Director McG is hoping for 'Salvation.'
Director McG had a bit of advice last year for a visitor to the set of "Terminator Salvation," which had set up shop in a vast hangar at Kirtland Air Force Base here. "If you go too far that way," he said, pointing across the tarmac, "someone will shoot you."
Knowing the boundaries and risking sniper fire -- those are pretty good metaphors for anyone daring enough to add an installment to the killer-robot franchise without either signature star Arnold Schwarzenegger or director James Cameron listed in the credits beyond having created the characters.
"Terminator Salvation" will arrive in theaters May 21 with new faces and a darker ethos than the earlier films in the series, but it is a companion piece to them, a pure sequel -- or is that prequel? It's difficult to say with a franchise that skips through time like some sort of "Back to the Future" with a body count.
The year is 2018 and mankind is being snuffed out by the malevolent machines of SkyNet. The man who is destined to lead the human resistance, John Connor (Bale), is now an adult but is struggling with his legacy and the suspicions of his ragged compatriots. He also is staggered when he meets Marcus Wright (Worthington), whose last memory is of being a death row prisoner before the apocalyptic attacks of SkyNet. Wright turns out to be a SkyNet-created cyborg model but one that does not match the prophecies that have guided Connor his entire life. The distrusting pair set off on a quest to find answers, and the path leads to Dr. Serena Kogen (Helena Bonham Carter) and an ending that "will shock everyone," McG promises. The cast also features hip-hop star Common, Moon Bloodgood, Anton Yelchin and Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of filmmaker Ron Howard.
"I do believe this is a great opportunity for me," McG said, "and we have a story to tell, state-of-the-art special effects and, in Christian Bale, nothing less than the most credible and intense action star in the world."
Intense is right. Bale became an Internet sensation in February when an extended audio recording of an especially colorful on-set rant was posted on TMZ.com. Some people laughed while others recoiled at his vicious language; after it was spoofed, turned into T-shirts and club mixes, debated and decried, a hushed Bale went on local rock radio station KROQ-FM (106.7) to offer an apology and to urge people not to punish the movie for the actions of its star.
"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" in 2003 was directed by Jonathan Mostow ("U-571") and had a tacked-on feel to many fans, but it still pulled in $150 million at the box office domestically and an impressive $283 million overseas, an indication that Schwarzenegger is still a viable Hollywood export in this decade.
McG said he was initially skeptical about the need for another "Terminator" film. At the Kirtland hangar, during a break from filming an intense scene with arguing resistance commanders, he said that the third "Terminator" film left him cold and that he wasn't eager to tamper with the legacy of Cameron's sci-fi classics.
"Sequels that match or meet the first film are hard to pull off, still, I think," McG said. "I know I made a substandard one with the 'Charlie's Angels' sequel, and I wasn't eager to make another one that followed someone else's movies."
The script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, though, took the characters into dark, unexpected directions and, unlike the previous three films, this one is set entirely in a grim, soul-crushing future.
Upon the film's near completion, McG set up a special early screening for Schwarzenegger, whose last starring role before his Sacramento adventure was "Terminator 3." The politician was not overwhelmed and told The Times: "I wasn't sure who the Terminator was. I don't know if there is one or if he's the star or the hero. These are the things that determine the success and how strong the movie will be."