I don’t know about you guys, but I loved the trailer for the newTerminator movie! At first I was worried, because the last one was awful and it’s not being directed by James Cameron, but based on that trailer I think that this movie is going to capture the gritty punch of the original movies!
That was more or less what I said to everybody within earshot when the trailer for Terminator Salvation first came out. Because it was a great trailer! It had the flying robot ships, it had robot motorcycles, it had Christian Bale jumping out of a helicopter and shooting a Terminator in the face. I was sold immediately, and when the movie turned out to be utter, absolute garbage, the last of my innocence died forever.
What Terminator Salvation taught me is that it’s really easy to make a cool trailer for a Terminator movie. No matter how bad the script for your Terminator sequel is, it’s guaranteed to have some scenes where humans and robots beat the shit out of each other – and the beautiful thing about a trailer is that you can just show those scenes out of context set to a grungy rock song and the movie pretty much sells itself.
I got tricked into wasting money and time on a shitty movie, and the experience has haunted me since. So when I watch the trailer for Terminator Genisys – henceforth referred to as Terminator 5 because I’m not going to commit that crime against grammar again – and I start to get excited that it’s set in the 80s and making innovative new use of time travel, I have to rein myself in as quickly as possible.
Making a cool Terminator trailer is easy enough, but circumstances here make it even easier. Terminator 5 appears to be kind of a mishmash of familiar settings and characters from the first two films, so in addition to rhythmically edited shots of rock 'em sock 'em Terminators you’ve got sawed off nostalgia to the face every time they cut to that department store, or the ugly 70s LAPD cruiser, or the way bullets look when they hit liquid metal.
“Hey! This doesn’t look like those bad Terminator movies they made a few years ago! This looks like those good Terminator movies they made 30 years ago!”
I’ve got to say, it’s awfully convenient that the upcoming Terminatormovie is made up of scenes and settings from the only two movies in the franchise that anybody has liked. Why, if I were a coldhearted cynic, I might even venture that Universal conducted focus tests to determine the most popular aspects of the first two films, then handed the results to several dozen writers to try and reverse engineer a script from there.*
*Those focus groups are probably why feathered hair and squeaky-voiced Edward Furlong aren’t included in this throwback.
It’s difficult to get large numbers of people to spend money on something if they aren’t convinced they’ll like it. That’s why pretty much every big movie is either a sequel, a prequel, or an adaptation of some other franchise (usually a dystopian young adult novel.) What’s worth noting about Terminator 5 is that right now it appears to be both a sequel and a prequel as well as an adaptation of the first two movies in its own franchise.
There’s an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where two characters in a crappy sci fi movie watch a lengthy recording of a previous scene in the movie. This prompts Mike in the theater to quip, “When the movie starts showing you parts of itself, you know you’re in trouble.” We’ve finally reached that point with the Terminator movies: Striking out in new directions didn’t work, so instead the franchise is just trying to re-create previous iterations of itself with all the desperation of a middle aged man trying to connect with his teenaged stepkids.
“Hey, remember how we used to say ‘Come with me if you want to live?’ You liked that, right? Well, we’re doing it again, but this time Sarah’ssaying it! Remember how much you loved that evil liquid metal cop? We’re doing that again too! And even though nobody likes long winded speeches about preventing Judgment Day, you’re getting another one anyway!”
Pretty much every line in the trailer is either a throwback to a previousTerminator movie (“Come with me if you want to live,” “I’ll be back,” Sarah screaming “Now, soldier!”), retreads ground from a previous movie so closely that it may as well be a throwback (“We can stop Judgment Day from happening!” “The machines sent a Terminator to the time before the war!”), or is such a bland piece of writing that it could be a throwback to pretty much any mediocre action movie from the mid 2000s (“I look at each of you and I see the marks of this long and terrible war!” “If we die tonight, mankind dies with us!”)
I don’t have a crystal ball. Maybe this is a great movie being promoted poorly. But I think it’s a safer bet to assume this is a poor movie being promoted well. There have now been as many shitty Terminator movies as there were good Terminator movies; the chances of this one returning us to the glory days are pretty slim, even if the director did a coolDeadwood episode and the pilot for Mad Men. Good movies take chances and break new ground; this movie’s financiers are playing it so safe and taking so few chances that we’re getting the theatrical equivalent of a sitcom clipshow.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you. Fool me three times, still shame on you - because if you really want to make aTerminator sequel reminiscent of the originals, ditch the focus groups and just make it good!