'Terminator Genisys' - 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 Genisys (2015) can perhaps be best summarised as the film in which the Terminator has been renamed 'Pops'. It is the fifth Terminator film and the third made without James Cameron. Terminator Genisys - or perhaps that should be Pops Genisys - returned Arnold Schwarzenegger to the role that made him famous (only now rechristened 'Pops'). Launched with a blaze of publicity and promising to be the first film in a new Terminator/Pops trilogy, it met with little interest at the box office and was widely considered yet another disappointment. More flop than pop.

Plot

On 29 August 1997 Judgement Day, a nuclear apocalypse launched by an Artificial Intelligence named Skynet, all-but destroyed the world, killing three billion. Skynet then began a programme to eliminate and enslave the survivors, using a range of different machines including human-shaped machines named Terminators. In 2029 a human resistance under the leadership of John Connor defeats Skynet shortly after it used a time-machine to send a Terminator back in time to 1984 in order to kill John Connor's mother before John is born. Knowing his close friend Kyle Reese is destined to become his father, Connor sends Reese back in time to stop the Terminator from succeeding in its mission, only for Connor to be attacked at the moment that Kyle travels back in time. During the time journey Reese experiences memories of a life in which the bombs had never fallen, with one memory stating that Skynet is Genisys though he does not know what that means.

Arriving in 1984, Reese discovers that Sarah Connor is fully aware of the events of the future, having been saved as a girl in 1973 from yet another Terminator assassination attempt by a guardian Terminator named Pops. The timeline has therefore changed beyond all recognition. After Kyle, Sarah and Pops defeat two Terminators sent after them, a T-800 model that is identical to Pops as well as a shape-changing liquid metal T-1000 model. After defeating the Terminators, Pops uses the T-800's CPU chip in order to complete a time machine called the Time Displacement Device, with which they plan to travel to 1997 and prevent Judgement Day. Reese persuades them that his new memories show that they need to travel to 2017 instead. Time travel is only possible for those covered in skin and, in the fight against the Terminators, Pops was damaged and lost his skin, exposing his metal endoskeleton. This meant that he would wait while Reese and Sarah time-jump direct to 2017.

In 2017 they are arrested but are 'rescued' by their son, John Connor, only Skynet has infected John with nanocytes, microscopic machines, in order to turn mankind's last hope for survival into Skynet's. John Connor has been turned into a T-3000 Terminator. They learn that Cyberdyne Systems, the company that originally developed Skynet in the 1990s under Miles Dyson, is now being run by his son Danny Dyson. It is about to launch Genisys, an app for tablets, phones and other devices designed to link absolutely everything together, including the US Military. Cyberdyne is also building its own time machine.

Can Sarah, Kyle and Pops defeat John Connor under the control of Skynet and prevent Skynet's creation following the launch of Genisys, and thus avert the destruction of mankind?

Cast

CharacterActor
Pops1Arnold Schwarzenegger
John Connor / T-3000Jason Clarke
Sarah ConnorEmilia Clarke
Kyle ReeseJai Courtney
Detective O'BrienJK Simmons
Skynet, aka 'Alex'Matt Smith
Danny DysonDayo Okeniyi
Miles DysonCourtney B Vance
Terminator T-1000Byung-Hun Lee
Terminator T-800 (body)Brett Azar

Other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, no actor had previously appeared in a Terminator film. An international cast was assembled for this film. While JK Simmons is American2, Arnold Schwarzenegger is Austrian, Emilia Clarke and Matt Smith are both English, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke are Australian, Dayo Okeniyi is Nigerian while Byung-Hun Lee is South Korean. Schwarzenegger's Terminator is listed in the credits as 'Guardian' though he is never called that during the film, presumably because 'Pops' is just silly.

While not played by Linda Hamilton, after two films in which the character of Sarah Connor has been dead it is great to see her return to a Terminator film. Emilia Clark plays Sarah as more experienced than the Sarah in The Terminator but not as machinelike as in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Best known for playing Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones3 in which she had been the Mother of Dragons, now the British actress played the Mother of Mankind's last hope. She has since starred in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), the first Star Wars film to flop.

Kyle Reese is now played by Jai Courtney, an Australian actor who had played baddies in Divergent (2014) and Jack Reacher (2012). John Connor was played by Jason Clarke – no relation to Emilia Clarke – but an actor who had been in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and White House Down (2013).

JK Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Whiplash (2014). He is perhaps best known for playing J Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy (2002-7).

Making of

In 2011 Megan Ellison and her film finance company, Annapurna Pictures4, bought the Terminator film rights and agreed to collaborate on making a film with her older brother David Ellison's company Skydance Productions5. They then spent two years acquiring all remaining Terminator rights to comics, games etc and in 2015 were ready to make the new film, co-financed with Paramount Productions.

