Hamilton Biehn Terminator

The story is legendary. In the mid 1970s, George Lucas sat down to write a space opera called Star Wars. He wrote a 12 (or 9, depending on who you ask) chapter story that he soon realized was way too ambitious for one film. So he chopped the saga of the Skywalkers story down to its most exciting, and tightest chapter. Chapter 4, eventually called “A New Hope.” Later, those other ideas would become sequels, prequels and soon, a sequel trilogy.

But who knew James Cameron did the same thing with The Terminator?

At the LA Times Hero Complex Film Festival last weekend, Cameron told the story of writing his original 1984 hit The Terminator. He said the story he wrote included the liquid metal warrior who would eventually become the T-1000 in Terminator 2, but he couldn’t afford to make the effect imagined in his head. So he lopped off the second half of the story and the rest is history.

Read Cameron’s story of the film’s origin below.

Here’s how James Cameron’s described the development of the script for The Terminator at the LA Times Hero Complex Film Festival:

I sat down to write the Terminator, I think it was in Fall of ’82. And I was sleeping on a friend’s couch hoping my car hadn’t been repossessed. So I was trying to write a vehicle to get a directing gig, basically. I was being very mercenary about it. I thought, “Okay. It has to take place in the streets of LA. It’s gotta be something we can shoot down and dirty – location, available lighting – all that sort of thing, and we’ll just inject.” But the my expertise came from visual effects and production design. So I knew there were other filmmakers who could just do the down and dirty production thing, probably better than me even or at least as well. What was my competitive edge? Science fiction.

So now let’s think about what kind of science fiction story can you tell in the streets of the present day. It’s obviously not going to be a space story that takes place on another planet. So space was out. So then it was time travel. And it got really simple. See what I mean? So it was all this kind of reductive logic.

But then my imagination went nuts and I wrote a story in which they send this endo-skeletal terminator, which was their warrior, and he gets destroyed by the Kyle Reese character halfway through the story. Then the guys in the future  – the machines, the bad guys – send another robot, although its this liquid metal robotic character. And that’s the story that I wrote.

So the T-1000, wasn’t called that, but it already existed in the original story. Then I realized there’s no way we can make that for, whatever, $4 million, so I cut the whole back half off the story and expanded the front half and that’s Terminator 1. Never dreaming there would ever be a sequel. I was just pairing it down and whittling it down.

Surely Cameron has told that story before somewhere but, I had never heard it and maybe you never had either. It’s pretty interesting and telling that he and Lucas both let their imaginations run wild, only to cut back to the meat for their first major films. Don’t you agree?

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