McG Talks Terminator Salvation

Tue, April 21st, 2009 at 3:28pm PDT | Updated: April 21st, 2009 at 3:50pm

TV/Film
Jami Philbrick, Staff Writer
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"Terminator Salvation" opens May 20

One of the most anticipated genre films of the summer is without a doubt “Terminator Salvation.” But when it was first announced that McG would be directing, fans of the sci-fi action franchise were less than overwhelmed. “The ‘Charlie’s Angels’ guy?” they cried in despair. But with less than a month until the film is released, early buzz has the director hitting a home run with the film and breathing new life into the Terminator franchise.

“Terminator Salvation” is set in the post-Judgment Day future of 2018 and follows John Connor as he leads the resistance against Skynet. In a future that is different than the one his Mother warned him about, Connor meets Marcus, a stranger with amnesia, whose last memory is of being on death row. Now John must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, the two embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they find a terrible secret that may lead to the possible annihilation of mankind.

CBR News had a chance to talk with McG back in February at San Francisco’s WonderCon. The director spoke candidly about his new film, the importance of Kyle Reese, his “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” remake and his quest to have Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in “Terminator Salvation.”

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CBR: To begin with, was it your intent to use the original Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton, in “Terminator Salvation?”

McG: Ultimately, we always wanted to pepper in the role of Sarah Connor but we wanted to wait until we had a cut of the film. We wanted to dance that delicate line between honoring the first two pictures but by the same token not just getting obsessed with recreating the ideas that were established there. So you got to find that balance. I just think that it’s appropriate. If the first movie is about saving Sarah Connor and the second movie is about saving John Conner, then our movie is about saving Kyle Reese. Therefore, that’s sort of the trinity of the Connors. It just seems appropriate to have her in the picture in some capacity.

McG at WonderCon 2009

Have you been able to lock down Arnold Schwartzenegger for an appearance in the film?

Truthfully, it’s not clear. It’s not clear yet so we’ll see where we land. He’s a very powerful guy and he’s got to do what’s right for him. You know what would be helpful is if all of us collectively put a little pressure on him in a couple of emails by saying, “Hey, we think it would be a good idea.” I mean, we’re not getting any blowback or resistance, I just have to respect that the guy is the Governor of the state of California. He’s got to go back to his advisors and ask them, “Hey, is this a good idea” and you never know if they’re going to go, “No, we’ve done the numbers and it seems to suggest that people will feel uncomfortable if the Governor is dabbling in acting.”

Who knows? Who are we to guess?

But you’ve officially asked him to be in it?

Oh, yeah. He saw the film in February. So we’ll see where we land.

You mentioned that this film is about saving Kyle Reese. Can you talk about the title, “Salvation,” and the multiple meanings of that?

Salvation is sort of forgiveness for sins. We start this picture with Marcus (Sam Worthington) committing a rather substantial infraction. In fact, he’s ultimately put to death, which is how he ends up with some metal rods in his body. He doesn’t believe that but he learns from hanging out with these people that everybody deserves a second chance. Look around this room, where would any of us be without a second chance? He’s slow to understand that but that’s effectively the expression of salvation and that’s why we elected that to be the title of the picture.

Have you started to discuss what the sequels to this film will be about and if so, can you tease us with the films possible titles?

We do indeed have the titles of the second and third picture and I’m telling you, what we’re going to do with the second one, should we be able to make it, I can’t tell you how excited I am about it. Let’s just say it involves time-travel and it involves John Connor once again trying to galvanize the forces of those who think he’s crazy. I’m just not going to tell you what period it takes place in.

Scene from "Terminator Salvation"

In the trailer, John Conner says, “This is not the future my Mother warned me about.” Did changing that future give you freedom to take the story were you wanted and not be bogged down by the franchise’s deep mythology?

Indeed, because basically we hear the tapes from Sarah Connor talking about surprise and immeasurable heartbreak. But most particularly you must save the boy who will become your Father, Kyle Reese. That’s the thrust of the movie and because of that it creates a great deal of freedom. You know what I mean? But I want to make sure that I’m answering your question so go a little further with that.

Well, was that aspect of the script important for you to have in the movie so you could have the freedom to do what you wanted and not be locked down by the previous films?

