Monday, January 12, 2009

15 Minutes of Terminator with McG [Event]

Just got back from a Terminator event where McG showed us about fifteen minutes of footage, along with two rough trailers, and chatted a bit about anything we wanted to know.

Before the screening began, we got to take a look at some very cool production art. Among the pieces on display were a couple different destroyed landscapes (one of LA, one of New York and a few more), what looked like a Terminator assembly line, an explanation of how the "Hydrobot" works (more on that later) and the apparent evolution of T600 to T800, with a T700 and a "Marcus" model in between that seems to be the most human shaped of the four designs.

Inside the screening room, we were introduced to producer Dan Lin (who let us know that Sherlock Holmes is currently shooting in the Armory in Brooklyn. Let the RDJ sightings begin!) and the very enthusiastic & geekier than I ever suspected (that's a good thing), McG. Before I get into what was said & how the footage looked, let me say that McG is oddly self aware and self deprecating & has a childlike wonder when it comes to making movies. For some reason I thought he would be this slick, cocky guy, but in fact he's kind of a weird geek whose excitement over his films could I suppose be read by some as over confidence, but I just saw it as endearing.

Moving on.

McG explained how we are the first people to see any of tonight's footage and a lot of it is incomplete so we'll be seeing plenty of animatics. ILM is currently working on the FX and McG just came from the editing room. Here's the basic premise of the film for those of you who don't know,

Terminator Salvation is set in post-apocalyptic 2018, where John Connor is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future that Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor & Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet's operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.

So in this Terminator film, Judgement Day has already happened, it took place in 2003 like the first two Terminator films say. In fact, McG stressed that he loves and respects T1 and T2 and those films are where the core of Salvation's mythology comes from. There is obviously some T3 thrown in there (Kate Connor, for one), but the most mind was paid to the first two. Salvation should not be looked at as a T4, but rather a reboot honoring the same basic mythology. In the same way Batman Begins wasn't Batman 5, Salvation is not Terminator 4. What makes this film differ the most from any other incarnation of the Terminator franchise is that it takes place in the future, IN the full out war the Connors have been fighting to prevent. And if the first film was about protecting Sarah and the second about protecting John, this one is mostly about protecting Kyle. Here, we will see John Connor fulfill his destiny and the pieces get put into place for the 2029 event of sending Kyle back in time to impregnate protect Sarah Connor. This obviously requires Kyle being alive and well when the time comes.

When McG first heard that another Terminator movie was floating around out there, he wasn't interested. A big Cameron fan himself, he thought the story was tied up with the first two films. When he heard that this film would take place after Judgement Day, however, his interest was piqued. He didn't like the first script he read too much, didn't think it was there yet, but could see the potential. To him one of the most important aspects was respecting the fans and the original films, so before doing anything else, he reached out to Jim Cameron for his blessing. Cameron said he couldn't blindly get behind the film, but wished McG well, telling him he knows what McG must feel like taking this on, as he was in a similar situation years ago, taking over the Alien franchise from Ridley Scott.

More after the jump

In his search for the right actor, McG knew right away that he wanted Christian Bale. He considers Bale to be one of the most talented actors of his generation and I can't say I disagree. Bale didn't like thr script too much either though, and said he would only do the film if the script got to a point where they could do a reading, just sitting in a room, and the words alone would be enough to keep an audience interested. McG agreed and got Jonah Nolan to sign on and turn the script into what it eventually became. They were both passionate about Genesis stories (The examples he gave were school paper photographer Peter Parker becomes Spiderman, computer hacker Thomas Anderson becomes Neo, etc) and wanted to detail how Connor becomes leader of the resistance and how a kid becomes the Kyle Reece we know and want to have sex with. Okay that last part was me, not McG. Look, every girl, myself included, is in love with Michael Biehn circa 1984 (even though I was -2 years old then) and anyone who says otherwise is lying...back to the event. With this new script, Bale signed on. In looking for gritty realism, McG went to Stan Winston for the robot design, specifically that of the "easy to spot" T600 and with that, the main team that would accomplish the goals McG was aiming for, was compiled.

One of those goals, McG told us, was to create a big movie that is also one of the best movies. Not schlocky, not disposable. Summer fun yes, but also great, like The Dark Knight or The Matrix, a film which was a big influence on McG as it was both filled with amazing action and could also be the topic of a class at NYU. Which I think it actually was. McG drew a lot from Philip K. Dick, specifically
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and late 70s, early 80s science fiction film, especially the classic based on Androids, Blade Runner. The difference now is that this kind of technology is actually upon us and thus the themes are more relevant than ever. He plays a lot here with the theme of "That which makes us great could also be our undoing."

The first clip we see is a full on action sequence featuring a giant (and I mean GIANT) Terminator as well as a Terminator ship and Terminator motorcycles whose AI seems to specialize in identifying & avoiding collisions...which mostly succeeds. Before the robots enter the scene, we watch as Kyle and his protector, Marcus, along with a small child, are searching around a destroyed 7-11. They notice an almost empty milk bottle and determine someone else must be there. Before they can even get the thought out, they are surrounded by other humans trying to survive. And before these other humans can decide whether or not to help or kill Kyle and his team, out comes the Giant robot and pretty much everybody dies in a very cool, very fun sequence, where we see Kyle's leadership abilities beginning to form. Those who don't get smashed are taken captive. Skynet is collecting human subjects to help them figure out how to make what will eventually become the T800. There is also a different look to the whole scene, which McG then explains is due to the fact that they invented their own film stock for the movie. They processed old dead stock with three times the silver as normal in order to achieve this Childen of Men or Road Warrior type of dirty other-worldliness.

