July issue 2009

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 15 years ago

There is no shortage of candidates to blame for the fiasco that is Terminator Salvation. McG, the unfortunately named director who resurrected the iconic sci-fi franchise, is the most obvious target. With its third film, the Terminator series had reached its logical conclusion with the apocalypse already upon us. There was no need for McG to show us what we already knew — that a small band of humans, led by John Connor, would fight guerilla-style against soulless hunks of metal — especially since the first three films and a short-lived television series showed us that John Connor would use the tired time-travel trope to send his lieutenants back in time to forestall robot domination.

But it would be unfair to pile on McG when the lion’s share of the responsibility for this disaster of a movie rests on the shoulders of actor Christian Bale, who plays John Connor, the leader of the resistance taking on the robotic uprising. In fact, the story of how Bale came to be involved with Terminator Salvation has far more intrigue, betrayal and drama than the movie itself.

As the story goes, director McG, whose previous credits include the campy updating of Charlie’s Angels and the even campier sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, was so impressed by Bale’s performance in the Batmanmovies, he approached the high-brow, Method actor with a script for a sequel to the three Terminator movies. McG wanted Bale to play the role of Marcus Wright, a resistance fighter whose loyalties were ambiguous.

Bale, obviously suspicious of a director he considered an untalented hack, told him where he could stick his script. The F-bomb may also have been dropped during this conversation. After months of subsequent negotiation, Bale finally agreed to sign up for the movie, provided his conditions were met. His demands were that his friend Jonathan Nolan, who had also written Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, be allowed to rework the script and that he be given the role of John Connor, which should be made more substantial so as to suit the ego of an actor of his stature.

In its original incarnation, the role of John Connor was a minor one. He was a shadowy figure who lurked in the background and not the front-line soldier he eventually became in the movie. The former role was clearly more appropriate. Military leaders — Pervez Kayani’s recent Top Gun stunt notwithstanding — do not generally fight in the trenches. This is especially true when you are mankind’s last and best hope, and your enemy is a super-intelligent Terminator capable of taking over your identity. But the change to the script was made at the insistence of Bale, without any regard to how it might fit into the story.
The other major problem that beset Terminator Salvation was an unfortunate one. The script was leaked online, revealing a major twist in the end for all to read months before the movie’s release. The original ending had John Connor killed by a cyborg, which then took on his physical features. This tantalising ending would have set the stage for another chapter in the Terminator saga as a robot, under the guise of John Connor, infiltrates the resistance. But the leak made that moot, as frantic reshooting led to a sappy, all-too-predictable ending.

Conflict has sometimes led to great cinema. Frances Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now was produced amid 120 degree weather, fistfights among actors and even a heart attack. Terminator Salvation is the flipside toApocalypse Now, a movie where the failure of its lead players to work in harmony led to a movie that has plenty of loud bangs but ultimately goes out with a whimper.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.

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