“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 Director 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.”
Producer Derek Anderson, who along with his partner at Halcyon Company, Victor Kubicek, owns the “Terminator” rights, recalls “When we met with McG, his vision was so close to what we’d seen in our minds’ eyes.”
“It was undeniable that he was the right director for this picture, with so much ability, and enthusiasm and passion for the story,” echoes Kubicek. “We really knew that he would bring it home.”
McG directed “Terminator Salvation” after having been a fan of the film series for most of his life. “The Terminator,” written and directed by James Cameron, was released in 1984 and introduced the world to the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The T-800 is sent back in time by its artificial intelligence creator, Skynet, to stop the future leader of the Resistance from ever being born. But this leader also sends back a human soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and, ultimately, father a child with her—a child who will grow up to become Skynet’s greatest foe.
“One thing you learn about the Terminator in the first film is that it’s this unstoppable beast that just keeps coming,” says McG, “a machine that will just pursue its prey to the end; even when it’s been blown apart, it will not stop until you are dead.”
Cameron’s follow-up, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” released in 1991, became a global box office phenomenon. The story picks up after Sarah Connor has been institutionalized and Sarah’s now-teenaged son, John Connor (Edward Furlong), must defend himself against a sophisticated T-1000 Terminator (Robert Patrick), which Skynet has sent back in time to assassinate him. But the future-Connor sends back a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger) to protect his younger self. Together, Sarah, John and their new ally attempt to outrun the T-1000 and stop Judgment Day from happening.
“I was 17, just arriving in the States, when ‘T2’ came out,” says Christian Bale, who takes on the role of John Connor in “Terminator Salvation.” “Just the excitement in the theater—I’ve never known anything like that. You couldn’t hear a thing throughout the movie because everyone was just screaming.”
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.”
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.”
“IF YOU’RE LISTENING TO THIS, YOU ARE THE RESISTANCE” – AN OLD ENEMY IN A NEW FUTURE
To embody the character who is the fulcrum of the vast “Terminator” saga, McG cast Christian Bale, who became a critical component of his vision for the film. “Christian is a wonderfully talented actor and a true collaborator,” the director says. “Few actors bring the kind of weight and gravitas to the screen that Christian does.”
The filmmakers sought Bale out while the actor was in London filming “The Dark Knight.” “We were able to arrange some time for McG to meet with Christian,” recounts executive producer Jeanne Allgood. “Christian was hesitant at first because he needed to know that it would be more than just an action picture.”
Early in their development process, a new vision for John Connor began to take shape. “He’s so much older and he has gone through Judgment Day,” Bale says. “Living through an event like that alters everybody, so in many ways he’s a completely different person.”
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.”
To create a strong anti-hero opposite Bale’s John Connor, the filmmakers cast Sam Worthington, fresh off his experience working with “Terminator” creator James Cameron on his upcoming film “Avatar.” “Sam is a fundamentally tough guy, but at the same time, he shows innate human sensitivity,” says McG. “He holds his own with Christian, which is a tremendous feat considering how formidable an actor Christian is. It was very clear from the beginning that Sam was our guy.”
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.”
Yelchin, a “Terminator” fan for as long as he can remember, was thrilled with the prospect of portraying Kyle Reese in his teenage years. “McG and I talked about what he is going through as a kid to then become the intense guy in the first film,” he muses. “Why is he so tough and strong when he’s older? And you see that he already had elements of that as a kid. Kyle has survived from one day to the next, eating whatever he can find. He’s out there surrounded by T-600s and other human scavengers who aren’t all friendly.”
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.”
Blair Williams is played by Moon Bloodgood, who personified the qualities the filmmakers envisioned for this self-assured Resistance warrior, while also bringing the kind of feminine strength that has characterized the “Terminator” films. “I mean, if a nuclear bomb hit Los Angeles, I truly believe Moon would be the last woman standing,” McG jokes. “So she got the job.”
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, whom Bale describes as “fantastic. He’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. He’s sort of easygoing and laid back and a good actor as well. His character is Connor’s lieutenant and he does a great job.”
“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.”
“THE DEVIL’S HANDS HAVE BEEN BUSY” – BUILDING AN ARMY OF TERMINATORS
“One of the joys of this film is you get to see all the machines in the lexicon of Skynet,” says McG. “It’s just like a contemporary military: you’ve got machines in the water, in the ground, in the sky… It was an amazing adventure just looking at the different Terminators of this world because you want to see the success and failure of everything Skynet tried on their way to the T-800, their most proficient killing machine.”
