Posted Thu Jun 25, 2015 at 08:20 AM PDT by Matthew Hartman
It was only a matter of time before another 'Terminator' film invaded movie theaters worldwide. With the July 1st release of 'Terminator Genisys', this is a great time to take a look at the Terminator franchise and its lasting impact on films, video games, and even comic books!
The Terminator (1984)
"I'll be back."
In the near future, the world is a wasteland after a sentient computer program called Skynet unleashed the nuclear holocaust that brought mankind to the brink of extinction. To finish the job, Skynet built robotic soldiers called Terminators, cyborgs designed to look like humans and programed to kill people on sight. A lone resistance warrior, John Connor, rallied humanity's last survivors into an underground resistance force and took the war to the machines. As humanity turned the tide and put the machines on the run, Skynet got the bright idea to send one its cyborg killing machines (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back through time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the man leading the human resistance before he's born. Humans would send one of their own soldiers Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) to protect her - only he couldn't bring any weapons from his own time.
Shot almost entirely at night and on a slim budget, Writer and Director James Cameron managed to create one of film's most popular characters leading to the creation of a franchise that has lasted for over 30 years. Part of the brilliance of this film is the fact that it plays like a serial killer thriller but with a science fiction twist. You have a killer with a motive gunning for a specific target while that target has a lone protector to keep her safe. Adding to the overall feel of the film is the fact that is has a great sense of humanity. Seeing two people thrown together in the midst of an extreme situation provides for some genuine character moments and realistic emotional responses. Sarah moves from being a meek woman without any purpose in life to become someone willing to fight to save her own life and protect future generations. Her character transition in this film makes her the perfect springboard for a sequel.
While 'The Terminator' may not have lit up the box office, it was popular enough to make a solid $38,000,000 and help cement James Cameron's career as a genre filmmaker and propel the film's star, Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom. Arnold would go on to star in such classics as 'The Running Man,' 'Red Heat,' 'Predator,' while Cameron would create genre classics like 'Aliens' and 'The Abyss' before the two would re-team seven years later for 1991's 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day.' My first experience with this movie was watching it on broadcast TV with my Dad, much to my Mom's irritation. The deal had always been if a movie was on TV it's okay for me to se and I loved it, every single minute of it's edited for content amazingness. Eventually we bought our own VHS copy and watch it to the point that we'd have to constantly press the tracking button to get the image to stabilize. So when it came time for us to pop in a copy of 'Total Recall' my Dad and I were at the edge of our seats when the first teaser trailer for 'Terminator 2' came on our then massive 24 inch TV screen.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
"Hasta la vista, baby!"
After Skynet's first T-800 cyborg failed to kill off Sarah Connor in 1984, it decided to let its big dog off the chain - the liquid metal shape-shifting killing machine the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and go after a child-aged John Connor (Edward Furlong) in 1991. Future John Connor and the resistance being as awesome as they are, reprogram a T-800 cyborg that is the same make and model from the previous film and zip it back through time to act as John's protector. Unfortunately, Sarah is estranged from her young son who lives in foster care while she's locked up in a mental institution after attempting to blow up a computer factory. Over the last seven years Sarah has trained her mind and body for the coming apocalypse and passed that same knowledge onto her son. John is mechanical and tech savvy enough to know how to repair his motorbike and use a portable computer terminal to hack ATMs and rip off other people's cash. As both Terminators arrive at around the same time, it becomes a race to see who reaches the boy first. Since the T-1000 is a far more advanced machine, Sarah, John, and the T-800 are out gunned and out matched as they attempt to halt Skynet's creation.
As Nigel Tufnel might say, this sequel was turned up to 11. It had a bigger budget, bigger action sequences, better visual effects, and the story played against a much larger canvas. While everything may have been bigger about this movie, it thankfully had a grounded heart and never lost sight of the human element as two robots went full fisticuffs. There is a strong message about humanity and the importance of preserving life throughout the film and is embodied in the fact that Arnold's new T-800 model is programed not to kill people - instead favoring non-lethal methods of dispatching pesky police officers who attempt to keep Sarah, John, and the T-800 from achieving their goal of saving the world. This film was made at the dawn of CGI effects and only used sparingly.This was the first time that James Cameron could achieve his dream of a liquid metal killer that he'd originally planned for the first film, and the results were spectacular.
