earlier that if she and Cameron had made another film, it might be set in this time period. Okay, that's not bad. Finally seeing mankind's war against the machines might work if done right. But the story would obviously lie with John Connor and how he brought humanity "back from the brink."

Time went by and then I heard the Christian Bale had signed on to play Connor. Whoa! That's some major news. Bale is perhaps the greatest actor of his generation and though he doesn't have the star power of say Will Smith or Tom Cruise (at least not before "The Dark Knight") he's known for taking risks and taking on quality projects, sometimes at personal risk to himself. (See "The Machinist"). Either Bale has sold out and is in it for the money or director McG and the producers approached him with some quality material.

Thankfully it was the latter, though it didn't begin that way. McG admits that when he was approached for the project, he didn't want to ruin a series that meant a lot to him as a fan and initially turned it down. He didn't start his presentation by saying he never liked Terminator much like another filmmaker recently started his with the words "I never liked Star Trek." McG is a real geek and fanboy of this material. At first the story wasn't really working so he brought aboard "The Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan's brother Jonathan who had co-wrote that film and the original story for 'Memento'. Nolan has a sort of "shorthand relationship" with Bale who asked that if the script could be played straight on the stage without the aid of visual f/x he would commit to it.

McG has been getting a lot of flack since his 'Charlie's Angels' days not to mention his stage name. The guy is no dummy, he's churned out at least one blockbuster and knows his way around a movie set, its just that he doesn't have too many quality films under his belt. No one gave him credit for trying to tackle something different with the recent football drama "We Are Marshall" and though the film was no masterpiece its a nice little piece of work. Hearing that Bale and Nolan (as well as co-star Sam Worthington of the upcoming Cameron project 'Avatar') were working along with McG to craft a great story gave me confidence in his abilities long before I saw a frame of film. After seeing a few minutes of footage this week all that I will say is that my support for the director and the production has tripled.

McG is a laid back type of guy who likes to get right to the point and will tell a joke and occasionally use a little profanity to put you at ease. Though he may seem like an old college buddy you knew, it's impressive how much confidence he has in his latest film. He's a Terminator fan just like the rest of us and doesn't want to screw this up. All he is after is telling a compelling dramatic story that just happens to be hidden inside and action picture about giant killer robots hunting humans.

Beware of spoliers!

The first clip we saw, was more like and extended version of the opening moments of the latest trailer. A disorientated Marcus Wright played by Sam Worthington asking a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) what year is it and what happened here, followed by that familiar shot of John Connor shooting a crushed Terminator in the head with his assault rifle. We a get a glimpse of Connor and his troops rappelling to the ground but that's about it.

The meatiest clip presented was an action sequence involving Marcus and Kyle set at an abandoned gas station. Marcus, Kyle and a young child arrive to the seemingly abandoned location only to be confronted by humans who emerge from hiding with their guns drawn. As Marcus gives Kyle the signal to leave and old woman played by Jane Alexander says "Not before this young one has something to eat." One of the men replies with anger, gun still drawn: "You're giving them our food? That's our fuel. What gives you the right?"

Suddenly one of the men gets pulled through the ceiling, followed by another. There's a Terminator outside, and HK, Hunter Killer, only it doesn't look like anything we're familiar with. There's been controversy that it resembles one of the robots from Transformers, but McG stated that Skynet's army starts off bulky and like a sports car, gets leaner, meaner and better before becoming the streamlined T-800. The visual effects were unfinished, but this Terminator is impressive

As the giant HK rips through the gas station the entire group is flung through the air. (wearing stunt cables that will obviously be digitally removed later). It grabs humans from the ground and drops them into a holding pen containing several others inside one of the flying HK's we are familiar with. Very similar to how the tripods captured humans in Spielberg's 'War of the Worlds'. Part of the group attempt to escape by car only to be blasted to smithereens by the robot from a great distance.