Created from drawings by production designer Martin Laing and his team of art directors, the army of machines that rampage through “Terminator Salvation” came to life under the direction of Stan Winston, the legendary creature creator who designed the original T-800. Sadly, Winston passed away during the making of this film. “Stan confided in me once that he created imaginary monsters as a child to keep him company,” McG reflects. “He said he felt like the only kid in the world who did this. Little did he know his childhood friends would come to be the heroes of millions. But most of all, Stan was a good guy who loved what he did. It was a real honor to have had the opportunity to work with Stan Winston. I intend to dedicate this film to his memory.”
John Rosengrant, an effects supervisor at Stan Winston Studio, led the 60-member team to create this generation of Terminators, and also oversaw all the special effects make-up. Winston originally hired Rosengrant to work on the first “Terminator” film and became the artist’s mentor. It was the beginning of an incredible journey, one that has seen phenomenal advancements in animatronics and special effects over the intervening years.
For Rosengrant, the sheer volume of work demanded by this production required some innovations. “The challenge on ‘Terminator Salvation’ was to come up with lighter-weight materials that still replicated metal,” says Rosengrant. “We used combinations of urethanes and plastics, which were painted using breakthroughs in paint technology to achieve a metal look.”
On “Terminator Salvation,” the challenge also became creating Terminators that would be logical extensions within the world of the “Terminator” universe. “Because we’re in a period prior to the timeframe of the first three films, we had to, in a sense, reverse-engineer,” explains Laing. “In the same way that your laptop from ten years ago was thick like a brick and then, over time, got thinner and thinner, the Terminators you already know are the thin laptops and our Terminators are the bricks. They’re more primitive in their brutality and bigger in their design.”
On top of that, McG had a specific aesthetic in mind that would color the entire film, but especially the machines. “I didn’t want a shiny, robotic world,” McG expresses. “I didn’t want a clean future. I really wanted a distressed future. I wanted a dirty patina on the metal of the machines, like they’re a bunch of Soviet era tanks that haven’t been able to go in and get painted or tuned up in a long, long time.”
Moreover, because the film takes place post-Judgment Day, a full complement of Terminators, many of which were only hinted at in the earlier films, is revealed. “We are in an interim period,” says Christian Bale, “In the flash forwards to 2029 that we’ve seen in previous movies, Skynet has absolute dominance of all the armies of T-800s and Hunter-Killers. But what we’re seeing here is the genesis of the T-800. In the present, we’ve got a lot of T-600s, which are more primitive versions of the T-800, and a phenomenal array of machines.”
Skynet’s preeminent foot soldier is the T-600, which McG describes as “bigger and nastier” than the T-800, “a `57 Buick compared to a 2009 Mercedes Benz.”
A hulking seven-foot-three, rudimentary version of what would eventually become the T-800, with a simplistic rubber skin pulled over the face and rag-tag clothing to hide the endoskeleton, the T-600 “prowls the badlands looking for anything with a heartbeat, an unrelenting machine with a singular focus of killing,” McG continues.
They carry a mini-gun, an M203 lower unit, capable of anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 rounds per minute, and a backpack full of ammunition. The filmmakers wanted to design the T-600s as machines that are no longer manufactured but maintain their patrols in the field, battered and weathered, their camouflage mostly lost, damaged in battle, or eaten away by the elements. As Kyle Reese said in “The Terminator,” “The first ones were easy to spot.”
Created using both rigged and manned puppets in combination with CGI, the T-600s appear in the film in various states of disrepair. “It gives them a creepy, zombie-like quality when you see, for example, the whole lower jaw exposed or areas torn out of their faces,” says Rosengrant.
Seen in “flash-forwards” in the earlier films was the Terminator aircraft called the Hunter-Killer. Hunter-Killers, or H-Ks, patrol the skies, scanning the ground below with massive floodlights. Like the T-600s, the “Terminator Salvation” version of the H-Ks represents a more rudimentary beast than what Skynet would eventually develop.
Patrolling like drones in search of human survivors are small devices called Aerostats. These four-foot-long aerial sentries buzz about the land, hunting for any sign of human life. Equipped with digital camera and laser-imaging technology, they send wireless reports back to Skynet, which then sends in the Harvester.
