Sometimes in order to make something new, you have to get rid of the old. And certainly, after the last few movies in the Terminator series, the franchise desperately needed something new. We spoke to Genisys writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, as well as director Alan Taylor to discuss how the newest installment reinvents the world of Terminator.
As Kalogridis laid out the goals she and the team had for the film, it’s obvious they had their work cut out for them. “What can you do that’s within the world of the franchise, that creates an alternate timeline, so that you’re not messing with any of the established events and continuity of the originals, but allows you to revisit characters that you really love and put them in different situations, at a younger age and in a more formative place?”asked Kalogridis.
Those answers come from much of what you’ve seen in the trailers. When the Terminator from the first film goes back to 1984, he’s somehow greeted by an older version of himself, both played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. When savior Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) arrives to protect Sarah Connor (Emila Clarke) somehow she already knows what’s happening. These are radical changes to the core DNA of Terminator, but also specifically conceived to work within those original films. They’re also designed so there was a logical way to bring back Schwarzenegger.
“Going into this part of the feeling was ‘What’s the evolution going from the T-800 in the first movie to the second movie?’” asked co-writer Patrick Lussier. “As the actor who plays him ages, how do you incorporate that? How do you make that part of the story? How do you make that a key element, as opposed to something you’re trying to hide? Don’t hide it, lean into it as hard as you can.”
And so Terminator Genisys started the writers leaning into that idea. The first nugget they came up with was the fight between old Arnold Schwarzenegger and young Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was the seed that got things moving. From there, the story built outward with an eye on reinvention. If the T-800 is already there, Sarah Connor must know him. What does that mean for the future? The past? Her inevitable relationship with Kyle Reese? They settled on one key idea.
“In terms of doing what you might call ‘The fun house mirror version’ of the story, there was something very attractive about taking Sarah’s character and having her not experience total loss,” Kalogridis said. “But that exists within a continuum of the other movies existing. What do you want to do with that character that would be different, that would be fun, that would be unexpected? Well, frankly, not having destroyed her world earlier, and then seeing her actually manage to survive and not lose everything, was interesting.”
They also thought it would be interesting to include a few key scenes in Terminator history that we’ve heard about and never seen. So in Genisys, we finally see the time travel machine so vital to the series. Another, however, ended up hitting the cutting room floor. There was a scene that showed John Connor (Jason Clarke) give his father, Reese, a photo of his mother in the future. It’s a moment that’s “setting into motion his own existence,” according to Lussier. (To explain, Reese sees the photo in the future, falls in love with the woman in it, then he gets her pregnant in the past, creating John.)
Director Alan Taylor explained why that scene in particular didn’t make it in. “It was taken out in favor of the idea that we would just sort of refer to the fact that he’d gotten it,” Taylor said. “We would see the more important fact was that Kyle had been carrying it around with him ever since. We realized we needed to help the audience understand that Kyle had this kind of powerful commitment to this woman without having even met her.”
Perhaps the biggest change the film makes to the Terminator mythology though is the one literally at the center of the poster: The fact John Connor, the savior of humanity in every other Terminator film, is now the villain.
If you read that and got the sense it’s a spoiler, you’d be right. “Certainly in the script it was intended [as a surprise],” Kalogridis said. But it was out of their power when Paramount chose to reveal it in the commercials and trailers. No one behind the scenes was too happy about it.
“When you create the story you are not thinking about how it will be marketed, so I can honestly say it didn’t occur to me that that would be revealed in any way before the movie came out,” Kalogridis said. “I didn’t really think about it.”
One thing they did think about, though, was if you are change so many things narratively, there has to be a balance of familiarity. And for Taylor, that was done with the visuals.
“We wanted to enjoy what was setup so strongly the first time around and sort of stir that again, but that’s only half the job,” he said. “The other half of the job is to sort of go somewhere new with it. So you can apply that to almost any category we were struggling with on this. There were some, very rich, iconic moments from the first and second movie. One of them is the endoskeleton walking out of flames or the T-1000 walking out of the flames. That was a recurring motif. And we got a kick out of making sure we included moments like that in our movie where that imagery is reprised. But then, you know, obviously we have to go into new territory. Even with familiar technology like the T-1000, we wanted to make sure we gave him some flourish moments that were unlike anything that had been seen before.”
If you’ve seen the other Terminator movies, Terminator Genisys is certainly that. It’s not like anything you’ve seen before, at least story wise. It changes lots of what you believed to be true while never ruining things that happened in the past.