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A Charlie Bielinski Pop-Ed: Does the 'Terminator' Reboot Compute?

According to copyright law, the rights to the Terminator film franchise will revert back to James Cameron in 2019. That means that Paramount and Annapurna Pictures have five years left to see what they can produce now that Arnold Schwarzenneger has said he will be back (hee hee) playing the killing machine first sent back from the future to protect Sarah Connor in 1984.

As if Emilia Clarke doesn’t already have enough geek cred, the Mother of Dragons is going to be joining Arnold as the Mother of John Connor, Sarah Connor. In addition, Jason Clarke, an actor I have been a fan of since he played Tommy Caffee in Brotherhood on Showtime, is in negotiations to be the sixth actor to portray Sarah’s son, John Connor, the leader of the human resistance against Skynet (think I am counting wrong, think again).

While all three pieces of the casting are pretty cool news, what exactly does all of this mean for the future of the Terminator movie franchise? Especially considering the news that there will also be another attempt at a Terminator television series, also produced by Annapurna.

I honestly don’t remember watching the original film for the first time other than that it must have been sometime in the mid 1980s on VHS, because I certainly didn’t see it when it was first released in the theater. I do know that I enjoyed that first viewing enough to want to be in a seat at the historic Strand Theater in downtown Brockport, N.Y., for Terminator 2: Judgment Day during the opening weekend for the sequel. This experience I remember quite well thanks to the mother who brought her 5-year-old child and needed to explain every sequence loudly to him over the sound of explosions and Guns N’ Roses. With the exception of a baby crawling in the front of a theater in West Palm Beach during a midnight screening of Spider-Man, that 5-year-old may be the craziest thing I have ever seen in a movie theater (outside of me taking my 9-year-old niece to see Snakes on a Plane — story for another time).

I’ve never felt that Cameron’s second Terminator film needed a direct sequel, as it ends perfectly with a great voiceover from Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, explaining that while “the unknown future rolls towards us,” she “has a sense of hope.” I know that the DVD version ends a bit differently, but the message is the same: Judgment Day has been averted and the story is over. Cameron definitely felt this way and he decided not to return and direct the third film because he thought the story was finished. However, the third film performed fairly well at the box office, especially in foreign markets, which led to the fourth film which starred a post-Batman Christian Bale.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a film that I never stop to watch as I scroll down the channel guide while sitting on the couch. Terminator Salvation, however, is a different story. That film may not have been a masterpiece, but the first film in the series without Arnold (his CGI head doesn’t count) was entertaining even if it was only slightly more successful at the box office than Cameron’s first film. Seeing how John Connor became the leader of the human resistance was interesting, and I was actually intrigued to see how the next few films of the planned trilogy would continue the story. I didn’t even consider Rise of the Machines when watching Salvation, even though Rise of the Machines depicted the start of the war, but rather thought of Salvation as the film that defined the war we had briefly glimpsed in the first film and had been hearing about ever since.

In between Rise and Salvation, a television series aired that bridged the gap between the second and third movies quite deftly. The Sarah Connor Chronicles showed Sarah and John on the run being protected by Cameron, an undisclosed model Terminator played by Summer Glau. This show fit perfectly into the already established continuity and even added some elements to the mythology, including a brother for Kyle Reece played by Brian Austin Green. Green’s character also was part of an incredibly shocking television moment that I was disappointed was never truly resolved due to the cancellation of the show.

The television show ended in 2009 and Salvation was released right after the last episode of the show aired. The rights for the franchise were up for auction and Joss Whedon even made an attempt at obtaining them for the paltry sum of $10,000, which he claims wasn’t an insult but an honest what the heck let’s see what happens amount of money. He even discussed a plan of allowing other filmmakers to make films and tell stories within the universe, citing the original film and sequels as big influences on his career. Alas, the geek gods had different plans for Joss, and thankfully he is free to continue to work in the Avengers universe unburdened by Terminator obligations.

All of this history leads us to the very crowded film summer of 2015 and the July 1 release date of Terminator Genesis. We know Arnold and both unrelated Clarkes are on board for the film, all of which prompt some questions. Can an Arnold who is now a decade older pull off playing an ageless killer robot once again, thirty years after his first naked appearance? Will he be evil like in the first film or a protector like in the sequels he appeared in? How will the film address the fact that Jason Clarke, if he truly will be playing John Connor, is 18 years older than Emilia Clarke? So far it has been stated that this film will be the first in a stand-alone trilogy in the Terminator universe, although that statement itself seems odd because how can it be stand-alone when it features all the main characters in the established canon.

Complicating the stand-alone statement even further is the announcement of the new television show that will apparently spin-off from a point in the original film and tie-in to the new planned trilogy. A trilogy that seems nearly impossible to pull off considering the fact that Cameron gets the rights back in five years. Of course, he will likely still be way too involved in Avatar sequels to care about T-800s, T-880’s and the Connor family when he does regain the rights.

According to the press release from Annapurna, which will be responsible for producing both the series and trilogy, “as the rebooted film trilogy and the new television series progress, the two narratives will be designed to intersect with each other.” An ambitious plan with a 20 million dollar investment that is sure to make the studio money.

I, for one, am balancing my disappointment at the obvious investment by Annapurna to make money (how dare they) with the excitement of the recent casting announcements. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the actor rumored to be in every new action movie that is announced these days. Dwayne Johnson, who already has one film in summer 2015 with Fast and Furious 7, has been rumored to be playing a new Terminator model.

New Terminator properties are being created whether or not the public wants them. I’d like to just make a casting suggestion. There has to be a place for Michael Biehn in one of these projects. That guy should have been Tom Cruise.

But that’s a story for another column.
A Charlie Bielinski Pop-Ed: Does the 'Terminator' Reboot Compute? Reviewed by Charlie Bielinski on 12/23/2013 Rating: 5

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