You mean the idea of the future being malleable and that there is no fate but what we make? Well, she told him everything she could tell him about the future. We’ve only been given the clues that the T-800s will indeed be there in 2029. What’s going on with this movie that speaks to “This is not the future my Mother told me about” is the coming of the T-800 ahead of schedule. It would be like all of us sneaking into Hitler’s bunker in Nazi Germany and saying, “There’s a bunch of V-2 rockets with nuclear tips, we better hall ass back to allied command and tell them this is a serious game changer, if these things go online, we have a major, major problem.”

So that’s “The future that my Mother never told me about.” The fact that here comes the T-800 ten years prior to 2029 and we don’t have our act together to a high enough degree to fight with any effectiveness.

Did the time traveling events of the past movies affect the future so that the timeline that Kyle Reese came from in the first film no longer exists?

No. I mean, really this is a story about Michael Biehn’s character, Kyle Reese, as played by Anton (Yelchin), seeing that people make sacrifices so that others may live. He witnesses that act at the end of the movie and it’s a precursor to ten years from now. There’s going to be a moment where they sit around and go, “We need somebody to go back and save Sarah Connor and by the way if you go back, you can never return to this world. Say goodbye to the ones you love, say goodbye because once you go back that’s it. It’s curtains.”

Scene from "Terminator Salvation"

And of course he indeed dies as well. And as a function of what he saw first hand in this film, he has the courage at that moment to say, “I’ll go.” This is why he became that guy that we love so very much.

Can you explain why the decision was made to not include the TV show, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” as canon in the film franchise?

Here’s the thing, I have a lot of experience in one-hour episodic television and I understand the Writers Room. They got to create stories and they don’t have a lot of time or budget. They got to chase a lot of threads and do what they have to do to keep the show viable. And I’m friends with James Middleton and Josh (Friedman) who run the show and we just decided there would be great similarities but when it came down to minutia and the matter in which things played out, we’re going to stick to the cinematic universe. The first two movies most particularly and to a large degree the third movie, the Mostow film. But we’re furthering that idea without chasing one-hour episodic television. That’s what we all agreed on, from Peter Liguori who runs Fox to the showrunners on the show, everyone involved. We all felt comfortable doing that and I love that show. I think it’s fantastic.

To follow up on that, when the show first hit the air, there was a thought that it would fuel excitement for the new Terminator film and visa versa. Given that the show is on the verge of cancellation, do you think that will hurt the film at all?

I don’t believe so. I think people are able to make the distinction between one and the other. I know the media companies well enough. They got their numbers people out there testing in Mall of America to see what the intention is, our intent to go on the first weekend or however they characterize the likelihood of the film having some traction. The reaction is really, really stunning and what it just shows is that people have a fundamental, primal, goodwill for the idea, should it be expressed correctly.

So would you say that “The Sarah Connor Chronicles’” struggle is not evidence of a disdain for the Terminator franchise, but rather just that particular series?

Yeah, but that’s a tricky business. You know, the state of television is in the toilet. It’s hard to throw stones at any one show here or there. I mean, the show does well enough, it just finished season two and you know I’m going to call those guys at Fox and see what their intention is as far as the future of the show. I hope they keep it on the air but they got a tough business. They got to do what they got to do. So we’ll see where that takes us.

Truthfully, we were sensitive to [the fact that there was already a Terminator show on TV] early on but there just hasn’t been any data that would suggest that one is related to the other.

Scene from "Terminator Salvation"

Finally, what stage are you at with your “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” remake?

Yeah, I’m just prepping that movie. I’ve always been a Jules Verne fan. I like the Fleisher movie from the ‘50s and think that today’s audiences are entitled to a story about a character who is at war with war itself. I think it’s very interesting, I mean if you look at that film was James Mason a villain -- or was he the hero? It was a very, very delicate line and that’s something that Christian (Bale) does very well with Batman. Occasionally, you got Alfred and Morgan Freeman going, “You sure you know what you doing, boss?” You know? But that really goes for Nemo and I’m really fascinated by that character. So we’ll see if it happens. It’s a big movie, we got to get the script right and I got my eye in a few actors there.

“Terminator Salvation” opens May 20.

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TAGS:  terminator salvation, mcg, terminator: the sarah connor chronicles

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