At the time of its production 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day' was one of the most expensive movies ever made with a production budget of just over $100,000,000. That number seems quaint today, but what's really impressive is its box office haul. Apparently this sequel hit with fans because it brought in over $200,000,000 domestic with a worldwide tally of nearly $520,000,000! Considering how many times my family and I saw this movie in theaters - that really shouldn't be all that surprising. When you factor in that the average ticket price in 1991 was a scant $4.21, it makes that final number all the more impressive. For my family, this was a movie we went to see in theaters over and over again. We probably saw it at least four times before we finally bought the VHS release. It was the movie of the summer. More amazing now is how the film had a lot of tie-in marketing aimed directly at kids including comic books, action figures, and video games! Even more impressive is how this film still stands the test of time, even the presence of two lesser sequels can't tarnish the fact that this film stands as one of the greatest action/science fiction movies ever made.
"Talk to the hand."
Over ten years after the events of the previous film, John Connor (Nick Stahl) is living life off the grid. After destroying the labs at Cyberdine and killing off the T-1000, Judgement Day, August 29th 1997 came and went without anything happening. Even with the world apparently saved, John just can not shake a bad feeling that his saga isn't over yet. He has reason to feel this way. The demolition of the Cyberdine labs was just a hiccup in the military's plan to create the ultimate defense network capable of thinking for itself and assessing threats on its own. On this night, the Skynet from the future has once again sent another Terminator back in time to ensure that humanity can't unplug the system. This new super terminator, a female looking machine code-named T-X, is tasked with hunting down all of John Connor's future officers disrupting the resistance effort before can even begin. One person on the T-X's target list is Kate Brewster (Claire Danes). Kate is destined to be John's future wife and her father also happens to be the project director for Skynet. To ensure their survival, the resistance has sent back another captured Arnold Schwarzenegger T-800 to serve as a protector for John and Kate (thankfully there isn't a "Plus 8"). Together they must attempt to prevent Skynet from going online and destroying the world.
12 years is a very long time between sequels. After a series of starts and stops with the rights for The Terminator franchise in limbo, a third film felt like it was never going to happen. Not helping matters was the fact that series guru James Cameron was too busy directing 'Titanic' and putting together a possible Spider-Man film to be worried about terminators. Once the rights were sorted out, not even the lack of Cameron's involvement could keep this franchise dormant. With a budget north of $200,000,000 and under the direction of journeyman director Jonathan Mostow, Arnold Schwarzenegger dusted off his leathers and sunglasses and got himself back into Terminator shape. The results were decidedly mixed. Even with an R rating, the franchise was already starting to show its softer side favoring a goofier sense of humor and mitigating the onscreen gore effects. Many fans were happy to see the Austrian Oak play his signature character again, but the rampant gay jokes and silly side references dragged this film down.
I remember seeing this movie in theaters with my Dad. Since we were both long-time 'Terminator' fans, we left the theater feeling a bit mixed. On one hand we though the action was strong, solid, and suspenseful, but then on the other hand… we didn't like Terminator talking to a hand. While one of the most endearing aspects of 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day' was it's sense of humor, that film also had a heart and a thread of humanity to push it forward. That heart and humanity was sadly missing when it came time to give the world 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.' What felt promising was the end of the film. With the heroes unable to thwart destiny, 'Terminator 3' would serve as a springboard for a new series of films that would take place entirely during the future war events offering fans something new to look forward to. Unfortunately that film turned out to be the neutered 'Terminator Salvation.'
Terminator Salvation (2009)
"What ARE YOU!"
Judgement day has happened. Billions of people have been killed and humanity hangs on by a thread, surviving in clusters and pockets of resistance fighters. Skynet is hard at work hunting down and tracking all humans in order to wipe them off the planet using mechanized killing machines. These early model terminators may be relatively simple to kill, but can be formidable in large numbers. After a botched mission to infiltrate a Skynet laboratory, John Connor (Christian Bale) is the only surviving member of his squad - but he has found valuable information. Not only has he found the potential "off switch" for Skynet, he's also learned that the next model Terminator, the one he's feared his entire life is going into production and the machines require living human subjects. In the laboratory wreckage, a young man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) wakes up and makes his way to the surface. The last memories Marcus has is of being strapped to a gurney and executed for his crimes 15 years earlier. After meeting up with a young man named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) Marcus sets out to find John Connor - the man who could give him answers to who he is… or what he is.
After 'Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines' charted the course for the franchise to continue onward with the future war story, production took a lot of time and several massive script overhauls before 'Terminator Salvation' could make it to movie screens. $200,000,000 later critics and fans gave the film a chilly reception. The two basic elements of the 'Terminator' franchise of time travel and Arnold Schwarzenegger were missing (I refuse to count that creepy CGI Arnold). Add to the fact that the film's trailers basically spoiled the main mystery and best scenes of the film and the misguided decision to tailor the film for a PG-13 audience, and this film only managed to pull in $125,000,000 domestically - making any further Terminator films and Director McG's involvement unlikely. Making this film feel all the more tragic, it is the last Terminator film that special effects master Stan Winston worked on before he passed away.
