Movies & TV / Columns

Will James Cameron Be Enough to Save the Terminator Franchise?

September 2, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Terminator: Dark Fate Arnold Schwarzenegger

“One of the things that seemed obvious from looking at the films that came along later was that we would need to get everything back to the basics and that we would need to avoid the mistakes of making things overly complex and that we needed to avoid stories that jumps around in time and one that goes backward and forward in time. Let’s keep it simple in the relative unity of time. With the story, let’s have the whole thing play out in 36 hours or 48 hours. In the first two movies everything plays out in less than two days in each one so there’s energy and momentum.”

– James Cameron

Let’s be honest, the Terminator franchise has been in trouble since 2003’s Rise of the Machines. Outside 2008’s underrated Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series, it has been a confusing mess of timelines and stories.

In the great race to make as much money as they can off of nostalgia, we have the upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate, which has something going for it that the others didn’t.

James Cameron.

Cameron delivered the two movies that mattered and in a recent interview with Vulture, is clear what needs to happen in order to go forward. “I suppose it is an unusual situation from a high-level perspective since I wasn’t involved in three intervening films, but when I talked to David Ellison about it his vision for this was basically to go back to basics and do a continuation from Terminator 2, which is one of his favorite films,” Cameron said. “He’s always believed in the potential of Terminator but he really felt that his own film, Genysis — and he was quite honest with me about this — fell short of the mark and didn’t really do what he had wanted it to do. So he said, ‘Let’s start with a blank slate and take it back to Terminator 2.’ And that idea was intriguing.”

In doing that, plenty of familiar faces are returning to the fold, one of them being Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. “We spent several weeks breaking story and figuring out what type of story we wanted to tell so we would have something to pitch Linda,” said Cameron. “We rolled up our sleeves and started to break out the story and when we got a handle on something we looked at it as a three-film arc, so there is a greater story there to be told. If we get fortunate enough to make some money with Dark Fate we know exactly where we can go with the subsequent films.”

In case it’s not clear, Cameron isn’t directing Dark Fate, but a producer. Helming the movie is Tim Miller, from Deadpool fame. Plenty of questions surrounded Dark Fate, like just how much creative input Miller would have, being in Cameron’s shadow. “My belief is that if you get a director who’s a grown-up and knows what to do, you turn them loose,” Cameron said. “My role as producer was in pre-production, and prep and shepherding the script. But it was Tim’s film when it reached the floor.”

I take that with a grain of salt. Cameron’s name is all over this project and the last thing he wants is a project to flop or not meet expectations. Even with everything going on with his Avatar sequels, Cameron is sure this one gets it done right. Or as close to possible.

“I focused on getting the script punched up,” Cameron said in the interview. “I didn’t feel like we went into the shoot with the script exactly where it should have been. There was a lot of momentum on the project, there was a start date, there was a lot of energy and a lot of “go fever,” but the script wasn’t where it needed to be so I quietly worked on it in the background and shipping out pages. Sometimes I was shipping out pages the day before they shot a scene. I’m not sure that was 100% always helpful but overall I kept the characters on track and sounding right and being where they needed to be.”

Will it be enough? The latest Terminator: Dark Fate trailer hit last week and the reaction was…barely there. A quick scan on social media didn’t do much to excite either. The Terminator name doesn’t have the shine it once did and thanks to the Law of Diminishing Returns, the string of bad movies have hurt the franchise with the general audience.

While it’s tough to bet against Cameron, one has to wonder that if this movie fails to deliver, will the Terminator franchise be shelved indefinitely?