Why ‘Terminator: Genesis’ Deserves to Be Terminated

Terminator: Genesis, the upcoming installment of the 30-year-old franchise, is scheduled to start production soon at Viacom's (NASDAQ: VIA  ) Paramount Pictures.

The new film, a reboot intended to spawn a new trilogy of films, will be directed by Alan Taylor and star Jason Clarke as John Connor, Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular character.

(Source: Empire Online)

Like other recent 1980s sci-fi reboots -- Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) /Columbia's Total Recall and MGM's Robocop -- bringing Terminator back to life was a controversial decision, since many fans consider the first two films, co-written and directed by James Cameron, to be a self-contained masterpiece that reached a definitive conclusion.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, which were made without Cameron's involvement, failed to measure up to the critical and commercial success (in terms of ROI) of the first two films.

Film

Distributor

Production cost

Global box office

Rotten Tomatoes

The Terminator (1984)

Orion

$6 million

$78 million

100%

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

TriStar

$102 million

$520 million

92%

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Warner Bros./Columbia

$200 million

$433 million

70%

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Warner Bros./Columbia

$200 million

$371 million

33%

Source: Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes

Orion Pictures (now part of MGM) and TriStar (part of Sony) distributed the first two films, while Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) /Warner Bros. and Sony's Columbia division respectively co-marketed the two newer films domestically and internationally.

Halcyon Company, which held the rights to Terminator, filed for bankruptcy in August 2009 after the release of the fourth film, and the rights were eventually acquired by Annapurna Pictures in 2011 for a rumored $20 million. Paramount eventually agreed to co-finance Terminator Genesis, which is now scheduled to be released in 2015. Yet Annapurna then surprisingly passed the rights to Skydance Productions, which is now continuing Annapurna's agreement with Paramount.

Meanwhile, the rights to Terminator will revert back to James Cameron in 2019 -- which means that Skydance and Paramount are clearly trying to finish a new trilogy before Cameron can assume direct control over his flagship franchise.

Why directors repeatedly misunderstand Terminator
After James Cameron left the Terminator franchise, its subsequent directors (Jonathan Mostow in Terminator 3 and McG in Terminator Salvation) failed to understand why Terminator fans loved the first two films.

When James Cameron made Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he cleverly altered the main premises of the first film -- the original Terminator was reprogrammed to protect, assuming a fatherly role to John Connor, while Sarah Connor evolved from a damsel in distress into a fully armed woman warrior. The liquid metal T-1000 was such a frightening upgrade from the T-800 that it still terrifies audiences 23 years later.

(Source: Manilovefilms.com)

Most importantly, Terminator 2 brought the story to a poetic conclusion, where a killing machine chose to sacrifice itself to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. It's clear from interviews and the film's alternate ending (which depicts an elderly Sarah Connor 30 years in the future) that Cameron never intended for the franchise to continue.

Unfortunately, that definitive ending was replaced by a vague ending that left the door partially open for a sequel.

In Terminator 3, Jonathan Mostow recycled the plot of Terminator 2, but threw out the film's best qualities by killing off Sarah Connor, changing John Connor into a drug addict, bringing back a T-800 that lacked any charm, and worst of all, letting Judgment Day occur simply to allow the franchise to live on. There were no deeper lessons to be learned -- only an abundance of headaches to be had from CGI-fueled battles and the nihilistic retcon of Cameron's first two films.

McG continued Mostow's ill-advised footsteps by fast forwarding the plot into the future with Terminator Salvation. Warner Bros. had hoped that Salvation would be the start of a new trilogy, but that didn't pan out after a series of lawsuits erupted between the producers and the film's financial backers in 2009. Salvation also lacked any of the charm or emotional depth of Terminator 2, and resembled a generic dystopian sci-fi film instead of a true Terminator sequel.

Why Terminator Genesis could terminate the franchise's future
Paramount now apparently believes that the answer to the cluttered mess that piled up with Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation is a complete reboot, which will wipe out the first two films.

This is an approach that neither Mostow nor McG was willing to take for obvious reasons -- the film's fan base loves the first two films. Wiping out those films would be akin to a new director deciding to reboot the entire Star Wars cinematic universe by "retelling" the story of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Although Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation had some serious flaws, they didn't completely disrupt the franchise, since they merely continued the original story of the first two films. Yet if Terminator Genesis is a disaster, it will destroy the original James Cameron canon as well as split the Terminator film universe in two.

It likely won't help that the crew of Terminator Genesis has also been changed multiple times. Fast & Furious 6 director Justin Lin and Life of Pi director Ang Lee, two directors who are as different as night and day, were both originally attached to the project, hinting at major creative differences among the producers.

Their final choice, Alan Taylor, the director of Thor 2: The Dark World, was a baffling second tier choice after Lin and Lee dropped out of the project. Laeta Kalorgridis (Avatar, Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry) are co-writing the screenplay in another jarring creative match up.

Meanwhile, none of the new actors seem to fit their roles -- Emilia Clarke is a much more petite Sarah Connor than Linda Hamilton or Lena Headey; Jai Courtney, who failed to impress audiences in A Good Day to Die Hard, is a bland choice for Kyle Reese, and Jason Clarke, best known as Dan in Zero Dark Thirty, is an oddball successor to Christian Bale.

From L to R: the new Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor, and John Connor. (Source: The Guardian)

Whereas Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation were only indirectly compared to Cameron's first two films, Terminator Genesis is boldly (and foolishly) setting itself up for direct, side-by-side comparisons -- which could ultimately sink its chances for launching a trilogy if it fails to deliver.

My final take
Although I loved the original Terminator films, the franchise just isn't the same without James Cameron. It will take a lot to convince fans that Terminator Genesis isn't just a shameful, desperate attempt to cash in on the franchise one last time before James Cameron reclaims it.

What do you think, dear readers? Will Terminator Genesis represent a new dawn for the troubled franchise, or will it terminate its fans' fond memories of the original films? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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