terminator salvation

It was not my intention to write four articles about Terminator Salvation in the last 24 hours, but sometimes that is just how the news flows. Warner Bros has released the official production notes for Termination Salvation, which features an extended plot synopsis. For those of you that are interested, I have included it after the jump.

The year is 2018.

Judgment Day has come and gone, leveling modern civilization.  An army of Terminators roams the post-apocalyptic landscape, killing or collecting humans where they hide in the desolate cities and deserts.  But small groups of survivors have organized into a Resistance, hiding in underground bunkers and striking when they can against an enemy force that vastly outnumbers them.

Controlling the Terminators is the artificial intelligence network Skynet, which became self-aware 14 years earlier and, in the blink of an eye, turned on its creators, unleashing nuclear annihilation on an unsuspecting world.

Only one man saw Judgment Day coming.  One man, whose destiny has always been intertwined with the fate of human existence: John Connor (Christian Bale).

Now the world is on the brink of the future that Connor has been warned about all his life.  But something totally new has shaken his belief that humanity stands a chance of winning this war: the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger from the past whose last memory is of being on death row before awakening in this strange, new world.

Connor must decide whether Marcus can be trusted.  But as Skynet adapts new strategies to end the Resistance forever, Connor and Marcus must find common ground to take a stand against the onslaught—to infiltrate Skynet and meet the enemy head-on.

And here is a bit of the character rundown from the plot synopsis:

“NO FATE BUT WHAT WE MAKE”: THE END BEGINS

The human drama at the heart of “Terminator Salvation” unfolds against a bomb-blasted post-apocalyptic America in the aftermath of Judgment Day.

“We’re telling the story of the world after Judgment Day,” says McG.  “This is the story of the becoming of John Connor, the becoming of Kyle Reese, the strengthening of Skynet, and where our humanity ultimately lies.  This is the moment when mankind takes a stand against the machines.”

In bringing the long-promised “Terminator” future to life, McG wanted to create a vision that was no less real.  “I didn’t want to shoot actors against green screens; I wanted them reacting to physical Terminators,” the director says.  “I wanted the desolate American West—an expanse that suggests a world of hardship, so you could taste it and feel it.  Because the bombs have gone off and damaged the ozone, the sky’s a bit of a different color.  Earth has a different quality, and you immediately realize something is wrong.”

Director Jonathan Mostow closed the first trilogy in 2003 with “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” in which the terrible event Connor (Nick Stahl) and his mother spent their lives trying to prevent—Judgment Day—rains nuclear war across the world at Skynet’s command. “Terminator 3” was co-written by John Brancato & Michael Ferris, who returned to the franchise to write the screenplay for “Terminator Salvation.”  Brancato offers, “Since we ended the original ‘Terminator’ trilogy by destroying the world, we knew we couldn’t go back to the well of time-traveling Terminators.  The new film had to be about what happens after the bombs fell.”

Ferris adds, “We wanted to write about the long-predicted battle between men and machines, which also gave us an opportunity to change the overall tone of the franchise.  The earlier movies unfolded in a familiar, contemporary world; this film is a war movie, set in a darker, post-apocalyptic future.”

“Terminator Salvation” takes place in 2018, 14 years after the nuclear attack that ended the previous “Terminator” trilogy.  Producer Moritz Borman, who also served as an executive producer on “Terminator 3,” remarks, “From the start, we made a conscious decision that just as the previous films had been set in the timeframe we know today, ‘Terminator Salvation’ would begin to reveal the future that had only been glimpsed in the earlier movies.  So we’re jumping to the time when Kyle Reese is still a teenager and they have not yet discovered what we know comes next, mainly the time travel that set the story in motion.  In this film, we are finally in the midst of the war that was forewarned, and we can watch Connor’s rise to become the head of the resistance.” evious “Terminator” trilogy.  Producer Moritz Borman, who also served as an executive producer on “Terminator 3,” remarks, “From the start, we made a conscious decision that just as the previous films had been set in the timeframe we know today, ‘Terminator Salvation’ would begin to reveal the future that had only been glimpsed in the earlier movies.  So we’re jumping to the time when Kyle Reese is still a teenager and they have not yet discovered what we know comes next, mainly the time travel that set the story in motion.  In this film, we are finally in the midst of the war that was forewarned, and we can watch Connor’s rise to become the head of the resistance.”

In “Terminator Salvation,” Bale says, “Skynet is dominant but still in a state of evolution.  Humans are definitely on the out.  Their backs are against the wall and their circumstances are desperate.  This is the last, final effort for the survival of mankind.”

“Everything is difficult for humans now,” McG attests.  “It’s difficult to get food, difficult to get energy.  Everything is depleted.  And you’re always being hunted.”

Nevertheless, Borman states, “There has to be hope for humanity.  There has to be something in the way that they live that shows they believe there will be a future after the machines, that the world might rise again out of the ashes.  And their hope is, of course, pinned to John Connor.”

