This July James Cameron’s seminal sci-fi thriller The Terminator will return to cinemas in the UK on its 35th anniversary. It has been a long road from the very first moments of the film, we’ve seen an epic sequel showcasing the latest in computer generated imagery, a gender-flipped third film which seemed to bring the series full circle, two more sequels hoping to reboot the ailing franchise, and a new film which opens in cinemas this year.
While much has changed since the concept of Judgement Day was introduced all those years ago, the primal fear of being hunted by an unkillable machine remains as potent as ever. In the first film Sarah Connor was targeted for termination (it’s like winning the lottery in reverse – those wanting a hand with the actual lottery, best go to lottery-bonus-code.com), and then, in each subsequent film, time travel and technology have been pitted against human ingenuity and survival instinct to create one of the great franchises of the late 20th century cinema.
Much has been written on the production of the first film, and rightly so – it is a masterclass in taking stock ideas of the sci-fi genre and injecting them with thrilling action and groundbreaking special effects. In each of the sequels to the original Terminator, the human aspect has remained consistent. Whether it be Sarah Connor, her son John in both his adolescent and adult forms, the threat against one person mirrors the ultimate threat the machines pose against all life on the planet. It is this element of the films that needs to work at its heart if the film is to succeed.
The third fourth and fifth film in the franchise suffered greatly from an uncertain attachment to the original film (and its follow up, which is one of the few essential sequels in any movie franchise). Part of this problem is setting much of the film in the future itself. What was so captivating in the first film was the idea of judgement day, as at the time of release the the global threat of nuclear weapons was still very much in the air. We were in a new digital age too, and it seemed we were happy to give much of our lives over to automation and these new devices without giving a second thought to what we were sacrificing along with it. The parallels with today run deep. So much of our lives are lived online, and arguments about privacy and automation rage on today. Our uneasy relationship with technology has given a new form to this fear of the uncanny and the unknown. This is the fear at the centre of all the Terminator films, it is fear of the future and how our actions today will affect us all in the days to come.
It is this fear that the new Terminator film, subtitled Dark Fate, will need to draw upon in order to re-kindle the interest of its audience. For the first time since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron is back in a producing role, shepherding this new film to the big screen with Deadpool director Tim Miller. Not only does Cameron’s original vision for the series still hold up, he is one of the few creatives in Hollywood to rarely put a foot wrong. Also returning in the role which made her famous is Linda Hamilton, who is back as Sarah Connor.
It has become a regular feature of entertainment to revisit beloved characters decades later. Almost all of our most cherished series and films have undergone a re-visitation/reboot in the past decade, with understandably mixed results. We recently saw the first full trailer for Terminator Dark Fate, and we can see that much of the nostalgic touchstones are present. However, as the other sequels have proved, it will take much more than some familiar faces and the thumping synths of Brad Fiedel to entice us back into the cinemas. There needs to be the fear present once more in the heart of these films. It cannot be another retread, another terminator, another judgement day.
With our most optimistic outlook, we hope that James Cameron is back for more than just another paycheque to subsidise his avatar dreams. Will find out on the 1st of November 2019, 8000, 101 days from the original judgement day, to see if the magic is back.