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    Movies - Terminator 5: Genesis, New Model Arnie

    In 2013 David Ellison, the then-30 year-old son of Larry Ellison (currently the sixth-richest human being on the planet), sometime actor and founder of Skydance Productions, drove from his offices on the Paramount lot to a meeting with one  of Hollywood’s authentic living national monuments: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ellison, whose career as a producer was showing promise with the likes of World War Z and Star Trek Into Darkness behind him, was untypically nervous. He had to convince Schwarzenegger, then 66, to return to the role that made his movie career. And on his decision rested the future of one of Hollywood’s most successful blockbuster franchises. As in the Terminator movies he was eager to reinvent, for Ellison the future was very much up for grabs...

    Though, as it turned out, he didn't have to worry. “There wasn’t much convincing,” laughs Schwarzenegger of Ellison’s pitch. “I had always let everyone know that I was looking forward to doing another Terminator. The first big asset that David Ellison had was that he is really passionate about Terminator and he loved the original movies. Number two is that he has the financial means to do this right. And number three is that he wants to see it as an ongoing trilogy. All those things impressed me.”

    “There is absolutely no way we would have done this without Arnold,” Ellison confirms to Empire. And he didn’t simply want the Austrian Oak back for a cameo. He had to have what Skydance Chief Creative Officer Dana Goldberg describes as “a huge, fundamental role in the story”.

    “We didn’t just want to remake a movie for the sake of doing so,” Ellison insists. “So the question we absolutely had to answer was:  why now ?”

    The road to Terminator Genisys, the fifth movie in the 31 year-old series, has been anything but straightforward. James Cameron’s 1984 low-budget classic, and its retooled 1991 follow-up T2: Judgment Day, helped rewrite the rulebook for action franchises, landing itself, when adjusted for inflation, among the most lucrative and popular properties Hollywood has ever produced. But recapturing that cybernetic magic has been a fraught enterprise and has yielded little in the way of unalloyed success.

    After Cameron announced himself done with the films in the early ’90s, T2 producer Mario Kassar, along with Carolco partner Andrew Vajna, pressed ahead with a third. But despite Schwarzenegger’s presence, Jonathan Mostow’s Rise Of The Machines delivered a disappointing box-office performance, and with its star soon to be ensconced as the governor of California, the franchise was essentially moribund.

    Then, in 2007, the rights passed to The Halcyon Company, who confidently announced a new three-part series, to be located in the dark future of the adult John Connor. First (and only) up was McG’s Terminator Salvation, a dramatically underpowered $200 million squib hobbled by a poor script and no Schwarzenegger (apart from in unconvincing digital form).  When Halcyon entered bankruptcy the Terminator name again became available, and was surprisingly snapped up in 2011 by Megan Ellison, founder of Annapurna Pictures, the classy outfit behind the likes  of Zero Dark Thirty and, more recently, Foxcatcher. Megan knew just the person who might be interested in joining her on the production. She called her brother. This was more than an admirable example of sibling loyalty. David Ellison’s Skydance Productions was in many ways the perfect company to take the project on, having a proven track record with big franchises.

    All of which brings Empire to the Paramount Pictures commissary where, a few months after the film has wrapped principal photography in New Orleans, the lead creative talent have assembled to shed light on what the latest incarnation is all about, and how it preserves the original two films’ appeal while retooling it for a new generation.

     “We have an entirely new terminator in this movie.”
    “We said no a few times,” says screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island), who Ellison hired alongside co-writer Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry). “Really out of respect for James Cameron and for the original universe he had created. I love the first two movies, and the second two don’t really live up to what he created, so I was worried. Then I went and I asked Jim how he felt about it, and he was okay with it. Without his permission I would not have considered taking the job. He’s the nearest thing to a Leonardo Da Vinci that we have, a renaissance man, but I always think of him as a superb writer first. So the question that Patrick and I asked first was, ‘What is it that we loved about the first two movies that we missed in the next two?’ And part of the answer to that was that we loved those original characters: we loved Sarah and Kyle. And we loved John Connor, even though we only got to see some of him as a kid. That was the core of it.”

