'Terminator Salvation' - the Film

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The Terminator Film Series
The Terminator | Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines | Terminator Salvation | Terminator Genisys
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator Salvation is a film. Made in 2009 but set in the future world of 2018, unlike previous films in the Terminator series it does not involve any time travel and all takes place in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where artificial intelligence Skynet rules. Machines known as 'Terminators' are used to hunt, enslave and kill the surviving members of the human race, while a resistance force, of which John Connor is a member, tries to fight back.


In 2003 Marcus Wright, a condemned murderer on death row, agrees to give his body to science to help cancer research. He awakes in 2018 to a post-nuclear dystopia ruled by a sentient artificial intelligence named Skynet. Meanwhile John Connor, who leads a small group of resistance fighters, discovers that a 'new' Terminator is being developed; the T-8001. Connor, though an inspirational figurehead, is disdained by the Resistance's official Command, who see him as a self-important nuisance civilian that challenges their established military authority. The Resistance is commanded from the USS Ashdown, a submarine.

The Resistance hears Skynet announce that it will kill all of Command as well as Kyle Reese and John Connor within four days. Connor knows that if the teenage Kyle Reese is killed, he will never be able in the future to travel back in time to become his father, in the events seen in The Terminator. Reese and Star, a young girl he looks after who never talks, meet and befriend Marcus, but during a battle Reese and Star are captured by a flying Prisoner Transport which takes them to Skynet's Los Angeles headquarters, which is a hub for human prisoners. In the battle a Resistance aircraft is shot down and Marcus meets its pilot, Blair Williams. She guides Marcus to Connor, however it is revealed that Marcus is no longer fully human and is part-machine.

Command believe they have found a way to defeat Skynet. Their plan involves heavy bombing of Skynet's headquarters, which will result in the deaths of all the humans Skynet has imprisoned there, including Reese. Connor challenges Command, as he does not want the war to be fought purely with cold, calculating decisions like a machine, but with humanity and heart. This leads the members of the Resistance to listen to Connor over Command.

Can Marcus infiltrate Skynet and let Connor know where Kyle Reese is being held? Is Marcus being used to trap Connor? What other traps are being laid? Who is willing to sacrifice himself to save others and save the day? In a world turned to hell, can there be salvation?


Recurring characters who had appeared in previous films in the series appear in Bold. None of the recurring characters were played by actors who had appeared in previous Terminator films.

John ConnorChristian Bale
Marcus WrightSam Worthington
Blair WilliamsMoon Bloodgood
Dr Serena KoganHelena Bonham Carter CBE
Kyle ReeseAnton Yelchin
StarJadagrace Berry
Kate ConnorBryce Dallas Howard
General AshdownMichael Ironside

Christian Bale is a prolific actor, he rose to prominence at the age of 12 when he appeared in Empire of the Sun (1987), he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2010 and is best known as playing Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012). Sam Worthington is best known for starring in Avatar (2009), directed by James Cameron. Anton Yelchin, who died tragically young, is best known as playing Chekov in the Star Trek remake trilogy (2009-2016). Bryce Dallas Howard starred in The Village (2004), played Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3 (2007) and is perhaps best known for starring in Jurassic World (2015).

Helena Bonham Carter is an award-winning actress whose multiple film parts encompass a wide variety of classical and genre roles including Fight Club. During the making of Terminator Salvation she learned that four of her cousins had died in a tragic car accident, which led to her leaving partway through filming and completing her role later. Michael Ironside is well-known for appearances in science-fiction roles, such as Scanners (1981), V: The Final Battle (1984), Total Recall (1990) opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and Starship Troopers (1997). Common is a Grammy-winning hip-hop artist.

Joseph McGinty Nichol, known as 'McG', is guilty of directing Terminator Salvation. He had previously directed both Charlie's Angels films (2000-2002). He has not directed a big budget action film since Terminator Salvation; neither of his two films released in cinemas following it had any financial or critical impact.

Making Of

Terminator Salvation took six years to get from script to screen. When Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was being made, C2 Pictures commissioned the writing of a direct sequel to set in the post-apocalyptic world seen at that film's end. However C2 Pictures, the company who had made Terminator 3, collapsed shortly after licensing the creation of a Terminator television series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-9).

The Halcyon Company, an independent film company with big ambitions headed by Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek, acquired the Terminator rights from C2 Pictures, including the sequel script that had been written for C2. They considered the television series, complete with its small but passionately dedicated core of fans, to be a rival production, which they cancelled at the end of series two. Though this angered the core fan base of the television series who announced plans to boycott any Terminator film Halcyon made, Halcyon felt this was an insignificant number, hoping their film would appeal to casual film-goers.