“One of my favorite Terminators is the Harvester, which are the machines that collect the people,” says McG. Approximately 80 feet tall, the Harvester resembles a spider, with multiple steel arms and legs extending from a thorax-like body with jointed claw-like appendages for capturing its prey, and multiple camera eyes on long stalks for viewing the carnage. “Its job is to break into any structure where humans are hiding, grab its prey and put them in the Transporters to be taken to Skynet.”
But failing that strategy, the Harvester unleashes Moto-Terminators. “Because the Harvester is such a big beast, as it’s collecting humans there are always going to be the few that escape,” Laing continues. “So, in the same way that a shepherd uses sheepdogs, the Harvester has Moto-Terminators, which are bike-like Terminators that race off after the humans and bring them back. They also have guns and the ability to kill, but the goal is to retrieve escapees and return them to the Harvester so it can put them in the Transporter.”
These slick machines are based on the Ducati motorbike, a personal favorite of director McG. The Italian company was approached by the filmmakers and was thrilled to be involved. They supplied four identical hyper-motored bikes for use in filming.
“We had to have credible-looking Moto-Terminators in this picture, so we went to the designers and the whole team from Ducati,” says McG. “Ducatis are sleek, powerful, agile machines, so that felt like a great place to start as we created the language of the Moto-Terminators.”
The visual effects team was able to overlay the Moto-Terminator look over the practical Ducatis. The production also had a practical Moto-Terminator made in Los Angeles, which was used during filming.
Skynet covers the land with these machines, but for the seas, lakes and rivers, it has developed a unique underwater Terminator called the Hydrobot. Resembling four-foot-long segmented serpents, eyeless but with razor-sharp heads that drill into their victims, Hydrobots respond to sound and vibrations in the waters they prowl. “The Hydrobots turned out to be pretty fun, interesting characters,” says Rosengrant, “sort of a cross between a psychotic crab and some sort of sea serpent. They’re wicked, vicious things with these pincher-like claws on the front and an auger kind of drill bit. Once that gets a hold of you, you’re definitely finished.”
These machines were especially challenging for Rosengrant and his team, “not only because of how detailed they were but because they had to work in water, and were going to get punished pretty hard,” he continues. “When working in water, most of the radio control devices that you would usually use are out the window; instead you’re working with cable or pneumatics. And the Hydrobot needed to be durable enough to be wrestled and thrown around and chucked out of helicopters and punched through things, but at the same time not be so unwieldy that we couldn’t puppet it.”
They ended up using a combination of steel structures that were kept as lightweight as possible and lightweight urethane parts painted to look like metal. “We ended up getting a lot of extra shots that none of us thought we would get with the practical model,” Rosengrant states. “We thought it would have to be augmented with CGI, but we were all amazed by how well it turned out.”
Watching the Stan Winston puppeteers working the various rigs, Bale found their dedication inspiring. “They’d practiced for so long, and really got the movements down,” says Bale. “With the Stan Winston team, it’s incredible to see the painstaking detail they give all their work, their incredible patience, and their complete love for what they do. I love seeing people who are just obsessed with what they do, and these guys are obsessed with building models. They want to perfect what a T-600 really would look like turning its head and attacking somebody. They take it very, very seriously, and I think that’s wonderful.”
But by far the most innovative of Skynet’s creations isn’t entirely metal: Marcus, the human Terminator hybrid who learns of his cyborg adaptations over the course of the film.
Marcus’s special effects make-up and prosthetics were created by Rosengrant, whose team developed several variations to accommodate the many different conditions Marcus finds himself in, including a full reveal of the interior endoskeleton after his capture by the Resistance.
A combination of large prosthetic pieces sculpted using the latest technology, make-up, and CGI, the creation of Marcus was a complex endeavor that demanded creativity and patience, especially on the part of Sam Worthingon, who spent as many as six hours straight in the make-up chair being worked on by a team of three artists.
The total effect, which McG was able to accomplish with help from the creative team of artisans from every corner of the production, was an iconic vision that truly created a new chapter in the “Terminator” saga. “Every other picture in this series has been present day,” the director says. “Our film is a totally new beginning. We show the genesis of these fearful machines; we go into Skynet. We see the CPU that will represent the rise of the machines to a place of complete dominance. It was an incredible thrill for me to play a part in the continuation of this incredible story, which inspired me so much throughout my life, and remains prescient and relevant today.”