Connor fights on the front lines of the Resistance, but is not yet its leader.  New developments by Skynet have rocked his vision of the future, as told to him throughout his life by his mother.  She believed the future was not set, and his own doubts are growing that he may not live to initiate the events that will result in his own conception, namely, sending Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother.

“John Connor doesn’t know whether he can become the John Connor that his mother talked about,” notes producer Jeffrey Silver, “because he knows there are many possible futures.  This is a character with incredible complexity and courage, and Christian was able to deliver the kind of multi-layered portrayal that such an important role demanded.”

The man John Connor has become is at once an extension of his younger persona and someone entirely new.  Bale affirms, “He’s definitely a guy with a lot of issues, somebody who has been told the future all his life and bears the burden of that knowledge.  But his mother also told him there is no fate but what you make, so knowing that, he can’t just go hide and think everything’s going to be fine.  He’s got to be out there fighting.  And he is a fighter.   I saw him very much like an Achilles-type character.  He’s somebody who loves the fray.  But he’s battling with what soldiers deal with every day—the loss of very good friends—and his fears that he is not the leader that people are probably expecting at that point.”

In addition to his clashes with the Resistance leaders and fears about Skynet’s strength and innovation, a new element shatters the vision of the future Connor grew up believing in: the emergence of a man whose existence has never been mentioned—a human-machine hybrid named Marcus Wright.  John Brancato asserts, “The key to the story was coming up with the character of Marcus Wright, whose internal battle reflects the larger conflict.”

Marcus Wright’s last memory was of being put to death for committing a crime; he has no knowledge of how he came into this world or what his purpose is here.  “Marcus had been on death row,” says Sam Worthington.  “He was put to death.  But then he wakes up in this post-apocalyptic world and has to go on a surreal adventure to figure out why he isn’t dead.”

“Nobody really knows who Marcus is to start with,” says Bale.  “He’s somebody with a past, with an awful lot of regrets.  There’s a theme throughout the film of desiring a second chance.”

The notion of second chances is what had driven Dr. Serena Kogen to find Marcus on death row.  A scientist with the genetics division of Cyberdyne Systems, Serena is played by Helena Bonham Carter.  “Helena plays a very proficient scientist who is working on the cutting edge of technology,” says McG.  “She’s further motivated by the fact that she has terminal cancer.  She truly believes her research could give people like her a second chance, but her research falls into the hands of Skynet, and the consequences of that are quite revolutionary for the machines.  But she is indeed the one who enlists Marcus to donate his body for what she will only tell him is ‘research,’ and hers is the last human face he sees before dying.”

Adrift in this strange, new world, wearing stolen clothes and struggling to come to grips with what happened to him after “death,” Marcus is saved from a Terminator aggressor by a young man, played by Anton Yelchin, who identifies himself as Kyle Reese.  “Marcus ends up in an abandoned building where this T-600 starts firing at him,” Yelchin describes.  “And out of nowhere, a kid runs in, grabs him and saves him.  And that kid is Kyle Reese.  We hear him say, as he did in the first film, ‘Come with me if you want to live.’”

Kyle, who will eventually travel backwards through time to save Sarah Connor, is at this point still a teenager, struggling to survive himself.  “He’s scrappy; he’s a gritty survivor,” says McG.  “I needed those qualities to be evident in a younger version of Michael Biehn, who played the adult Kyle in ‘The Terminator,’ because our story takes place some ten-odd years before he’s sent back in time.”

While Kyle listens to the shortwave radio broadcasts delivered by John Connor, dreaming of joining him in the Resistance, Connor is himself searching for Kyle.  “Connor is looking for Kyle Reese, who is his father, but is at this point still just a teenage boy,” says Bale.  “Kyle has no idea of the important role that he will play in the future, and Connor can’t tell him.  Time travel can really mess you up,” he smiles.

But Kyle is not alone in his journey.  He’s accompanied by Star, a nine-year-old girl rendered mute by the trauma of war and displacement.  Played by Jadagrace Berry, Star has the uncanny ability to sense the presence of a Terminator before it appears, but, more importantly, her presence gives Kyle a greater sense of purpose.  “She’s the biggest point of vulnerability for Kyle because he sees Star as his main responsibility,” says Yelchin.  “I think if she wasn’t there, he wouldn’t try as hard, regardless of the Resistance.”

“Star sort of embodies innocence in the picture,” says McG.  “She embodies hope.  You take one look at her face and you say, ‘That’s what we’re fighting for.  We want to keep people like this alive.  This is the future.’  Unlike those who remember the world before, she has grown up in a world that’s ruled by the brutality of the machines.  It’s given her the ability to sense them coming, so she’s able to offer a critical assist every now and again.”

Surviving from day to day, Kyle, Star and now Marcus are alternately threatened and helped by other human refugees they meet along the way, including Virginia, played by Jane Alexander.  When the rest of her group wants to turn the trio away, Virginia insists upon sharing what little resources they have.  Worthington observes, “The irony, of course, is that it’s only here, where living itself is a challenge, that Marcus experiences true human kindness and compassion.”

