Author’s Note: This article ended up being really long, so it’s split into two parts.
Man, they really did try after Terminator 2, didn’t they? 3 Movies. 3 Sequels. And all semi to complete failures.
For those of you that aren’t quite up to date with the wild ride that is the Terminator franchise, let’s recap!
Erupting from the fevered dreams of director James Cameron, Terminator (T1) would be released in 1984 to critical and commercial acclaim; and make a worldwide star of the Austrian Oak known as Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Unlike today, where sequels are pumped out faster than a prematurely ejaculating teenager, the sequel known as Terminator 2: Judgement Day (T2) wouldn’t appear on screens till 1991. But that 7 year wait seems to have been worth it because T2 blew the doors off its predecessor with a worldwide box office gross of over half a billion.
It would be another long wait of 12 years before Hollywood saw fit to release a third installment in 2003. Witty called Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (T3), the film was profitable, though the critical and audience reaction left a lot to be desired.
Nonetheless, 6 years later Terminator: Salvation, starting Christian “We are done professionally!” Bale, would be released to even lesser critical and audience reaction; as well as the lowest gross so far.
Still, the phrase “scraping the bottom of the barrel” doesn’t seem to be a negative one in Hollywood’s books; and after years of Hollywood machinations the 5th film, Terminator: Genisys, would be released.
Atrocious spelling aside, the film would be met with the barest of shrugs and wouldn’t even reach $90 million in the United States.
And so here we are. In 2017 the Terminator franchise languishes in a ditch, a shadow of its former self. But do not fret fellow sci-fi fanatics. There is hope! The Terminator can rise again!
That being said, there are several aspects that need to be taken into account when we go about crafting a new Terminator film.
We can’t keep making eye-watering $200 million Terminator films. I’m sorry, but for Genisys to make nearly half a billion dollars worldwide and STILL be considered a failure is unacceptable. I appreciate that might be difficult due to the various deals that might be in place from the previous Terminator films, but every time that budget increases, the blander the story has to be in order to get the most bums on seats (just look at the recently released Passengers.)
Admittedly this is partly due to T2. Because it was so successful, every Studio that gets their hands on the franchise thinks they need to repeat those beats. Well guess what? EVERY SINGLE TIME they make an action-y Terminator movie, the first thing everyone does is compare it to T2. Because of that we HAVE TO move away from the blockbuster explosion type deal. To this end…
2) Change Genre
The Terminator franchise has already shown that it can handle a change in genre. T1 is a stripped down, horror/thriller type film; while T2 changed to a big budget blockbuster. There is no reason why the Terminator franchise can’t change genre again.
The film I’m thinking of, while it would contain action beats, would fundamentally be a sci-fi/drama film. (Think Arrival or Contact.) It’s a risk, I agree. But in order to heal the “wounds” the Terminator franchise has taken over the past few decades, this change is absolutely necessary.
3) Creating one movie
This really is a wider problem with Hollywood, but we have to get away from the ridiculous idea that a story has to be told over multiple films/mediums. NO! NO! NO! One film. One story. One ticket. One experience.
We need to go “old school” and give audiences a complete story over 2 hours. 99% of questions they might have should be answered by the end of the film.
But to clear, that doesn’t mean I’m against doing or even setting up a sequel. Rather we have to stop expecting audiences to pay for an unfinished story. All that does it create hatred and resentment for the Terminator franchise.
4) Introducing new characters
I love many of the characters that the Terminator franchise introduced. Their mark on pop culture is indisputable, with Sarah Connor in particular becoming an amazing example of the change a woman can go through when she’s fighting for freedom.
But as much as I love Sarah, John and Kyle, we need to move away. Respect their contribution and impact, but at the same time new blood is needed.
5) But keep Schwarzenegger
It’s not impossible to do a Terminator film without Schwarzenegger, and I honestly went back and forth on whether my idea should include him. In the end though, I have to take into account the commercial needs of the project, not just the artistic. The love that international audiences have for the Austrian Oak is necessary to create a successful film.
5) Try to respect the timeline of the original 2 films as much as possible.
Terminator: Genisys got one thing right: Spinning off from a certain point in the timeline to create a new story. The problem was that they went too early and ripped away everything we loved.
Don’t get me wrong, as X-men: First Class demonstrated, if you have to choose between continuity and a great film; choose the latter every time. But, in this case, I’m going to adhere to T1 and T2 as much as possible.
6) And do not f**k with time travel.
What a lot of the later movies didn’t understand was that time travel was never particularly important to the Terminator story. It was just a means to an end. A way to get a guy/robot from the future to the present day in order to tell the actual story.
