Last night we were treated to about 15 minutes of Terminator Salvation footage. Spoilery details of what's going on below, plus McG's confession that the ending might piss people off.
James Cameron loyalists, rest assured: it's going to be a fun ride.
Before the screening, director McG sat us all down, and told us the tale of getting Terminator Salvation made. The producers approached him with the idea, and he was initially skeptical - as I would be if I heard someone pitch another Terminator movie.
But McG liked the angle, and went about procuring the best and the brightest, starting with seeking out James Cameron for a pseudo-blessing, and ending with Christian Bale telling him to rewrite the entire thing, or he's out. McG's a smart director, he knew he needed someone with crazy acting chops to make fighting a giant robo-puppet believable these days. So he hired Jonah Nolan, and they wrote the story that we all love to watch: the creation of a hero.
"We started working on this becoming story of how Connor indeed became the leader of the resistance," McG explained. "And we were both passionate about those genesis stories where you think, "I'm just a high school newspaper guy." "No, you're Peter Parker. With great power comes great responsibility." "I'm just a computer hacker." "No, you're Neo. You're the one." We like that idea. This is the story about how Connor became the leader of the resistance."
But on to the goods, first the was a quickie compilation that showed a cavalry of helicopters coming to the rescue, and general John Connor ass-kickery. But finally they got to the clips: the first scene was all about Sam Worthington's character Marcus Wright, meeting Kyle Reese. To put it McG style:
When you meet Marcus in the beginning of the movie, he's being put to death in the modern day. And he's down on himself... He's in this life of privilege that he only ever saw the bad side to. Then he wakes up in this world of duress, after the bombs have gone off. And he discovers what is worthwhile about humanity. The courage of this little kid, the kindness of an elderly woman..."
Marcus, Kyle Reese and an unknown floppy-haired kid descend upon the hollowed out, worn-down 7-11 (that we've seen in set pictures before). The two scavenge for food, as a bewildered Marcus looks on. Reese is practically telling Marcus what to do and what not to do, which jibes with what McG told us about Marcus waking up in another world in the future, unaware of what has happened to him, or around him. The look itself is silvery and dirty, thanks to the specially tinted film McG mixed up himself. Everyone has a bit of a silver gloss over the shadowy part of his face, and dark circles and wrinkles are amplified to the 1000th degree across the screen. It's beautifully brutal.
The floppy-haired kid finds a small amount of milk, but they before they can devour it, a group of Mad Max-looking types pop out of their hiding places, guns a-blazin'. They shout that this is their food and fuel. Reese tries to exit without setting off any itchy trigger fingers. Yet a wise old woman stops the gang and offers up some food to the kid with the bad hair. Everyone calms down for a minute, but you all know that when things are too quiet, there's a big bad on the way. Sure enough a massive metal Harvester rips through the ceiling and carries off the good-natured woman. All the others disperses to their assembly of beat-up Saabs and trailers, and speeds away in fear, to their detriment of course. These Harvesters are wreaking destruction, "all in the interest of collecting humans so they can do nasty things to us, all in the spirit of creating the T-800," the director explained. Run, humans, run to your dirty cars and grab your shotguns, but it will do you no good, that Harvester is damn near indestructible. The action scene was tightly filmed and, thank god, didn't have an inch of shaky cam.
Since we got a good look at the really big bots in Terminator Salvation, let's just nip this whole Transformers versus Terminator controversy in the bud. Even though the effects that I witnessed last night were by no means finished, you could see what McG and friends were trying to do.
Granted, the Harvester does shoot off the wheelie Mototerminators from its legs in a very Transformery manner, but it's nothing like Transformers. The Harvesters rattle off a guteral moan so frightening, it'd make the Cloverfield monster piss his pants. It's cold, calculating robots killing and abducting men, the best way they know how. There's no personality or sassy attitudes, it is simply a gloriously intense moment of robots exterminating and capturing people. If anything, the few moments I caught felt more like the first 15 terrifying minutes of Planet Of The Apes more so than Transformers, especially with the fast pace and the ever-present fear of being dragged about by a robot into a pen filled with humans. It's cruel and fast, just like a Terminator should be. No room for witty banter or "talk to the hand" references in this movie - it would be out of place in a world where milk is a luxury.
Someone asked McG if he was worried about the Transformers comparison, and he pretty much blew it off, saying the movies are so completely different, that they just couldn't be compared.
Most of the music was filler, since the great Danny Elfman has just signed on board for Terminator 4. But we got to hear McG's original idea, of using Gustavo Santaolalla for the human-interaction scenes, paired with Thom Yorke's Radiohead robot-dream tunes for any Skynet heavy moments. This idea got thrown to the wayside after sitting down and talking with the regular spooky Elfman. Note to Yorke: it's still totally okay to pursue this idea, in fact, I'll send you my money now to see what kind of sounds you'd dream up for a Terminator flick.
The next scene pitted John Connor against a Hydrobot's tentacles, which easily kill off his crew and sinks Connor's hovering helicopter. Finally after a few more minutes of Hydrobot wrasslin', we're treated to a tiny taste of what McG described as a Faustian deal with the devil moment. He was talking about Marcus, who's been exposed as a Terminator, finding an uneasy truce with Connor so they can bust the young Kyle Reese out of the human containment facility. Yet another awesome action scene, and I admit I had a few "Oh no, look out behind you, J.C." moments. But my appetite wasn't quenched with the back-and-forth. McG is making a platform for this movie based on the stand-out dialog and acting, and I wanted to see a lot more of that.
In fact I have a feeling a lot of this movie may be full of Bale-face:
"Christian is so powerful," McG said. "There are several times in the movie where I stay on him for one shot and I don't cut. I'm talking 2 or 3 pages of dialogue where you stay on Christian Bale. He's controlling his breathing, he's choosing when he blinks, he's in such command of his physicality that it doesn't require cutting."
So does the back-and-forth moment deliver? Sure. Is it the most amazing intense holy-shit-my-mind-is-blown moment? Not yet, but I feel like that is yet to come (probably in the final big reveal). Which is pretty much what I'm hinging this entire movie upon. So far, it is full of good looking adrenaline inducing crazy that hits right in the gut where a great action movie should. So if you believe McG about Bale's performance, pair that with Bale's acting on set and you won't be able to rip your eyes away from him.
Still, we all know about the big twist ending that's been reported wildly across the internet, which the director insisted again was completely not true, but either way we know there is a twist. A twist that may "piss off a lot of people," quoth McG. This is what I'll hang my final decision on, only because it should change the way I view everything about the past and future of the Terminator franchise.
I'm just so happy to report to all of you that it's really coming together nicely. Our goal was always to make a big movie, one of the best movies. Because for a long time there I think the summer fare really fell off. And summer movies were becoming a little sloppy, a little disposable. I think with the Dark Knight this year that's an elegant, elegant artistic offering, and the second biggest picture in the history of cinema.
So if we're clever, we can make a big movie that's a lot of fun but and certainly a summer movie - but also an important movie, especially a movie in this genre. I think any good science fiction movie really works on two levels. The Matrix is a great example where you can watch it and say "Hey wow, that's fun that's really explosive" and then all of us can go to a graduate class at NYU and spend four years discussing the theological implications of what the Wachowskis were discussing.
Me too, McG, me too. No longer shall I join in the "fuck that guy from Charlie's Angels" chorus (which the director himself pointed out was one of the most hated on things about him thus far, besides the name). God help me, after last night I'm really pushing for a McG victory here.