They wished to return the film to a similar story to the first two Terminator films – a love story between Sarah and Kyle like the first film, with a Terminator as a father figure like the second. They consulted James Cameron on the Terminator's role and signed Arnold Schwarzenegger up to return as a T-800. Though the film was made 33 years after The Terminator Arnold was able to play an older Terminator as it had been established in the very first film that Terminators had living skin, so it was not inconceivable that a Terminator's appearance would age. Director Alan Taylor, whose film directorial debut was Thor: The Dark World (2013) had previously directed episodes of Game of Thrones.

The producers felt that fears over nuclear war were now dated and that a millennial audience were now more concerned about their mobile phones. As scriptwriters Laeta Kalogridis6 and Patrick Lussier put it when interviewed,

The risk of nuclear war no longer inspires the same technophobia, but people today do hold deep fears about the degree to which technology has become entwined in their lives… The idea of our smartphones turning against us is horrifying.

The threat of Skynet was therefore changed from a military artificial intelligence seeking the total annihilation of humanity through a nuclear apocalypse to a mobile app that can run out of battery at you.

Filming

Filming began on 21 April, 2014. The initial scenes set in 1984 were a shot-for-shot recreation of The Terminator. This proved problematical as for costume designer, Susan Matheson, who had previously designed dresses for Barbie; the shoes that Reese wore in the original film were no longer available. Eventually Paramount were able to persuade Nike to make a limited-reissue run of the 1984 Nike Vandal, which proved so popular that several pairs were stolen during production.

Though the film is set in San Francisco, comparatively little filming took place there, with the exception of the exterior of Cyberdyne's headquarters. Filming from 57 different buildings in San Francisco and combining the information in the computer created a 3D virtual San Francisco that was used in the helicopter chase sequence.

Most filming the cast took place in New Orleans instead, with some sets, particularly the Time Displacement Device7 filmed in hangers that NASA had constructed in New Orleans for the Space Shuttle construction programme. The Golden Gate Bridge scenes were filmed on a 500-foot long reconstruction in Louisiana. This was only long enough to film a speeding car for six seconds at a time, yet despite this limitation for the crash scene a real school bus was flipped 360°.

Different effects companies were used, so London-based Double Negative created the T-3000-converted John Connor while Technicolor's Moving Picture Company created the Future War sequences as well as the 1984 sequences featuring two T-800s fighting.

Though Arnold Schwarzenegger worked out to regain the same waist and shoulder measurements he had had in 1984, he had obviously aged. Brett Azar who had the same measurements was hired as Schwarzenegger's body double. Filmed with motion-control markers covering over his body, this enabled the computer to replace his body and face with that of a digital 35-year-old Schwarzenegger, the same age he appeared in 1984. He was fighting an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator in his 50s played by a 67-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger that has been digitally 'youthened', as they called it. For the scenes set in 2017 Arnold Schwarzenegger played himself at his real age complete with his natural grey hair colour.

On each previous Terminator film the Stan Winston Studio supplied the prosthetics and animatronics, however Stan Winston had died in 2008 when Terminator Salvation was in production. His former staff had since created their own company called Legacy Effects to continue his work. They retained everything that the former Stan Winston Studio had created for previous films, including life casts of Arnold Schwarzenegger made in 1984, 1991 and 2003 and the endoskeleton models. This was invaluable when duplicating Schwarzenegger.

The T-800 endoskeleton design itself was slightly modified to be sleeker than the original 1984 appearance which had been designed to contain an armature to allow stop-motion animation. It also was no longer a gleaming chrome as this had proved difficult to film without reflecting the camera crew. Components now had different colours and finishes to make it look like it was made from numerous materials, with 145 3D-printed component parts used to make a Terminator endoskeleton.

Sarah Connor shoots the T-800 with a Barrett sniper rifle firing depleted uranium rounds, which was a weapon that existed in 1984. Every type of weapon used in a previous Terminator film can be seen in Pops' armoury. The weapons that the Resistance used in the future battles were modified AK-47 rifles; when you absolutely positively have to kill every mother-Terminator in the room, accept no substitute. Fifty working guns were used in the Future War scenes and a typical take would use 3,000 rounds.

Review

Film series with several sequels are generally considered to be of diminishing quality as they progress. Once films are made where the filmmakers themselves have either lost count of how many films are in the series or stopped caring, and simply give the film a name and no number, it is always a bad sign. The plot of Terminator Genisys follows that of The Terminator quite closely for several minutes, only to veer off and explore the idea of what it would be like if one of the principle heroes of the series was now the villain. This reversed Terminator 2: Judgement Day's twist of having Schwarzenegger's Terminator as a hero.

