“I”LL BE BACK.” For twelve years dating back to the summer of 1991, those three spoken words brought to mind two distinct thoughts when heard. One was Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action-star of the previous two decades and a man whose most famous role was that of a machine. The second, the greatness and glory that was the Terminator franchise. That’s right, was. I say this because currently, in the summer of 2009, this film series is no longer what it use to be, it has not been for a long time. From the early-1990s to the early-2000s, the Terminator franchise was thought of as a ‘Golden Goose,’ a film brand that possessed not only two of the greatest action movies produced in the last quarter century, but also two films with a heart at the core of them, a deeper meaning that what was presented from their outer endoskeletons. The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) were more than just standard blow-em up actions films, they were films of quality and emotion. The 1st film exemplified how an unstoppable cyborg from the future could take a backseat to the love story between two people from drastically different worlds. Then the 2nd, where that same unstoppable cyborg forms a bond with a child he was once sent to kill, only to end with one of the most tearful goodbyes ever put on screen, while lowering itself to its self-termination. These films made the Terminator name credible with nearly anyone who had seen either motion picture, yet today, any credibility that it once possessed has all but gone away.
It began in the summer of 2003, with the worldwide release of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), the third installment of the science-fiction franchise. Though excessively hyped as the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to his signature role, it lacked the vision and heart of one James Cameron. Cameron, the creator and godfather of the franchise, had written and directed the first two films only to pass on the third for reasons unknown. Rumors suggest it may have been due to a creative control feud between himself and the producers, Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vanjar, who had also produced the 2nd installment. Nevertheless, a 3rd film was made without Cameron, and though highly regarded for its all out ballsy ending, this ‘threequel’ was viewed as nothing more than a cash in on the Terminator name. Later that year, Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, leaving behind his acting career and his most famous franchise. Years later, in the winter of 2008, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles premiered on FOX television network, a series based on the story of Sarah Connor and her son John following the events in T2. Regardless of the show’s love-hate relationship with the fans, it marked a step down from James Cameron’s original vision as it had now gone the way of TV, where anything and everything could happen, again slowly scraping away at the franchise’s golden credibility. Then the summer of 2009 came, where it can be said the final nail in the coffin came down on the Terminator’s casket. First, the T:SCC was cancelled, an expected move due to its low ratings. Then on May 21st, Terminator Salvation opened nationwide, a letdown on many levels for Terminator fans everywhere. Not only was Arnold Schwarzenegger in nothing more than a minor CGI-ed cameo, it also possessed a PG-13 rating, a no-no in the realm of the Terminator universe. From it’s horrible reviews, to disappointing box office ($125 million domestically and $370 million worldwide with a hefty $200 million budget), to angry fans who had come to believe its film’s director, McG, would deliver on the movie he had so passionately hyped, what resulted was nothing more than a mindless action flick, and perhaps the death of the Terminator franchise.
In result of the disappointing Terminator Salvation and the cancellation of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, few would argue the fact that the Terminator brand has become just another action franchise such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series or the Bourne films. Though good action flicks within themselves, they substantially lack any true emotional value. You don’t leave the theater feeling like your heart strings have been pulled, something James Cameron always perfected. The Terminator universe use to embody this with it’s first two entries in the franchise, yet in many ways, has lost its luster, its credibility. I guarantee there’s not an A-list writer or director out there who would dare even touch the franchise right now due it seemingly being on life support. Recently, McG has spoken of following up Terminator Salvation quickly with T5, stating he would like to explore time travel and have a more profound antagonist within the picture. Speaking with IGN.com, he states, “[The] idea is to play with one of the tried and true rules of the franchise – time travel – and introduce it in this picture. I don’t want to share too much, but let’s just say it’s very, very likely that John Connor is going to end up running through rooms like this where he knows something that none of us know…[We’ll] have a much more clearly defined antagonist in the new picture. It will be more of a chase movie with a new Terminator that is on your ass.” Interesting choice of words to say the least, but we all know now how McG has a way of making things sound better than they are. Even a cast member of TS, or cut cast member, Terry Crews, had some not so nice things to say about the director when speaking with Randy Jennings of The Arnold Fans recently. Crews stated his displeasure with the film and McG saying, “To hell with Terminator 4, it’s horrible…It’s the worst one and McG ruined the franchise.”
It’s hard to say what can be done now to fix the balance in the Terminator universe. My suggestion? First off, boot McG. The man may not be all to blame for TS as that dishonor is due more towards the script writers, John Brancato and Michael Ferris, but the director seems too caught up in talking up a fight, but not having the fortitude to back up his statements. Second, somehow Haylcon needs to either sell the rights of the franchise or have another producer buy them, which is wishful thinking considering the poor state of the Terminator franchise is currently in. Ideally, the best that can be done is the rights are sold to a quality studio or, hope willing, brought back to James Cameron so he can finally own what is rightfully his. Third, if Cameron can’t come back, get quality writers to work on the script who care about the Terminator mythos and want to produce a great film. Finally, Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to come back to the franchise than has defined his film career. Whether it be as a soldier or the cyborg we know and love, he return is a definite must. Yet, as Sarah Connor once said, “The untold future rolls towards us.” And I look at it with a sense of hope.