For Bale, who was able to see footage during production of the Terminators in action, the thrill was equally intense. He notes with a wry smile, “We went through filming thinking we were the leads, but it ain’t so in the slightest. People aren’t coming to see us. We’ve got to provide some kind of a story to it, because no matter how great the Terminators and the explosions are, you’ve got to have a good story or otherwise what’s the point? But let’s face facts: the Terminators are the rightful stars of the movie. And they’re going to blow everyone away.”
“JUDGMENT DAY HAPPENED” – BUILDING THE WORLD OF “TERMINATOR SALVATION”
The practical challenge for the filmmakers of “Terminator Salvation” was to bring to life an America circa 2018 with its sun-blasted expanses, skeletal cities and both human and Terminator occupants. From finding the ideal locations and shooting facilities, to the fabrication of every physical element, to the type of film stock used to capture the otherworldly vistas he sought, McG worked in close collaboration with his team to create a unified and totally new vision for the post-apocalyptic reality of the story.
To pervade the imagery with a post-war tone, McG and his director of photography Shane Hurlbut shot the film using an experimental version of the “Oz process” in film processing. “We took an old film stock from Kodak and we let it sit in the sun too long to degrade some of its qualities,” explains McG. “Then we processed it in a way where we added more silver than you would traditionally add to a color film stock. And we went even further to manipulate that in the digital intermediate to give the film an otherworldly quality that gives you the impression that something’s just off with the way this world looks, which is in keeping with the mood of the entire picture.”
The locations would also play a major role in grounding the film in tactile reality. “We wanted a big, vast world,” McG affirms. “To do that, we needed this incredible diversity in our locations. In this film, we go to the sea, we go to the mountaintop, we go to the desert, we go to the jungle. Added to that, we wanted to capture a world at war; the entire world is involved in this conflict, and we wanted to open the film up and make it feel like a huge cinematic experience in that respect.”
The filmmaking team was able to accomplish all of that in one place when they chose Albuquerque, New Mexico, with its combination of sweeping deserts, mountain landscapes and the modern stages at Albuquerque Studios.
“When you’re making a movie about an American icon, following the journey of John Connor as he chases Terminators, you want to have that American backdrop behind you,” says production designer Laing. “Judgment Day has taken place, so we have a devastated landscape and out here, you literally open the door of the stage and you see these amazing deserts. And Albuquerque Studios, in addition to being a multi-purpose studio, also has a huge amount of land around it where we could build sets.”
With the echo of a once-powerful military force living on in the Resistance, the filmmakers turned for guidance and support—not to mention hardware—to the Defense Department at nearby Kirtland Air Force Base. “‘Terminator Salvation’ is set in a world that is post-Air Force, post-Army; it’s just the Resistance,” offers producer Jeffrey Silver. “But we figured the Resistance would model itself after the discipline of the armed forces today, so we went to Chuck Davis, who is the coordinator of the Department of Defense in Los Angeles and its motion picture liaison. He introduced us to the Air Force and they just opened the doors to us. We got all the hardware we needed; we were able to shoot on Air Force property. We had just fantastic cooperation because they recognized that in the future portrayed in this film, the military will still be the men and women who protect us, no matter what may come.”
The production utilized aircraft and weaponry to reflect the kinds of supplies to which humans could conceivably gain access within the context of the story. “The resistance does have some hardware, so it’s not just sticks and stones against the machines,” says McG. “They’ve got A-10 planes, and some older mechanized machines that they use to fight back.”
A key military jet that figures into the story is the A-10 Thunderbolt Two (also known as the Mighty Warthog, the Flying Gun, and the Tankbuster). Flown by Blair Williams, the A-10s are one of the best forms of air support the Resistance possesses for taking on Skynet’s massive machines. Air Force Captain Jennifer Shoeck, herself an A-10 pilot and the woman who provided guidance to Bloodgood in her role, remarks, “The A-10 gets down in the weeds, gets dirty—low and slow is its main mission. It’s a close air support aircraft to aid the ground troops.”
Other aircraft utilized by the production, with the assistance of the Air Force and its pilots, were: the CV-22 Osprey, which can fly at fixed-wing aircraft speeds but has tilt-rotor technology that allows it also to take off and land like a helicopter; a massive C-130 Hercules transport; and the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, a modified Blackhawk aircraft with external gun mounts.