Marcus and Kyle manage to maneuver a gas tanker under the robot's legs and ignite an explosion by shotgun from the back of their tow truck while speeding away. It looks like the HK is down for the count, but it quickly emerges from the smoke unscathed. The HK robot is too large and lumbering to properly pursue Marcus and Kyle in the tow truck so it's lower legs quickly open with a motorcycle HK emerging from each one. These are the new cycle Terminators we saw in the trailer and they are pretty cool. We get a couple of pov shots in Terminator vision where one of them navigates the road to avoid wreckage. Kyle manages to drop an oil drum and detonate it with the shotgun to stop one, but the other is still in pursuit. Their only hope is to drop the winch from the tow truck and use it like an anchor to get this Terminator on wheels tangled up. They manage to succeed and finally the pursuit is over. Or so they think. Just as they reach a massive suspension bridge that flying HK pops ups again, cruises ahead of them and blows out the middle of the bridge before cutting to black.

The third clip is a confrontation between Marcus and John where we get a greater glimpse of what Marcus really is or what he might be. Connor is flying a helicopter at night over a lake surrounded by burning trees. He yells "Do you see him?" to one of his men in the back, implying that maybe Marcus fell overboard. As he drops a line into the lake, a Terminator in the form of a robotic eel, pops out and pulls the man in the water. He dies rather quickly while John is under attack with many of these things bursting through the cockpit to get him. After bailing out, John searches the lake on foot with his assault rifle while we get p.o.v. shots of his legs underwater with more of those eels hunting him. John manages to get off a few rounds to evade a few, but just as it looks like one is about to get him, Marcus emerges from the water in slow motion grabbing one and destroying it.

Marcus has injuries to his face and torso exposing a metal endoskeleton much like the superficial damage Arnold would suffer from in the original films. Though at this stage of production his wounds consist of tracking markers on his face. John's ready to shoot Marcus till he says "Kyle Reese is in Skynet. You need me, I can get you in! Connor at this point knows what this guy is, but with his adolecent father now held captive by the machines must make a deal with "the devil" to get him back.

"Why should I trust you?" Connor asks. "Because I need to find out who did this to me and so do you," Marcus replies. As Marcus slowly backs away hands raised over his head, Connor still pointing his gun at him asks "What are you?" Marcus: "I don't know."

The final bit of footage is a montage of clips, some we've just seen and some seen in the trailer. One moment shows Connor apparently making an announcement over a CB radio. "This is John Connor. We are being hunted by machines working nonstop around the clock. If you are listening to this. You are the resistance!"

Another bit of footage involves Connor taking orders from his superior General Ashdown played by sci-fi vet Michael Ironside ("I'm gonna suck your brain dry!"). McG states that though Connor becomes the leader of the resistance he starts off here as a subordinate, a foot soldier just taking orders.

Ironside: "John Connor! The prophesied savior of humanity."
Connor: "Skynet is collecting humans for R&D. They are manufacturing human tissue."

McG states that all the Connors, Sarah, John and Kyle Reese have always played the outsiders in these films and are always waving their arms trying to get people to listen to their ideas to save humanity while everyone looks at them like they're loony. There is apparently a plot point involving a raid on the Terminator manufacturing facility devised by Ashdown. The T-800 that we are all familiar with is coming and Connor discovers it is ahead of schedule.

Connor over the radio to the assault team: "Abort the mission the game has changed!"

Ashdown: "Negative, do not abort. Stay the course!"

Connor: "If we stay the course we are dead! We are all dead!"

Additional clips include young Kyle Reese telling that old woman and young child: "Stay alive. Here," Points to his head. "And here." Points to his heart.

It probably takes some time for Marcus to discover he's been altered into some type of cyborg since he appears to have a romantic relationship with a girl in the form of fighter pilot Moon Bloodgood. She gets to show her skills at combat in a brawl with a few rough types as well as one or two physical stunts you may have seen in the trailer.

We also get to hear John's voice saying "This is not the future my mother warned us about." Apparently something in the timeline has been altered. As he stares at the classic photo of Linda Hamilton that Kyle Reese carried in the original film we hear his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) say "If you saved us in another life, you can save us in this one."

In one of the final shots we hear her say "We've never seen anything like this before," followed by Bale staring past the camera at something in awe saying "The devil's hands have been busy."

A few extra tidbits I remember:

This is the first Terminator film where there is no time travel involved in the story. Marcus is apparently from the past (our present day) and has been altered somehow.

