The Terminator: Genisys trailers and promos have by now given fans of the Terminator franchise a better sense of what this reboot of James Cameron’s Terminator films will be about. Ever since Genisys was first announced with Arnold Schwarzenegger starring once again, people have been wondering how director Alan Taylor (Thor 2) and screenwriters Patrick Lussier (Drive Angry, Dracula 2000) and Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island, Alexander) plan to course-correct the franchise, after the missteps of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation.
Back in the middle of the summer 2014 movie season, Screen Rant got to join a select group of journalists at NASA’s New Orleans instillation, where the cast and crew of Terminator: Genisys were hard at work on a pivotal scene from the movie’s time-hopping plotline. Our group came loaded with questions about what the filmmakers have planned for this first chapter in an already-designed trilogy; and if you read our report below, you’re bound to learn more about what this new vision of Terminator is all about.
A NEW RE-IMAGINING: Fans of the franchise, listen up: We were told explicitly that Genisys will preserve the events of Terminator 1 & 2 as a separate timeline, while entirely wiping away the events of Rise of the Machines, Salvation and (sadly) The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Basically we are getting something like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot or Back to the Future II: a character (in this case, Kyle Reese) is set to play out a preordained series of events (the events of the first Terminator movie) only to find out that said events are no longer valid, and he is in the midst of an entirely new timeline. It’s the sort of “have your cake and eat it” plot device that allows room for James Cameron’s seminal films to still be counted as valid, while still allowing new creators to drive this new story in a wildly new direction than what fans expect. It’s a risky gamble – but one that could pay off dividends.
THE VISIT: When we arrived at NASA, we had to go through a pretty thorough check (passports and ID’s, that sort of thing) before we could be admitted to the super-secretive set of Terminator: Genisys. Before entering the set, we stopped in the dining tent outside for a quick chat with actor Jason Clarke, who was just coming off a successful premiere weekend for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In the film, Clarke takes on the iconic role of humanity’s savior, John Connor – though how much we’ll see of him in the film, and in what capacity, was a heavily guarded secret.
After chatting with humanity’s savior, we ventured into the set to see the people who will actually be going out to save humanity this time around: the new Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), with Schwarzenegger as a new, aged version of the Terminator who has been watching over Sarah for some time.
NEW TIME PERIODS: The set was designed to be a specific room in a facility called Cyberdyne (sound familiar?) – one that houses a crucial piece of equipment: the time travel device that has set both humans and Terminators into the past to wreak havoc. The year in which the scene takes place, we were told, is 2017 – marking one of three distinct time periods featured in the film. (The others are the 1984 setting of the original Terminator, and the 2020s future war, as seen in the trailer).
On the sound stage was a huge set piece built to look like the hallway of a slightly-futuristic corporation, leading up to a room housing a large, ovular, gyroscope-style time machine device. There was a lot of green screen lining the background (and patched over many parts of the set), so the exact, finished look of the facility was unclear. The elements of the time machine and its surrounding equipment were all constructed of practical elements, designed to look slightly futuristic metals or alloys. Even with all the green screen, the physical set was big and had intricate work to make it feel authentic – down to the extensive copper wiring. It looked in step with the Terminator universe, but fresh at the same time.
[Scene Analysis – MILD SPOILERS]
In the scene we witnessed, Sarah, Kyle and “The Guardian” (the nickname for Schwarzenegger’s aged Terminator who has been guarding Sarah Connor), are storming into the facility with the intent of blowing the place up, much like in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. As they approach the time machine room, it is apparent that the trio are bloodied, bruised and battle-damaged from a recent fight (against whom, no one would say), carrying a bomb that is near the end of its countdown.
The trio make a plan to delay denotation long enough to ride out the resulting blast safely from an underground bunker in the facility. When cameras cut, they are seemingly about to encounter some kind of new obstacle or threat while trying to carry out that plan.
We also got a tour of other pieces of the set – including the older and future versions of the time machine (there are 3 in total in the film… that we know about).
One time machine was located in 1984; it was in a rusted sewer and looked built from scrap parts and a lot of copper wiring. Why it was there, we weren’t told, but presumably it’s how The Guardian, Sarah and Reese end up in 2017 – which, if true, brings up a whole lot of questions about the new rules of time travel in the series (previously you could only go backwards).
Most of the rest of the day consisted of talking with the cast. Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney talked about what it’s like having to step into playing such iconic characters in a franchise that has seen better days. A spot of good news: Courtney gets to wear the same Nikes Michael Biehl did in the original Terminator! When we got to talk to the big man himself (Schwarzenegger), we discussed what it was about this vision of the franchise that made him finally return, after being so adamant about passing on Terminator Salvation.
More: Jai Courtney & Emilia Clarke Interviews
Director Alan Taylor talked to us about exploring themes of dysfunctional family (i.e., the Connors’ time-warped family relations, and their connections to Skynet and the Terminators – bad and good).
Producer David Ellison of Skydance broadened the thematic focus, touching on how, in today’s world (and presumably the near future), an entity like Skynet wouldn’t have to conquer through force and violence: we would happily invite Skynet through our front doors via digital technology. After all, A.I. is getting close to being a consumer commodity – let alone a technical innovation. No matter how Genisys ends up as a film, we can say that the filmmakers did start with some intriguing and modern concerns for the series to explore.
We also got to talk to costume designer Susan Matheson and a person named Diana from the props department, who told us all about creating the looks and weaponry (respectively) for not just one but three different time periods. Needless to say, it was a challenge.
Full Set Visit Report List
- Why Arnold Schwarzenegger Returned to the Franchise
- What Director Alan Taylor is doing Differently
- A New & Different John Connor
- Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor Challenge
- Recreating Kyle Reese and his Nike shoes
Terminator: Genisys will be in theaters on July 1, 2015.