Terminator Salvation

In order to fund Terminator Salvation outside the main studios, Halcyon received funding from a company called Pacificor and negotiated distribution deals with both Warner Bros and Sony Pictures. This in place, they announced that they would be making a new Terminator trilogy.

Loosely based on the existing script, the film concentrated on the post-apocalyptic world ruled by the machines. Director McG has described his agreeing to direct the fourth Terminator film by saying,

I knew there was another 'Terminator' script floating around, but I didn't want anything to do with it. It didn't appeal to me. But then I heard that the take on the film was post-Judgement Day, after the bombs had dropped, and that appealed to me. The idea that this wasn't going to be a fourth film, but a new beginning, sold me... I didn't want to do it without Jim Cameron feeling bad about the whole thing, so I wanted to talk to him about my intention. I talked to Jim and he nodded and said, 'I reserve the right to like it or not like it'.

The film's star was Christian Bale, who played existing iconic hero, John Connor. McG had originally pitched the character of Marcus Wright to Christian Bale, however Bale refused and only agreed to appear in the film if he could play Connor. Sam Worthington signed up to play Marcus Wright as he felt Marcus' journey resembled that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, only for the people he meet helping him discover his courage, brains and heart. To avoid Bale, the film's star, playing a comparatively minor role, the script needed a complete re-write.

Bale requested the highly-respected Oscar-nominated writer Jonathan Nolan, who had written films he had appeared in such as The Prestige (2005) and the Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan had a gap in his schedule before he would be unavailable, however almost as soon as Nolan was hired the Writers' Guild Strike hit and work on rewriting the script halted. When the Writer's Strike ended, Jonathan Nolan's previous commitments took precedence. As all the studios, cast and crew had been booked, filming began without the script completed and, to make matters worse, when the script they were using was leaked online, it was decided to completely change the film's ending. Without a finalised script, the plot was a mess.

The look chosen for Terminator Salvation was 'gritty realism', with dirty, grimy Terminators rather than shiny, clean machines seen in previous films. Filming also took place in the deserts near New Mexico, with an abandoned power plant doubling for Skynet's headquarters, although over 65 sets were built.

As with previous films, the Stan Winston Studio built the Terminators. This film had a wide range of models, from the basic T-1 models on guard duty to T-600s, T-700s and even a T-800 as well as hydrobots, Moto-Terminators and vehicle such as Harvesters and Hunter-Killers. As McG wanted to have as many practical effects2 as possible and for the Terminators to have a real physical presence, actors wore blue costumes beneath a special Terminator-exoskeleton suit designed by Stan Winston Studio. The blue costume allowed the actor's body to be digitally removed and replaced with effects shots showing the Terminator's inner working mechanism, making the Terminators appear unworldly and mechanical.

The biggest sequence in the film takes place when the Harvester attacks the heroes who are hiding at a 7-Eleven shop and petrol station. An actual petrol station was built with working pumps, and 7-Eleven, an actual American chain, provided both sponsorship and the signs visible in the set. As they flee, the heroes are chased by Moto-Terminators, which were based on Ducati 1100 motorcycles, and then flying HK-Aerials, which battle two resistance A-10 aircraft. At the end of the film a new T-800 is seen, with old footage of Arnold Schwarzenegger from earlier films used to impressive affect to make it appear he is the Terminator attacking John Connor.

In order for the film to look like it was set in a post-apocalyptic world, filming used Technicolor's Oz process which was then digitised and the colours manipulated using a Digital Intermediate. This process turned the blue skies grey, desaturated colours to make the future look bleak and washed out. It also allowed the director to emphasise bright red of blood as well as the grimy appearance of the Terminators so they looked more greasy and polluted.

During filming Terminator Salvation gained notoriety when a recording of Christian Bale swearing repeatedly at a lighting technician was leaked onto YouTube and was watched by millions. On release the film was not as successful as had been hoped and the Halcyon Company faced legal action from Pacificor regarding the repayment of their funding loan. They were forced to file for bankruptcy. Their plans to make another two Terminator films were abandoned.

Terminator Types

Terminator Salvation probably features more types of Terminator than any other film in the series:

T-1A tracked cross between Johnny 5, WALL·E and ED-2093
T-600Humanoid and covered with a rubber skin and wears boots, easy to detect
T-700Grimy humanoid exoskeleton
T-800Newly developed model seen in the first two films looking like Arnold Schwarzeneggar.
HK-Aerial Large, heavily armed flying weapons system used to hunt humans.
Transport Flying craft that holds imprisoned humans and comes equipped with HK-Aerials.
HarvesterThis 100-foot tall Stealth Terminator is capable of sneaking up on people completely unseen and unheard, capturing them for imprisonment on the Transport. It carries Moto-Terminators
Moto-TerminatorMotorbike-like Terminators that are armed and carried by Harvesters to hunt humans. They can be hacked and ridden by humans.
HydrobotAn eel-like metallic aquatic Terminator with a clawed head that can attack helicopters.

