Thanksgiving feels like Christmas for film fans this year, as the studios have been releasing trailers for next year’s big films (Jurassic World, Pan, and another little film set in another galaxy) and now, Paramount Pictures has followed suit with the release of the first trailer for Terminator Genisys. Though the first two films, which were written and helmed by James Cameron, are classics of the science fiction genre, the series has since faltered with two additional sequels and a television show. With time travel playing an important part of this mythos, it’s easy for both casual film-goers as well as avid fans, to get lost.
The first two films are close to my heart. They are two of my favorite films. The time travel elements that make up the backbone of those films seems less daunting than it might normally be simply because they both contain simple human stories at the center; the emotional core for both of them was so simple and so pronounced. In the first film, Kyle Reece was sent back in time to protect a defenseless young woman who’s destined to give birth to a revolutionary, but his reason for volunteering came from somewhere far more personal: he had been given a photo of her, and, having studied every line and every curve of that photo, he had fallen for her. He wanted to know what she was thinking when the picture was snapped. He had come because he had fallen for someone he had never met. As it turns out, she was thinking about him when the photo was taken, so a potentially complicated time travel story was made so very simple by making it about a pure emotional connection between these two characters. The sequel, T2, followed suit by having the heroine decide that the future is not set, that things can change. Her determination to change the future does, for a short time, cause her to lose sight of her own compassion, at least until her son, still a child, reminds her of just how important compassion is.
The new film, Terminator Genisys, seems to be working backwards (or sideways, maybe) from the original film. Footage from that film has been reused, while other bits have been re-staged or re-shot. We see familiar events from a slightly different angle. While the conceit of time travel has made this kind of storytelling possible, it is rare to actually see it used in film and television (see Back to the Future Part Two or the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations”) for examples. After an introduction set in the familiar post-apocalyptic future of the Terminator films during which we see Kyle volunteering to protect Sarah (an event only alluded to and not seen in the first film), we relive Kyle Reece’s arrival in 1984 from the first film, as well as the arrival of the original terminator. We, once again, see Kyle making his way into a mall to steal a jacket and shoes, just as he had in the first film. It is about here where the movie decides to show us it’s hand, as a T-1000 (like the adversary from T-2) comes after Kyle, and he is rescued by Sarah. Apparently, the timeline has been fractured, and a T-800 model Terminator (Arnold) had been sent back in time many years before to protect her, and, possibly, even raise her, to prepare her more thoroughly than Kyle ever could. The trailer makes it clear that the arrival of the original terminator in 1984 was anticipated by Sarah.
What the movie must demonstrate is the ripple effect that time travel inevitably has. Though Kyle Reece here is played by Jai Courtney instead of Michael Biehn, it is apparent that this version of Reece is exactly the same Reece of the first film, and his view of the timeline is the same as that first film’s Kyle. He had no knowledge that a Terminator protector had been sent back to an earlier time to help Sarah. Maybe it was sent back later.
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Confused? Well that’s time travel for you. If you are willing to juggle the permutations of time travel, and if you are a fan of the franchise, than this film might be a must-see in cinemas next summer. Emilia is playing a slightly different version of Sarah here than what we’ve seen before. She’s not the hardened warrior that had been committed to a mental ward in the second film; instead Clark portrays someone much closer to the the naive 19-year-old waitress from the first film. Though trained by a terminator, there is an eagerness to her performance that reminds me of the first film’s Sarah. It helps that Clarke looks a lot like Linda Hamilton from 1984, before Hamilton gained so much muscle for the sequel.
Some fans will no doubt have trouble jumping on board for this film, considering how lukewarm the reception of the third and fourth films have been. Some of the performances might not be up to snuff, either. Jason Clarke (as John Connor) seems to lack the intensity of a man who knew how take down the machines and “turn them into junk,” as Kyle Reece told us in the first film, and Jai Courtney cannot possibly compete with Michael Biehn, but the film may overcome all obstacles because of our mere curiosity about it. Can they pull it off?
Another small note: it’s kind of neat that we are finally getting to see the time-displacement equipment machines that have been so important to this franchise