McG then talked a bit about how the film really focuses on Connor & Marcus - who or what Marcus is and how that affects Connor's journey. Credibility and realness was important to McG who insisted that the actors get to interact with actual robots instead of a tennis ball on a stick. This resulted in a couple injuries for Bale from punching the metal robots, but they'd have it no other way. The documentary Hearts of Darkness has been a huge inspiration to McG throughout the entire process and he hopes that the world of duress that they are creating in Salvation really explodes off of the screen to show in the end, what is best about humanity.

The 2nd clip we saw involved John Connor & Marcus making a "Faustian bargain" of sorts. First we see all of Connor's men get attacked by multiple Hydrobots, snake-like robots who live in water and are really effing creepy, who seem to latch on to everyone's face and force you to experience frightening Alien flashbacks. Connor isn't afraid and shoots them all up cause he is a badass. Then Marcus appears out of the water, destroying some hydobots barehanded, and his face seems to be peeling off a bit, revealing, you guessed it, metal. Remember when I mentioned the concept art that featured a robot named "Marcus"? Turns out Marcus woke up one day and noticed there was some machine stuff going on inside of him. We don't know what it means, and neither does Marcus. And McG won't tell us. Marcus tells Connor to trust him as he can help rescue Kyle. Connor struggles, but agrees. Christian Bale has his whole raspy, deep voice thing going on, which leaves me a tad skeptical, but he also acts the crap out of the scene, so I'll forgive his gravelly Clint Eastwood tone & trust that it won't bother me in the end.

Finally we see a rough trailer (I say rough because it's filled with animatics) that is pretty awesome and will definitely be a treat when it's completed. Maybe it will be premiered at New York Comic Con I hope I hope I should have asked? Some highlights are Connor talking about Skynet taking human prisoners for R&D, Kyle saying "Come with me if you want to live" for the first time and someone holding a picture of Sarah Connor. The tagline is "The End Begins."

McG then opened it up to Q&A and talked a little more. Here's the best stuff:

-McG was considering getting Gustavo Santaolalla and Thom Yorke together to work on the score, as he wanted both a human side & a more robotic, futuristic side, but after meeting with Danny Elfman, he had no doubt that Elfman could do both, while still incorporating and elevating the original theme and hired him.
-There is no sexism, racism or ageism in this future. When the world comes to an end, all of that goes out the window.
-McG is determined to be transparent in his process, respect the audience, answer any questions the fans have and deliver on their expectations
-Christian Bale's performance has shades of both Edward Furlong & Nick Stahl
-Salvation could be seen as a prequel or a sequel, depending on how you look at it
-We will see Connor deal with accusations of being crazy the same way his mother did
-They did not go for any particular rating in production and always put the movie first. McG is expecting to receive an R, but what the MPAA will think wasn't on their minds
-McG is a fan of strong, powerful women and we'll see plenty of them in Salvation.
In case we were wondering, he tells us that he grew up being called McG because every man in his family was named Joseph McGinty and as they were poor and all lived together, they needed to call the youngest Joe something different, thus the nickname McG was born.
-Kate Connor is 2nd in command in the resistance
-The part of the war the film focuses on is the "brink" Kyle talked to Sarah about in T1
-The idea of somehow using Michael Biehn or Schwarzenegger is always on McG's mind, but he can't talk about it...which may be an illuminating answer in and of itself
-Many parallels between this and T1 - many things that occur in this film influence Kyle's interaction with Sarah 11 years later
-First Terminator incarnation that doesn't deal with time travel
-Is hoping to continue the turn back to big but great movies like what Star Wars & Indiana Jones were when McG was growing up. He senses this kind of respect for the fantasy/sci fi/action genre coming back, especially with the success of Dark Knight, and he hopes to continue the trend and really challenge the audience
-Bale was anal about sticking to the mythology and being truthful to the canon they decided on. He would always speak up if something didn't ring true and apparently got really cockney whenever he was riled up about it
-Unlike T3, There is nothing tongue in cheek about this film. They took the source material very seriously
-McG laughs about how much Charlies Angels 2 sucked
-Isn't worried about competing with Transformers in 2009 as they are very different films & their designs are not the same

And that's about it! Overall I got the impression that McG cares deeply for the source material and about making a truly great movie. I'm most excited for the parallels and references to T1 & T2, especially the look on Connor's face whenever he meets Kyle and Kyle's reaction to seeing Sarah Connor's picture for the first time. The footage was cool enough, but I wanted more. Action sequences are great and all, but I wanted to see more of the human interaction. To his credit, McG wished he had more of that to show us as well. Again, I repeat - New York Comic Con? WonderCon? In any event, I'm still excited for this film as I love the Terminator franchise, and McG does seem very committed to honoring the original material, Cameron's vision and the fans.