It is apparent that the makers of Terminator Genisys wrote detailed notes of everything that happened in The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day - and then divided them up into two piles: 'Things to Blatantly Copy' and 'Things to Contradict'.

The idea of the 'nanocyte' nanites that can be used to infiltrate your body and turn you into a Terminator, killing everything that makes you you and using your body and memories at will is quite terrifying, elevating the Terminators into an enemy like the Borg in Star Trek. Matt Smith, who plays Skynet but is credited as 'Alex', had previously faced this threat before when playing the Doctor and confronted by the Cybermen in Doctor Who episode 'Nightmare in Silver' (2013).

The film's positives: Emilia Clarke makes a surprisingly welcome Sarah Connor, a character sorely missed from the previous two films. An impressive new Terminator design, the Spider Tank, a four-legged heavily-beweaponed battle-machine that can be dropped by flying Hunter-Killers, was created for this film. The plot ignored the previous two Terminator films, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and is a lot more coherent than Terminator Salvation.

Yet when watching Terminator Genisys there is no escaping from the fact that the film's plot is about a character called Pops fighting a mobile phone app with an equally silly name. It furthermore blatantly contradicted the first two films in the series, presumably on the grounds that the Star Trek reboot trilogy had got away with contradicting the original Star Trek storyline. This did not endear the film to fans. The scenes set in 2029 sadly lack the skull-strewn décor of the first three Terminator films and motorbikes also have little impact in this story.

Release

The film fared poorly in the box office, behind Jurassic World, Pixar's Inside Out and Illumination's Minions. Terminator Genisys had a production budget of $155 million and, after taking into account the amount spent on advertising, marketing and purchasing all the Terminator rights across all formats and territories, needed to earn over $400 million to break even. It made $440 million, only $90 million of which was in North America. This made it the first Hollywood film to earn $400 million worldwide without grossing $100 million in North America and the first US film to earn over $100 million in China and less than $100 million in the States.

Various merchandising was released to coincide with the film. A making of titled Terminator Genisys: Resetting the Future was published. According to the blurb on the back it claimed to be the ultimate insider's guide to the most thrilling Terminator adventure yet - only for this promise to be a lie. Inside, disappointingly the book is not about Terminator 2: Judgement Day at all, merely Terminator Genisys instead.

Sequel

The film was intended to be the first in a new Terminator trilogy, with a film due to be made a year until the US Terminator rights return to James Cameron in 2019 under US copyright law8, however following its disastrous box office performance – failing to break even in America - plans to make sequels were shelved. Paramount Pictures announced that instead of making another Terminator film, it would make Baywatch (2017) starring the Rock instead.

Writer Laeta Kalogridis when interviewed said that the second and third films would have been more about Skynet, the invention of time travel, which Skynet lacks the imagination to achieve, and who sent Pops back to 1973 to guard the young Sarah Connor. David Ellison proudly announced,

Everything will tie together, Sarah, Kyle, Pops – all of their stories are completely arced out. We can tell you what the last shot of the third movie is right now.

When James Cameron made The Terminator, he concentrated on making a good film. Years later when making Terminator 2: Judgement Day he again concentrated on making the best film he could. Since then other filmmakers have bought the Terminator rights. The makers of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines announced they were making a trilogy and made one film. There were supposed to be three seasons of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles but the show was cancelled at the end of series two. The makers of Terminator Salvation then stated they were making a trilogy, only for it to flop. When Terminator Genisys was made it was announced it would be the first in a trilogy, and flopped. The moral seems to be to just concentrate on making one good film rather than count your Terminator trilogies before they have time-travelled back from the future and tried to kill you.

1A Cyberdyne Systems Series T-800 Model 101 Terminator.2Along with Brett Azar and Courtney B Vance and other actors playing minor characters.3Her Game of Thrones co-star Lena Headey had played Sarah Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.4Founded in 2011 with the intention to finance art films, it is best known for The Master (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Her (2013).5Founded in 2006, Skydance Productions co-funds and co-produces films with Paramount Pictures, which in 2006 had separated from its parent company Viacom.6Co-writer Laeta Kalogridis has a track record of similar projects about the divide between man and machine in both film and television, starting with the remake television-series Bionic Woman (2007). Since Terminator Genisys she has written for television science-fiction series Altered Carbon (2018+) and James Cameron's Alita: Battle Angel (2019).7The Time Displacement Devices were clearly inspired by the original design for Terminator 2: Judgement Day that did not make it to screen in that film but instead appeared in Contact (1997).8The United States copyright law provides creators the right to regain ownership of copyright that they transferred to outside entities after a period of 35 years under 'Termination of Transfer' regulations under Section 203 of the 1976 Copyright Act.

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