    Kalogridis and Lussier’s solution was to leverage the Terminator’s established time-travel motif  and create an entirely new timeline (similar to J. J. Abrams’ nifty resetting of the Star Trek universe). “Their writing room looked like there’d been an explosion in John Nash’s office in A Beautiful Mind,” says Dana Goldberg of the mass of charts, arrows and Post-its that evidenced Lussier and Kalogridis wrestling with temporal mechanics.

    The pay-off, though, was that they could reintroduce those key central characters in new forms  and  bring back Schwarzenegger as the iconic T-800, despite his advanced years. So anti-robot revolutionary John Connor (now Jason Clarke) still sends Kyle Reese (now Jai Courtney) back from 2029 to 1984 ensure his existence by rescuing his young mother Sarah (now Emilia Clarke, aka Game Of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen) from a cyborg assassin, but Reese finds  an unexpected new reality with an aged T-800 guarding a battle-ready but extremely reluctant Sarah. (How is the Terminator older? The flesh wrinkles over time, even if the endoskeleton doesn’t  age an idea that Cameron claims was his own: “I pointed out that the outer covering was actually not synthetic…  and therefore could age,” he told Deadline late last year.)

    “It’s not a reboot, it’s not copying anything,” Emilia Clarke assures us. “It’s very much in the vein of those first two movies, and James Cameron’s wonderful characters. Sarah is prepped and ready and definitely not the young, naive girl that we met in the first movie but an out-and-out badass already.”

    As for her future son, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’ apocalypse-familiar Jason Clarke (no relation) describes him as “a man weighed down by his destiny”, who suffers from “years of living within a prophecy, a played-out reality that he’s aware of, and still trying not to lose his mind and stick to the programme. Though he still believes that tomorrow can be a different day.” Clarke says he went back to the second Terminator film and studied Edward Furlong’s performance: “I’m just trying to find moments in this where you see that same boy again,” he says.

    The new movie’s signature melding of the best of the first two films is best exemplified by Schwarzenegger’s take on his latest T-800, sometimes good killer cyborg from the future, sometimes... Not so much. “The story has changed, so I am like a combination of the characters who you have seen in the past,” he reveals. “He is a powerful and potentially evil kind of machine that can be very destructive if I see that there is danger from me or for the victory against the machines.  I can switch over to being the protector of Sarah Connor. It depends where we are in this storyline.”

    Which leaves time-travel specialist and former Doctor Who Matt Smith, whose presence as a character only credited as ‘Tim’ is this film’s biggest mystery. Perhaps he’s another cyborg, though  Empire’s pet theory is that he’s  yet another Connor from an even further future, and could therefore hold the key to the creation of the new timeline...

    Achieving relevance to a 21st-century audience went far beyond casting young and cool. At the heart of the idea Kalogridis and Lussier pitched to Ellison was the mutating nature of generational anxiety. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Cameron’s films cannily exploited the pervasive fear of imminent nuclear armageddon. “When we looked at the past films they were clearly Cold War-era,” says Ellison. “They were about our fear of the nuclear holocaust. But times have moved on. With technology today, Skynet no longer really needs to bash down your front door. You’re lining up in front of Apple Stores to actually invite it in!”

    “Despite what we know about the NSA and so forth we keep marching forward, embracing more and more of it,” muses Genisys director Alan Taylor, who won the gig having proven his franchise chops with Thor: The Dark World (as well as his work on the first two seasons of Game Of Thrones). He gestures towards a nearby iPad, on which Ellison has just shown Empire the forthcoming Super Bowl spot, along with some impressive early FX footage of Lee Byung-hun as this movie’s metallic, morphing T-1000. “There are some themes in the original films which are eternal: what is free will? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of love? And all this juicy stuff. Those are present in our movie but we’ve tried to find a way to make it specific to our times. So our story is more about paranoia about technology. We have these mixed feelings about it. It’s so desirable and ergonomic. It’s so nicely designed, but its somehow creepy. And it’s that creepiness which we’re trying to explore, of how we’re turning too much over to the machine...”