Impressively the hydrobot was a pneumatic and cable-controlled model capable of working in water. This was built by Stan Winston Studios, yet sadly a month into filming Terminator Salvation, Stan Winston himself passed away. The film is dedicated to his memory.

Review: The Far Future World of 2018

The film's introductory text asks 'Is John Connor a false prophet?' A better question would be 'Is Terminator Salvation a false Terminator film?' The simple truth is it is not in the same league as The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, directed by James Cameron.

In the previous films the future world is glimpsed in brief sequences, all of which are action-packed, stylish and far more poignant than this film. The imagery was previously highly consistent, yet Terminator Salvation appears completely different and is less effective. In short, it does not live up to the expectation. The future dystopia has far fewer skulls than the futures previously glimpsed in which skulls are strewn across every landscape. In fact only one skull appears in the entire film, although a Terminator does step it on4. The Terminators look dark and grimy rather than shiny chrome. There aren't any lasers and the Resistance is remarkably well-stocked on advanced aircraft and other weapons. In short, the future isn't what it used to be in earlier films.

Terminator Salvation lacks the urgent, relentless pace of previous films and is far more episodic. In each of the previous Terminator films, there had been an identifiable and terrifying enemy throughout as an ever-present threat. There isn't in this film, with a series of different Terminator models that threaten at various times, but as each is defeated or escaped it does not create the same degree of tension. Similarly the film's focus keeps changing. The film begins with John Connor. Next the film is about Marcus, Kyle and Star. Afterwards the film is about Marcus and Blair. It is then Marcus and Connor. This breaks the film into quite separate sections, as most of the characters never interact. Sadly John Connor taking and then ignoring orders issued by Command via radio lessens the tension as the characters are physically distanced from each other.

There are a lot of disassociated explosions that happen with no real relevance to the plot. For example a multi-storey building collapses for no apparent reason when a Hunter-Killer flies by. Pyrotechnics and explosions are spectacular, but if they don't affect the plot and have no impact on the characters they are pointless. Similarly Connor and Marcus fight each other for a protracted time, making the audience impatient for when they will actually get on with trying to defeat Skynet instead.

The female characters need to have been given more to do rather than serve as the foreground for impressive effects exploding behind them. For example, the character of Star does not do a great deal herself – a young girl who never speaks, she was introduced to reflect Reece's caring side that was an established part of the character in The Terminator. Moon Bloodgood who plays Blair based her performance on Sigourney Weaver in Alien which is effective but, like Kate Brewster, who is now a doctor rather than a vet, her character is not given a lot to actually do in the film's closing act.

Kyle Reese does demonstrate leadership qualities despite being a teenager, while Marcus was effectively conceived as a man who only finds his humanity when he no longer knows how human he is. The theme of salvation and redemption, for both Marcus and mankind, work well but when Connor is called a 'prophet' the film seems needlessly messianic. McG described the title with the words,

It's a biblical, two-hour definition of the word 'salvation', which is deliverance from your sins and how that's earned.

Quite important events in the film are never explained. Looming large among these is how a 100-foot tall noisy robot sneaks up on a large number of characters in the middle of a flat desert completely unnoticed. It is also never explained why Skynet's headquarters are located next to a human concentration camp. Are the humans being used as slave labour, or as guinea pigs for emotionless experiments or as a human shield to deter attacks from the resistance?

There are some enjoyable nods to the past. Connor plays 'You Could Be Mine' by Guns 'n' Roses, the same song the character had listened to in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Another moment is that John Connor and Kyle Reese end up on a Terminator assembly line. A T-800 assembly line had been in the momentous Terminator 2 trailer but had not made the finished film.

Yet overall the film sadly comes across as disappointing.


The usual array of merchandising was sold to tie-in with the release of the film. This included the inevitable console game and of course a novelisation by Alan Dean Foster as well as spin-off novels and a web-based animated series. These were marketed as being 'exploring the post-Judgement Day world of the hit movie Terminator Salvation', which rather presupposed that the film would in fact be a hit. There was also a making of book published entitled Terminator Salvation – The Official Movie Companion, which strangely does not at any point mention Christian Bale's infamous tirade. Its opening sentence is 'Why make another Terminator movie?'.

The Terminator Film Series
The Terminator | Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines | Terminator Salvation | Terminator Genisys
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
1This is the same model that had been sent to kill his mother before he was born in the events seen in The Terminator.2Practical effects are special effects produced physically on the set rather than virtually in a computer and added in post-production.3Robot characters first seen in Short Circuit (1986), WALL·E (2008) and Robocop (1987).4While Kyle Reese says that the difference between men and machines is that men bury their dead, this presumably does not apply to skulls.

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