If there’s one summer blockbuster to see this season, then without a doubt it’s Terminator Salvation. Much as director Christopher Nolan rescued the Batman franchise from cartoon-like self parody and reinvented it as a dark exploration of the caped crusader’s character, his brother Jonathan (aka Jonah) Nolan was on hand to take the Terminator story back to basics for the fourth installment, exploring a bleak future of apocalyptic struggle and one man’s promise to save humankind (see overleaf, Terminator: The Mythology). While the idea of a Terminator movie without Arnie is a tough one to swallow, Christian Bale steps up to the plate and at last makes John Connor the star of the show. Here, he tells us why even he had his doubts about a fourth Terminator film, and explains his part in the evolution of the action hero.
Did you have any reservations about going from one iconic role in Batman to another in Terminator?
I didn’t have reservations about that. I just didn’t want to do the movie for various reasons. The script wasn’t good enough when I first read it. It had nothing to do with me playing Batman and John Connor. It was more about, what was the point of another Terminator movie? I have absolute respect for all the filmmakers but I didn’t like the third one. I didn’t know the ideas they were going to have for successfully reinventing the franchise. I liked the idea that it could happen because I liked the first two films very much. But it wasn’t there in the script that I read. I said no a couple of times but [Terminator Salvation director] McG was relentless in coming back and eventually we agreed that if we started from scratch again, then it might be possible.
What did you see that needed to be changed from that initial script?
There was an awful lot. In the original version of the script I would have only worked about seven days. After the writers’ strike, Jonah Nolan came in and did some great work in a matter of weeks and suddenly we had something worth filming. It was different from the previous films but respectful of the mythology. It continued with the same world, but didn’t rely on the same old, same old. You can’t keep repeating the same central villain who keeps pursuing and never stops. That is the nature of the terminators but how many times can you keep doing that formula? When I saw that Jonah had come up with something good as well as giving my character more to do, then I knew this was the film I could make.
Why was John Connor only working seven days in the original script?
I don’t know. It was just the bizarre notion of the original writers. The Connors have always been the central figures throughout the movies. Why was that rule being broken?
How did you start to construct who John Connor was?
I just looked at someone who has this crazy knowledge – to know what he is destined to become. There is a cult-like religious knowledge there. I wanted to temper that and ground him. It was going from something as superficial as the clothing. When I first got on set, they wanted to adorn me with feathers and other such superstitious things but I felt John Connor was the least superstitious person. He cuts through that bull and sees through it. I wanted to make him a very pragmatic person because that is what he has had to become in the midst of all this insanity.
You were 10 years old when the first film came out. What do you recall about that?
I saw it later on video with some friends. I do remember when I was 17 going to see Terminator 2. It was the most enthusiastic crowd
I have ever sat with at a theatre. I could barely hear any of the dialogue in the movie.
The image of the action star used to be brawn over brains. Now we see with actors like you in this film and, even with Batman, it’s a more intellectual approach. We seem to be redefining the action hero.
That is one of the things that I find fascinating. Schwarzenegger was so superhuman. Who the hell had ever seen a guy built that big before? He has since had many imitators so it has ceased to be a novelty. But Schwarzenegger will always be the originator. Hey, look at this (pointing to his muscles). I can’t compete so I have to find something other than my strength to compete. It’s a progression in action films that I credit Chris Nolan with for raising the bar and for taking movies that could potentially be cartoonish or just pure action and making them have substance and intelligence. These films are superior to those films of the ’80s. Then it was just enough to have a big guy beat the crap out of everyone, but now we need something new.
How do you hope audiences will react to Terminator Salvation?
I hope that we have done something that has its own identity while still being respectful to the mythology, and that people will recognise that there is a reinvigoration here and that they will give us the opportunity to really excel and make a second one. If we fail, then we put the nail in the coffin. But if we succeed, we have an opportunity to continue with this fantastic mythology.
Terminator Salvation is released on May 21.
Terminator Salvation received some unwelcome publicity earlier this year when a recording of Christian Bale yelling expletive- littered abuse at the film’s director of photography Shane Hurlbut was leaked on the internet. The unfortunate Hurlbut walked into Bale’s line of sight right in the middle of filming the movie’s ‘most emotional scene’, according to T4’s director McG. Bale has since said: ‘I’m human and sometimes I get out of order.’
Terminator: The mythology
Christian Bale prefers to see Terminator as a mythology, not a franchise. Here’s the story so far…By Laura Chubb
When humans create an artifical intelligence called Skynet it turns on them and starts a nuclear war. Having wiped out the majority of humankind, the remaining survivors must battle the new race of machines.
The key to humanity’s salvation is John Connor, destined to lead the human resistance. In The Terminator (1984), Skynet sends a robotic killing machine, the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), back in time to terminate John Connor’s mother, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), so that he can never be born. But the future John Connor also sends back one of his best soldiers, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to protect her and reveal why she must survive.
Having been foiled in the first film, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) sees Skynet send an all new and improved terminator, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), back in time to eliminate John Connor (Edward Furlong) as a teenager. So the future Connor sends a re-programmed old model terminator (Arnie again) to protect his past self and mother. Got a headache yet? Take a moment and read on.
It’s not worth saying a great deal about Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003), as it was a largely pointless installment. In fact the only important bit was the end, where we find that John Connor (Nick Stahl) has failed to prevent Judgement Day (the day Skynet starts a nuclear war), and the humans versus machines battle begins.
Terminator Salvation is the first part of the ‘mythology’ to ditch the time travel and set the story in Skynet’s post-apocalyptic future. We catch up with John Connor (Christian Bale) as a soldier who is not yet a leader, and are introduced to a mysterious new character, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington). Ooh, and we meet the first film’s hero, Kyle Reese, as a teenager, which is a bit weird because he’s actually John Connor’s dad. Confused? Start at the beginning and then get down the cinema on May 21.