Of all the questions surrounding the May 2009 “Terminator” reboot -- did the epic failure of “T3” kill the franchise forever? Can Christian Bale convincingly play both Bruce Wayne and John Connor? -- perhaps the biggest one is why Warner Bros. would hand the keys to such an important, beloved property to the director of such vaunted fare as “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and an episode of NBC’s “Chuck”?
Yet when McG played about 15 minutes of footage from “Terminator Salvation” at a special screening on Monday, he went a long way toward assuring skeptics our worries were unfounded. The clips the director unveiled made for a fantastically noisy spectacle of carnage and fire, speeding trucks and exploding tankers, cool-looking mechanical creations and old school hand-to-bot combat.
Still the questions will linger. The last kick-ass “Terminator” flick came out in 1991, and WB will have to attract a whole new generation of devotees, ones too young to have salivated over the sight of a sweaty, muscled Linda Hamilton doing pull-ups in an insane asylum. While no one will confuse this John Connor (Christian Bale) with the mopey, mop-haired Connor portrayed by Thomas Dekker in Fox’s low-rated “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” that silly, snoozer of a TV show represents many kids only exposure to the franchise mythology.
Helping the task somewhat is “Salvation”’s expected PG-13 rating. Though some might worry this will mean a softer, blander “Terminator,” McG says a rating never entered the creative process and WB chief Jeff Robinov apparently never insisted on making a more family-friendly film. “If ‘The Dark Knight’ [can be rated] PG-13,” McG said at the screening, “that’s fine.”
The viewing also made clear something McG repeated several times: the original two “Terminator” movies—and neither the third film nor “Sarah Connor Chronicles”— provided the film’s inspiration, which honestly says more about how much “T3” sucked than it does about the new movie.
Still, “Salvation” has a look and feel all its own, or at least a look and feel more similar to “Blade Runner” than any of the “Terminator” incarnations. From the abandoned cars littering the highway to the evocative, cracked 7-11 store sign, the predominant atmosphere is one of barren decay.
And the dust -- oh that dust! -- caked on every surface, especially people’s faces; more than salvation, what these folks look like they need is a hot shower and a good bar of soap. To get the details right, the filmmakers studied the Chernobyl disaster, consulted with futurists and even invented their own silver-tinged film stock to capture the gritty, post-nuclear wasteland of 2018.
From the fresh, compelling storylines—Connor must rise to lead the resistance at the same time he struggles to comprehend a seemingly altered future; Skynet moves steadily forward in its technological capabilities; young Kyle Reese must live to one day get it on with Sarah—to what McG called “the patina of grittiness” pervading the film’s atmosphere, it really does seem like the director has come through with a winner. “Terminator Salvation” deserves a high place among the most anticipated big-budget movies of 2009.