The build up to this film was certainly exciting. Christian Bale as John Connor seemed like brilliant casting and having the new "It" leading man Sam Worthington certainly looked good on paper, but something went very wrong. According to several accounts, Paul Haggis had done a draft everyone loved and was the reason for Bale's signing on to another big franchise, but apparently three weeks before filming that draft was thrown out and rewritten entirely by Shawn Ryan, Jonathan Nolan, and Anthony E Zuiker. Of all the Terminator films thus far, this one feels like there were way too many cooks in the kitchen. Add in a needlessly convoluted plot and entirely too much fan service and you have a mess of a movie. While moments are entertaining, the action sequences make little sense and the reason for Marcus Wright being a super Terminator with emotions as Skynet's big plan to kill John Connor makes even less sense. After this movie, a reboot was virtually assured. Now with 'Terminator Genisys' we're getting a reboot/reset/remake all in one! Will it be any good? We'll just have to wait until July 1st to find out.
Terminator Beyond The Silver Screen
After the popularity of the first 'Terminator' film it was only natural for the marketing and promotional tie-in machine to start churning out everything from video games to comic books to an unfortunately cut short television series.
Set after the events of 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day' Sarah (Lena Heady) and John (Thomas Dekker) are on the run, constantly looking over their shoulders for Skynet's next big attack plan. The resistance was able to send a protector back through time, a female looking Terminator called Cameron (Summer Glau) to protect Sarah and John while working to prevent Judgement Day with the help of an FBI Agent (Richard T. Jones). What they uncover is a sinister plot that reaches beyond the creation of Skynet and involves individuals engrained within the United States military. Was the show any good? Tough to say. I dug it over all, but viewership for this show never took off. With an expensive production budget and the writer's strike - this series was Terminated before it could come to a satisfying end. Thankfully with the Blu-ray's readily available, fans can watch the 31 episodes over and over again and wonder where it was going to go.
Now, since this was a popular property, Dark Horse Comics started producing a tangent comic book series to complement the films. At the same time, Dark Horse was also producing a line of comics based off of the RoboCop series. After the insane success of comic series like 'Batman Vs Predator' and 'Alien VS Predator' - it didn't take them long to start putting together a 'RoboCop VS Terminator' property. Written by genre favorite and 'RoboCop 2' and 'RoboCop 3' writer Frank Miller, this miniseries reimagines the Terminator and RoboCop franchises as being intrinsically linked. As the first true cybernetic organism, RoboCop is needed by Skynet to create it's army of terminators. It's a wild idea but it actually works incredibly well. I don't want to spoil it for people who haven't read it, but consider the fact that the comic was so good it inspired a video game spin off for the Super NES and Sega Genesis systems, and most recently an entire line of toys from Neca!
Terminator 2: Judgement Day The Arcade Game
'Terminator' has appeared on virtually every video game system from the Sega Master System all the way up to the Playstation 3. Even with numerous iterations, the pinnacle has always been this incredible coin-op shooter. With twin guns, you could attempt to play through the key moments of the film solo or with a buddy - either way you were destined to burn your entire allowance feeding quarters into this machine at the local video arcade. Thankfully every child and parent was spared bankruptcy when this game was successfully ported over to the Sega Genesis and the Super NES. Since you could fire this thing up with either a controller or the Superscope Six or the Sega Menacer, 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day The Arcade Game' became a favorite in my home. Portable gaming junkies could even get their game on with port overs for the Nintendo Gameboy or the Sega Game Gear! As video arcades have vanished over the years, I still come across one of these coin-op machines at movie theaters and pubs. Nostalgia kicks back in and I can't help but feed a couple dollars into the machine and enjoy getting my butt kicked by the relentless Terminator onslaught.
After 30 years, 5 films, a dozen video games, a TV series and numerous comic book series 'The Terminator' is alive and well. Even if this new film featuring an aged T-800 cyborg played once again by the Austrian Oak fails, it's virtually guaranteed that there will be more Terminator films to come. If they're still making these movies in 30 years I'll be more than happy, because that means the video games, the cross promotion with other franchises (How hasn't there been an Alien Vs Terminator comic?), and best of all the incredible action figures that are being made by outfits like Neca or Hot Toys will continue to endure the test of time. I know where I'll be July 1st!
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