Marcus, Kyle and Star are suddenly separated when they’re ambushed by a Harvester—a giant insect-like machine with multiple arms and legs that seeks out its prey and loads them into a Transporter to take back to Skynet.  Pursued by an army of Terminators—from the massive Hunter-Killers to the sleek, two-wheeled Moto-Terminators—across miles of open roads, bridges and rivers, Kyle and Star are ultimately captured by the Harvester and deposited in a Transporter, their fate unknown.

“That is part of the heartbreak of the machine world,” comments McG.  “You do the best you could ever do as a human being, and it’s still not enough.  You just can’t knock these machines down.  With everything that Kyle and Marcus throw at them, it’s just not enough.  They can’t be stopped.”

Having eluded capture himself, Marcus saves the life of a downed A-10 jet pilot who is forced to eject after failing to rescue the humans from the Harvester.  The pilot turns out to be the stunning Blair Williams, who takes Marcus back with her to the Resistance base.  “Blair is a wonderful fighter pilot and a survivalist,” says McG.  “She really knows how to maneuver, destroy machines and, most importantly, stay alive.  She has her life saved by Marcus, so she feels indebted to him.”

On their way to the Resistance base, Marcus is injured by a landmine.  Rushed into the Rebellion’s outpost, he is immediately treated by John’s wife, Kate Connor, played by Bryce Dallas Howard.  “In the intervening years since Judgment Day, Kate has become a physician, training the best she can in these circumstances,” Howard relates.  “She finds books and she’s talked to as many survivors as possible, learning different techniques to enable her to save lives.”

Kate is also Connor’s partner in the ongoing fight.  “John is a soldier and Kate is a doctor, and to that effect they’re a very tightly bonded, formidable team,” says McG.  “They both have strong intelligence and the will to lead.  It was critical to find a Kate Connor that would be worthy of leading the resistance, and I thought Bryce had the elegance and the intelligence to make people believe that she could indeed call the shots if anything ever happened to John Connor.  Kate and Blair both are in keeping with the tradition of powerful female characters in the ‘Terminator’ films.”

Kate is the first to see that Marcus’s body has been modified into a new, previously unknown model of Terminator: a hybrid with a human heart, brain, and exterior, but the interior workings of a robot.

Completely unaware of his transformation, Marcus is overwhelmed by the realization that his state execution was only a prelude to a new state of being.  “Marcus has metal arms and legs but he still has a human heart and brain, and therein lies the rub,” says Worthington.  “Is that enough to protect his humanity?  He believes he’s human, but everyone around him other than Blair thinks he’s the enemy, including possibly Skynet.  But I think this film explores the power of human choice and free will through this character.  Even though he is augmented with machinery, his human heart is real.”

“As soon as they discover he’s a hybrid, there is no trust,” says Moon Bloodgood.

“But Blair sees Marcus’s courage and his struggle.  She saw a part of him that they never got a chance to see.  He saved her life; he opened up to her.  And Blair’s not afraid to go up against John Connor because her values are more important to her than he is, or even beating Skynet.”

Serving as Connor’s eyes and ears, his second-in-command, Barnes, is assigned to watch over Marcus until he can be studied.  Barnes is played by actor and musical artist Common.

“Barnes is this spiritual warrior in many ways, fighting to the end by Connor’s side for the future of humanity, and he sees Marcus as a threat,” says Common.  “But, by the same token, he’s been through a lot of things that force him to come to a spiritual understanding—about their struggle, about John Connor’s destiny—and much of it is tied into Marcus.”

As the situation on the ground changes, Connor believes his own strategies must also dramatically change, which sets him at odds with the recognized leader of the Resistance, General Ashdown, played by sci-fi veteran actor Michael Ironside.  “Michael Ironside, who I worked with before on ‘The Machinist,’ plays the leader of the Resistance, and we come to be at loggerheads in this movie, but he’s somebody you can definitely believe has become the leader of the new sort of scavenger military,” Bale remarks.

John Connor realizes the only way to truly stand up to Skynet’s ever-evolving combat strategies is to fight them where they live: in the heart of Skynet itself.  And Marcus may be the key to infiltrating their network.  “Connor has this incredibly hopeless task,” says Bale.  “Sure, he’s got some weapons, but it’s like just throwing a few sticks and stones at a fortress…except for this character of Marcus.  So, Connor has to make this extraordinary leap of faith and break every rule that he has established for himself.

He knows that the machines will use the best parts of humanity against us.  So, how does he put trust into somebody whom he knows to be a machine?” Their only hope may be to trust in each other, and that trust alone could be enough.  “Where does humanity really lie?” asks the director.  “Is it the strength of the human heart?  What is it that makes us want to die for one another?  That’s what can’t be measured by machines.”

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