Though an entire new Terminator trilogy is far from a sure thing, given that it is not certain the fourth film will be a success or indeed even come to fruition, the fact that such an ambitious extension of the story has even been considered has to be in large part because of the existence of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Could George Lucas’ legacy now include, in addition to pioneering the modern special effects industry, the concept of sequel or prequel trilogies? As far as I can tell, it was never done before Star Wars.
There’s the whole question of whether a film franchise deserves to be a trilogy in the first place, never mind extending the mythology to encompass another three films beyond that. I think people clearly were interested in knowing how Darth Vader came to be, but unfortunately the execution and the story clearly did not live up to what fans had envisioned in their imaginations for so long. It got me wondering how the Terminator saga could avoid the same missteps.
I think the interest is there and the territory is worth exploring because, like Star Wars, it’s the chance to bring a legend full circle, if you will. The original Star Wars trilogy and the Terminator films are similar in that they begin with two solid, nearly flawless entries and then proceed to a third installment that, while fun in parts, just does not measure up to the overall quality of its predecessors. And you could argue that by the end of the third film, in both cases, we knew arguably enough to use our imaginations to fill in the rest. Meaning that if the filmmakers are going to go there, the story needs to be compelling and powerful enough to meet the expectations we’ve come to hold.
I think part of the problem with the SW prequels is that it became a marketing opportunity. Look at how much Phantom Menace clearly was aimed at kids. Jar Jar, the flatulence jokes, the 9-year-old star, etc. It became about tying in toys and McDonald’s merchadise and all kinds of crap that is really secondary to just telling us a great story. So that is the first pitfall that McG and company need to avoid.
Luckily, Terminator was never really a kid-friendly franchise in the first place, but the danger could be trying to appeal too much to the younger demographic instead of remembering the audience that loved these original films and made them a success in the first place. We don’t need these to be wall-to-wall CGI extravaganzas. Now that is not to say there should be no action, but they need to balance it with strong characters and a suspenseful storyline. Substance, in other words.
Suspense is another problem that befell the SW prequels. We ultimately knew what was going to happen, just not how it would happen. Here, the worst has happened (witness the end of T3) and now the question is how will they rectify the continuity — meaning the story that leads up to John Connor sending his own father back in time to ensure his own existence.
The problem is that you get a headache from thinking about it too much, and there is such a danger of paradox. After T2, it would have seemed that John should never have existed because they apparently had succeeded in averting the nuclear holocaust — which would mean John wasn’t the leader of the future in order to send back his own father, etc. Which I guess is why we needed T3 to set things back on course.
Now I don’t want to get too wrapped up in the rumors that have surfaced in various places about the “twist ending” they have in mind for T4. I will say that if they are serious about doing a trilogy, it is something they should save for the last film, unless the aim is to make some really profound exploration of man vs. machine in terms of how one or the other can be seen as a savior of a race that has been largely exterminated because it lost touch with its own humanity. But Terminator could easily get bogged down in the time travel twists and turns, and it is going to take some careful storytelling and direction in order to avoid confusion and keep the fans interested.
My next suggestion to the filmmakers would be to avoid gimmicks, which basically means one thing: Leave Ah-nuld out of these new films. It’s too easy to include him because everyone loved him from the old films and he’s probably more likely to help on the box office end, not to mention that his political career won’t last forever. But he is well past his prime, and like Indiana Jones, he would be a shadow of the icon we all remember and love.
Let Ah-nuld go. Let us remember him as he was. For these films to really stand on their own, the Ah-nuld connection needs to be broken. Be daring enough to break new ground and find a way to stay true to the story without robbing yet another beloved cinematic grave. They already have a great star in Christian Bale. Play to his strengths. Make it a showcase in which he really develops as a character and give us some real science fiction meat to chew on, blended in with the kind of action and thrills we need to put this franchise back on the map.
We can only hope they are up to the challenge.