Once you start introducing overly complex methods of time travel, then the audience completely shuts off. Either don’t mention time travel, or if you have to, then just mention it in the context of A—->B.
So, with the above mentioned in mind, my idea for a Terminator film can pretty much be summed up in one sentence:
What does a Terminator do if it fails its mission?
Really think about it guys. In all the movies, we’ve never seen a Terminator fail its mission and survive. Every movie where we see a Terminator fail, it fails because it’s destroyed before it can complete its mission.
That’s the story I want to explore. If a Terminator fails in its mission, what does it do afterwards?
Does it shut down or destroy itself? No, because T2 told us Terminators can’t self-terminate.
Does it travel back to the future? (Ha!) No, because as we know from all the movies, time travel is a one way trip.
So what does a failed Terminator do?
I quickly tapped out what my opening for a new Terminator film would be. It’s only seven pages, so pretty short. You may recognise it, but I’ll explain my thinking afterwards.
So without further ado…
A familiar moment…
INT. MAZE OF MACHINERY, STEEL MILL – NIGHT
It is a maze of monstrous machinery. The heat is tremendous. The air shivers with a pounding ROAR.
SARAH CONNOR, 30, CRIES OUT in pain and stumbles as her son, JOHN CONNOR, 10, and their protector, TERMINATOR, try to hold her up.
They drag her and stagger on. Her leg bathed in blood, she holds a shotgun and is deathly pale as they approach a pit of MOLTEN STEEL.
Wait! No! It’s too hot! Back! Back!
They turn back, but it’s only a few steps before their pursuing nemesis, T-1000, steps into view.
John shakes his head no and grabs Terminator. T-1000 is almost on them!
No! We gotta stick together!
John! You’ve got to go now!
Sarah starts to drag John away.
Sarah pushes John with all her might, leaving Terminator behind with his Grenade Launcher aimed at their hunter. Deeper into the deafening complex they go. John looks through gaps in the machinery to see T-1000 lunge at Terminator, knocking the grenade launcher out of sight.
The final battle for Judgement Day has begun.
As mother and son disappear, Terminator punches T-1000 in the head, his fist going straight through the LIQUID METAL.
The fight continues with titanous punches and God-like strength, until that moment T-1000 throws Terminator against a large machine. His left arm getting jammed in a humongous cog.
Leaving his enemy trapped with a crushed arm, T-1000 walks away to continue his pursuit of John Connor.
INT. RAISED PLATFORM – NIGHT
In the mists of the behemoths of steel making, John helps his mother stumble up the stairs onto the platform.
I got you. Come on.
They cross the platform and down a descending staircase, but after only a few steps, out of the darkness, steps T-1000. He walks calmly and purposely towards the bottom of the stairs, SPARKS showering down upon him.
Desperate, Sarah and John struggle back onto the platform. Sarah spots a set of hanging chains leading down into the maze of machines.
Grab the chain! Grab it!
She starts lowering her son down into the depths of the factory.
And he falls… Tumbling onto a moving conveyor belt. He looks up, expecting Sarah to follow.
Mom! Come on!
But she doesn’t. It is as much of a goodbye as they can have.
Come on! MOM!
John’s soon out of sight as Sarah turns to face T-1000 closing in on her. She struggles to load a shell into her empty shotgun. At the last instant she manages to raise her weapon and fire!
T-1000’s face is blown open, a gaping hole where his right eye used to be. But it quickly reforms as he closes on her. She fumbles to get another shell into the magazine, but–
THUNK! T-1000 uses his left hand to slam a steel needle through her shoulder, pinning her.
Call to John.
I know this hurts.
He twists the needle causing her to GASP in pain.
The polymorphic killer cocks back his other hand. The index finger extends as another gleaming needle heads towards her eye and she stops struggling.
Call to John now.
The needle finger shoots forward and stabs Sarah through her eye and out the back of her head. She twitches for a few seconds, her eyes becoming cross eyed as blood streams down her cheek.
WHAM!! A 6-foot steel bar whistles down on the T-1000 with such force that it cleaves its head and body in two down to the naval. The needle in Sarah’s eye snaps off T-1000’s hand and she collapses to the floor.
No movement, no sound. Dead.
As he’s reforming, T-1000 pulls the steel bar out of itself and turns to see Terminator, now missing most of his left arm. T-1000 attacks with fury, swinging the steel bar, hammering Terminator back and back until he falls to the floor. As he struggles to get up, T-1000 throws him off the platform.