Since not all sequences required actual hardware, the production also created mock-ups and reclaimed junked aircraft, which was put on motion simulators to recreate the flight dynamics of the respective aircraft. The special effects crew, led by special effects supervisor Mike Meinardus, rigged up a gimbal and hung a helicopter from a crane, so the prop aircraft could be moved in a believable fashion from above, and McG could shoot the bottom as it pulled away from the set without any whirling blades.
Because Kirtland Air Force Base shares a runway with a commercial airport, Albuquerque’s Sunport, the Air Force offered the production an unused hangar for staging, which ultimately was also modified to stand in as the Resistance stronghold.
In the film, this outpost is comprised of a series of ‘60s-era missile silos connected by a large underground network of tunnels. “Everything you see in the outpost are the layers the Resistance fighters have set up—to generate power, to grow their own food, to build a water filtration system, to equip an infirmary—stuff these guys would have dragged in from their reconnaissance expeditions and what, realistically, they could have jerry-rigged together to make this a functioning facility,” Laing relates.
To research the Resistance base, Laing toured the nuclear fallout shelters beneath Budapest, Hungary, and looked at other post-disaster quarters. “I took a whole series of photographs and came back to create the environment in which the Resistance lives and plans,” he says. “These men and women are not only fighting Skynet, but they’re also fighting the environment they’re in. Every resource is completely depleted; they’re just living with the world that they have.”
The film’s creators spoke to futurists about what would happen with the flora and fauna, as well as manmade objects. “We wanted to get all of that detailing into our movie,” says costume designer Michael Wilkinson. “We asked, ‘If the bombs went off about 14 years ago and destroyed most of North America, what would be left? What would people scrounge and cobble together to survive, to fight?’”
Obsolete but functioning weapons, recycled clothing, electronics equipment culled from the rubble and reconfigured, ammunition found or stolen from the enemy—these are the limited resources of the Resistance. The design team set about scouring New Mexico, which has long had a strong military presence, for authentic pieces at military surplus yards and from local collectors.
Wilkinson recalls, “McG didn’t want the film to look like some far-fetched, fantastical science fiction movie. It’s set in 2018, not the distant future; it’s just around the corner. So we did lots of research into moments in history that have had incredible meaning in the human psyche, stories of displaced people and apocalyptic tales.”
In creating the wardrobe of the film’s key characters, Wilkinson collaborated with McG, Laing, and the actors themselves to ensure that each set of clothes would reflect a number of key requirements, first and foremost of which was authenticity. “We created a whole stock of clothes that were from different sources—be it from different armies of North America, tactical and police gear, technical gear, and just regular street clothes—thinking about what clothes people would have after a nuclear war,” he explains. “What has survived? What has the army culled together to make their uniform? We were always treading the knife-edge of realism and accuracy on one side, and at the same time, heightening things so we were creating appealing and innovative visuals.”
Continuity with the earlier films was another factor Wilkinson considered in designing the costumes. For John Connor, Wilkinson worked in the tiger stripe army pants that reflect back to the clothes worn by the younger Connor in the second “Terminator” film. But beyond that, he kept Connor’s silhouette stark. “Less is more with Christian,” Wilkinson observes. “The intensity of his performance and his commanding presence tells you who John Connor is. There is a certain neutrality to his look that helps you get to know the real John Connor.”
Another nod came in the form of the sneakers worn by Kyle Reese—an echo of the boots he will wear as an adult, as seen in “The Terminator”—which the wardrobe crew adapted with shearling inside and cord laces. “It was really fun, because you’re starting with these fantastic, iconic characters and then tweaking them to fit with our vision for this movie,” Wilkinson says.
The designer crafted the costume of Marcus, a 21st century Terminator hybrid, utilizing leathers that reflected back to the T-800’s wardrobe of choice. “We got an old pair of leather biker pants and essentially destroyed them, just really aged them up, so they had this patina to them, and then we took two leather jackets and patched them together to become one jacket,” he details.
Wilkinson also coordinated with the artists from Stan Winston Studio to ensure continuity as his costume and skin give way and reveal his mechanical endoskeleton over the course of his adventures. “We coordinated what would be revealed, and when and how,” he recalls. “He has three main looks through the film and each look had to have 10 or 20 versions of the costume in various states of clean, distressed, shredded, matted, napalmed, shot-through, etc.”