    “Sarah is prepped and ready, an out-and-out badass.”
    Complicating matters even further is a new kind of Terminator, a possible (but unconfirmed) ‘T-3000’, rumoured to be attacking the human resistance from yet another timeline. “You have to have things you have never seen before,”  says Ellison of the movie’s still mostly shrouded-in-secrecy addition to the Terminator mythos. “Arnold was very clear about that. And we have several things you’ve never seen before. We have created a walking, breathing synthespian who is a version of the younger Arnold, that’s never been done at this kind of level. You’ve already seen just a little of that in the trailer. And we also have another entirely new terminator in this movie. We have always said that if we’re not crashing the render farm, we’re not doing our jobs properly. And we have actively been crashing it regularly as we’ve been developing this new character. So we’re very happy about that.”

    If Taylor is feeling any pressure about stepping into James Cameron’s oversized filmic footwear and revisiting the same territory as the first two movies, he isn’t showing it. “Oh, there’s no pressure at all,” he laughs. “That bar is set so high. We want to affiliate ourselves with Cameron’s own movies, they had a wonderful quality to them, a really intimate set of relationships. But they are comparatively simple stories. We have a great deal more complexity to deal with. We have more time frames, probably because we’re trying to accommodate the mythology that already exists, but also to take it somewhere else. So one of the daunting challenges has been to maintain those intimate qualities that we love while having a more complex story to tell.”

    Taylor is also tasked with the tricky challenge of negotiating the differing tones of the Cameron duo, nodding to both while providing something that will comfortably match 2015 audience expectations heightened by a decade in which Marvel Studios has taken the art of the franchise to unprecedented creative, and lucrative, levels.

    Shooting took place at Los Angeles’ Griffith Park Observatory, the location for the T-800’s memorable arrival in the (then) present day, where DP Kramer Morgenthau meticulously recreated the night-time blue/black shades of the first film for a bar-raising early fight sequence in which the older T-800 goes cyborg a cyborg  with the synthespian younger version of himself, in a technically groundbreaking sequence. “The fight  will be better than the T-800 and T-1000 from T2,” an anonymous FX insider has been quoted as claiming.
    “Arnold is at the heart of it, as our father figure.”
    Further major action beats were orchestrated in San Francisco, including the bus-flip featured in the Super Bowl spot. The VFX teams were also instructed that all sequences set in the Future War, which features heavily in the movie, match exactly the visual template established by Cameron in the first films, care and attention to detail being Alan Taylor’s constant creative touchstones. He also says it was essential to preserve what he describes as “a core dysfunctional-family element” to Kalogridis and Lussier’s script. “We spend as much time delving into that as we do going around blowing up stuff. And Arnold is at the heart of that as our father figure.”

    At that first meeting with Ellison at his office, that “father figure” made it clear he’d have to be satisfied with the new film’s screenplay before signing on. “He showed me the script and I gave him my script points, put together a list of the things that I would like to see changed,” Schwarzenegger says. “And some of those things were done. So I felt that it was a very collaborative effort and was happy that we’d be able to do it again.”

    Everyone involved is in agreement that they’d like to see that collaborative effort continue. But if Terminator Genisys is to be the first episode in a trilogy, as Schwarzenegger puts it, we’ll have to see parts two and three very soon after. Owing to changes in US copyright law, the sole rights to the characters will revert to Cameron personally in 2019. Ellison and studio Paramount, then, have four years to complete not one, but three planned movies in the new cycle. It sounds like they’ve already got it carefully mapped out. “We have a very good idea what the final line of dialogue in the final scene of the last film is,” says Dana Goldberg.

    The signs for July, then, are promising and even for beyond. The future might yet turn out to be a match for the past.

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