INT. UNDER RAISED PLATFORM – CONTINUOUS
Terminator leans against a wall, struggling to get up. T-1000 drops down and behind him is an enormous I-BEAM. Hanging from two chains suspended from the ceiling; and which runs on a linear track. T-1000 grabs the I-beam and rolls it down the track. Straight at Terminator.
The two ton girder smashes into his chest, damaging the armour. T-1000 pulls the I-beam back, and heaves it back forward an additional three times. Each time crushes metal, shatters spines and caves in his skull.
T-1000 walks slowly, watching as the pathetic shape of Terminator tries to crawl away. Dragging his malfunctioning legs behind the crushed spine, his arm stump SCREECHES on the tile floor as he inches himself forward. His exposed machine eye burns red with determination as he crawls to try and get his discarded Grenade Launcher.
Raising the steel bar above his head, T-1000 stabs it down with unbelievable force and it punches into Terminator’s back. He levers it back and forth, widening the hole, then raises it again and slams down. It punches right through, emerging from Terminator’s chest.
Electricity CRACKLES around them as the cyborg sags and stops moving. Slowly the light goes out in his eye… … The death of the Terminator.
INT. MAZE OF MACHINERY – NIGHT
John crawls out of the smallest of holes, barely squeezing through as he takes refuge in the shadow of one of the factory’s titanous machines. He hears a VOICE, distant, low and urgent.
John, I’m hurt… John?… John, help.
INT. UNDER RAISED PLATFORM – NIGHT
Silent and unmoving, Terminator looks nothing other than dead.
TERMINATOR POV – CONTINUOUS
Upon a red grid like screen appears a complex looking schematic, while underneath reads:
INT. UNDER RAISED PLATFORM – CONTINUOUS
The red light returns back to his eye and Terminator jerks to life. He reaches underneath himself and slowly pulls out the steel bar, freeing himself in the process.
INT. PLATFORM ABOVE MOLTEN STEEL PIT – NIGHT
John walks slowly and cautiously across the platform, the surrounding heat causing sweat to soak into his hair and drip from his brow.
John… John… John.
He sees Sarah, stumbling, clearly in pain, but alive.
She gives him a motherly smile.
It’s over… It’s dead.
John steps towards her. Sarah holds out her left hand.
Come here. It’s over.
He reaches out to her.
How? How’d you do–
Sarah throws her right arm forward and stabs John through the chest, her arm now sword-like and glistening silver.
He CRIES out in pain as Sarah smiles with exhilaration and transforms back into T-1000. He lifts John up into the air, blood running down his silver sword arm.
He steps forward and holds the CRYING John above the molten steel pit. T-1000 looks up at him and gives the most gleeful smile you could imagine.
You are terminated.
He throws John downwards, and the ten year old boy falls helplessly into the pit of boiling hot steel.
T-1000 hears the WHIRRING of a chain drive behind him. He turns to see Terminator rising into view, grenade launcher pointed at him.
TERMINATOR POV – CONTINUOUS
He analyses the T-1000’s sword arm and discovers the worst.
“HUMAN BLOOD DETECTED”
INT. PLATFORM ABOVE MOLTEN STEEL PIT – CONTINUOUS
Terminator doesn’t fire his grenade launcher, instead collapsing pitifully to the floor.
John! Where are you?… JOHN!
Terminator looks up at the still gleeful T-1000.
Shame you weren’t programmed to self terminate.
He leans backwards, allowing himself to fall off the platform and we hear the SPLASH as the T-1000 hits the molten steel pit.
Terminator crawls forward, slowly, inch by inch, as we hear the T-1000 SPLASHING, GROANING, SCREAMING, as it dramatically dissolves.
He reaches the edge of the platform and glances down into the fiery pit. To the naked eye, it looks empty and serene.
TERMINATOR POV – CONTINUOUS
“HUMAN REMAINS DETECTED. SCANNING…”
“JOHN CONNOR IDENTIFIED”
“PRIMARY MISSION: PROTECT JOHN CONNOR”
This last phrase repeats, scrolling down the screen.
INT. PLATFORM ABOVE MOLTEN STEEL PIT – CONTINUOUS
Terminator doesn’t move. He merely lies there, looking downwards, a complete failure and shadow of himself.
The battle for Judgement Day is over… And he has lost.
FADE TO BLACK
ROLL OPENING CREDITS
I know what you’re thinking.
Vijay! You son of a bitch! You just pulled an Alien 3!
I know, I know. And if I was actually writing Terminator 3, then this opening is totally NOT what I would have gone for.
But this article has already gone on for too long. I’ll see you in part 2 for the explanation!