Wilkinson adds that he also created costumes with individualized detailing for the women in the film, including Blair’s adapted, skintight flight suit, and Star’s oversized outfit. “What McG and I really liked was the idea that, as opposed to the world of machines where all of them look the same, human beings are different because they express who they are through their clothes,” he notes. “We looked to the Native American people of the region to see how they integrated ornamentation into the useful things they carried. So, on top of this military, tactical dress, you have a layer of organic, expressive, very human handcrafted elements. In that way, Star wears a policeman’s star-shaped badge on her hat; and Blair wears a variety of chains, lockets, feathers and other found objects as jewelry pieces.”
Arming the characters also entailed combining creativity with practical realism. The design team outfitted John Connor with an HK 416D, the German version of a U.S. M4. Connor’s right-hand man, Barnes, carries the mammoth Grizzly 50, while Blair is armed with the sizable Desert Eagle 50.
With the extensive gun battles, chase sequences and explosions, the filmmaking team had a tremendous amount of firepower to execute as practically and safely as humanly possible. “We wanted to do everything in-camera,” says McG. “When it was necessary to extend with CG, we did that, but we wanted to build everything, blow things up, and really crash the car. It was extraordinary to have the concussion of the explosion to add to the realism of the sequence. You see exhilaration in everyone’s eyes. You can feel their adrenaline rising. We aimed to keep it as safe as possible, but we definitely wanted to push things every step of the way, to create a movie that, at its core, is a war movie and captures the reality of that intense pressure.”
Photorealism was the mandate for the practical effects and visual effects teams alike. Visual effects supervisor (and second unit director) Charles Gibson asserts, “McG wanted real pyro events, explosions and actions at a one-to-one scale, not as miniatures or computer-generated. This is actually more of an action movie in that sense. So, we chose to deploy the visual effects as intelligently as we could, to not overdo it, and always used a real-world proxy where we could.” Gibson also worked in partnership with eight facilities, including Industrial Light & Magic, Asylum, Kerner Studios, Whiskey Tree and Rising Sun Studios.
One of the most potent special effects challenges was the destruction of the gas station during Marcus and Kyle’s battle with the Harvester, in which Marcus spies a tanker truck and blows it up beneath the Harvester in an attempt to thwart further attacks. Shot using a tanker filled with roughly 250 gallons of gasoline, the ensuing fireball was about 160 feet in diameter and 200 feet high. That explosion enveloped the gas station itself, followed by another explosion at the gas pump island. The effect required 12 weeks of preparation and thorough safety measures on the day of the event.
It also meant the production had only one shot at getting it right and capturing it on film. McG took no chances, filming the scene from multiple angles using cameras on remote switches; cameras up close, protected in crash housings; cameras manned by operators behind bunkers; and even cameras on helicopters, using very long lenses.
Even more spectacular, perhaps, was the napalm drop and the crash of Connor’s helicopter into the river. To accomplish this sequence, the crew constructed a 200-foot length of river in the middle of the desert, consisting of an 18-foot-deep tank that housed a scissor lift that moved the helicopter up and down and was rigged so the helicopter could crash in the water and ratchet over. Along the “riverbank” was a mix of real and concrete trees, the latter rigged with gas lines to generate a controlled burn, and beyond that a protective fire ring, with a cadre of local firefighters standing by.
The “napalm” was dropped in a series of explosions along a 300-foot length of river, each blast using 100 gallons of gasoline, with the flames climbing several hundred feet into the air. Lasting about seven seconds, the effect was like a machine gun strafe of fireballs, generating a big heat blast, “and luckily nothing more than that,” recalls Gibson.
“It just got your adrenaline going,” Moon Bloodgood attests. “There were some crazy stunts—we’d start running and then it would be dust and things exploding and I had no idea what was going to hit me. And we would be laughing because we were so scared. But I loved it.”
“My character goes through the wringer,” says Worthington. “He gets strung up, cut up, and blown up, which meant I also spent many a day getting strung up, cut up, and blown up,” he laughs. “So, yeah, we got our bumps and bruises, but it’s ‘Terminator,’ it’s not ‘Pride and Prejudice.’”
With hundreds of people on set on any given day, all working in 80,000 square feet of stage space, as well as a good portion of the desert surrounding Albuquerque Film Studios, “Terminator Salvation” was, Jeffrey Silver states, “an incredibly huge operation. It involved every different trick in the book—animatronics, special effects, visual effects, stunts… You name it, this film had it.”
McG sums up simply, “It was intense…but an incredible amount of fun.”