Even though this film tells the story of John Connor it is very much the story of young Kyle Reese and how he becomes a man. Many of the classic lines Michael Biehn spoke in the original are revealed to stem from Kyle's brotherly relationship with Marcus. The first film was about the preservation of Sarah Connor, the second and third about the protection of John. This one is about the protection of Kyle Reese.

This film honors the Terminator 3 storyline, but not the current television series. Judgement Day occured in 2003.

Though he hopes this film can be the start of another trilogy with a new beginning McG says that many fans may be disappointed with the ending because it makes the story "elliptical".

He reassured us that all the rumored endings we've heard about online (including the one where Connor gets killed and good Terminator assumes his identity by wearing his skin) are all fake.

McG does a killer impression of Christian Bale and playfully asked an audience member to ask his "Bale" to do something as an actor that wouldn't help the story to which he flatly replied in a cockney accent "I ain't doin' it!"

Says Bale just cares about good work and not the money and hates being famous. He loves his wife and kid and doesn't have a entourage or sports car but drives a beat down pick-up truck from the nineties.

Bale is so powerful as an actor that McG chose to hold the camera on him in unedited takes for almost entire scenes as he contols his eye movements and breathing. He's an intimidating presence and thankfully Worthington holds his own against him in their scenes.

Warner Bros. gave them their blessing to go for a hard R for this movie because the studio heads like to take risks like they did with "The Matix."

McG stated that they created their own film stock for this picture. They took an old film stock from Kodak and reprocessed it with three times as much silver to give the world a gritty post nuclear event look.

When he started the presentation at stage right was an actual full size bulky T-600 that moved it's head and had glowing red eyes. ("The 600 series had rubber skin") This was an early version of the Terminator that Kyle Reese told Sarah Connor were easy to spot because of their rubber skin.

He chose to bring the late Stan Winston aboard because he wanted as many of the robotic effects to be real and not CGI. (Much like Nolan did with his visual f/x in 'The Dark Knight.") McG said he missed a time when in the late seventies and early eighties even the big event movies were good movies and that he wanted a sense of realism with the f/x to serve the story.

Though this is a male oriented film, like the original it is full of strong female characters like those played by Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood.

McG wouldn't give details about how Arnold might appear in the film or whether or not he was in the movie at all. All he would say was "We're working on it."

He actually went to chat with Cameron on the set of 'Avatar' and even played around with his 3-D digital camera system. He assured Cameron he would honor the mythology and handle the story in a respectful manner. Cameron was pretty frank and said he couldn't blindly get behind the movie, but he understood that McG must feel as he did when he followed Ridley Scott with the second 'Alien' film.

Sam Worthington who also stars in 'Avatar' will apparently play Perseus in the upcoming "Clash of the Titans" remake.

Danny Elfman just signed on for the score. McG considered director Alejandro González Iñárritu's collaborator Gustavo Santaolalla for the earthy-humane part of the score and Johnny Greenwood from 'Radiohead' for the cold machine aspect. Couldn't get Hans Zimmer but actually met with original Terminator composer Brad Fiedel who know runs a surf shop. He didn't want to repeat Fiedel's work with Cameron so brought aboard Elfman who will give it a Wagnerian quality as well as use most of Fiedel's themes and ambient sounds.

The first scene (not shown to us) features Marcus in the present day, in prison and about to be executed. He cares little about the world or himself. They cut to black and he wakes up in 2018 to a world ravaged by war. During these events he re-discovers what's worthwhile about humanity. The film is a vehicle to show what's best about humanity hence the title "Salvation".

Well, all I can say is that even though I don't care much for these types of advance presentations, I didn't feel like I was at a trade show or watching an infomercial. McG made a great pitch, but didn't come across as arrogant or like he was you. My optimism for the final product has not only increased, but I look forward to the potential it has to become a new trilogy.

Maybe by the third film (and when his term is over) they can bring Arnold back as a special Terminator needed to assist John to destroy Skynet once and for all. Just a suggestion, but with this glimpse of material that seems promising, the possibilities for the evolution of the story seem endless.

Kellvin also ended taking a batch of photos via his iPhone of the concept art for the film, which you can check out below.