McG Set to Relaunch ‘Terminator’ Franchise
by Paul Fischer
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One of the highlights of this year’s Comic Con, was the Warner Bros Terminator panel, during which the trailer for next summer’s blockbuster, was screened to thunderous applause. The film stars Christian Bale in a film that takes place after Judgment Day. Specifically, the film is set in post-apocalyptic 2018, John Connor (Bale) is the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Australian newcomer Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.
Following the panel, McG fronted a packed media contingent where he talked about the film. Paul Fischer was there and filed this interview with the very talkative and enthused director.
Paul Fischer: Where are you able to make this your own?
McG: Truthfully, I think any filmmaker tries to go on a film-by-film basis and do what’s right for what’s in front of them. I’m very pleased with the Charlie’s Angels pictures, and what I was trying to do with those movies is just break down the glass ceiling, and say, “You can make a successful female action picture.” That was a long time ago, and I’m a different filmmaker now, and I made a movie after that about a plane crash. I’ve been afraid of flying for a long time. I needed to sort of face that catharsis, that Joseph Campbell moment of facing what you’re most afraid of. That was the impetus for making We Are Marshall. And now, I wanted to make a movie that was about posing ethical questions to the audience and suggesting that the film won’t be easy—it’s going to be a little elliptical in the way you ride along the picture.
So as far as the look and what we wanted to do with this—I wanted to create a new film language. We talked to Kodak about creating a new stock that had never been photographed before. I told you about how we’re adding three times as much silver to a color stock than had ever been added, and that gives it an ethereal quality that suggests something’s off. Something is wrong with the world that we’re living. I just wanted to create a very, very gritty language. I’m tremendously influenced by Children of Men—hats off to that picture, I think it’s fantastic and I hope more people get a chance to see it. But by the same token, this isn’t designed to be an art picture; this is a picture designed to be shared the world over. So you gotta find the balance between that artistic take and that artistic look and what’s right for a film designed to be seen by a great many people around the world. I must say, we’re very, very pleased with the way the film looks and feels. You guys be the judge, you just saw it, I’m hoping it has that grit that I speak of.
PF: Can you talk about the involvement of Nolan in the script? And does the film end on a cliffhanger?
McG: The film does indeed end on a cliffhanger. Jonah Nolan is an extraordinarily cerebral guy. So when you got Jonah Nolan on your left, and Christian Bale on your right, and Sam Worthington kicking you in the head right in front of you, it will definitely keep you on your toes. I would have to characterize Jonah as the lead writer of the film. I don’t know how the WGA rules work. I’m looking at Sam from Sony, you probably know better. But, honest to goodness, we did the heaviest lifting with Jonah, and that’s where we all got that and talked about what we were up to. He’s just a very, very cerebral guy, you know, and he and Chris behind Memento and The Prestige, and certainly the Batman pictures, they are deep, deep thinkers.
PF: How was meeting James Cameron?
McG: It was a double dip. I was going down to see Sam, down at the Marina Del Ray space there by LAX, and it was a complete motion cap environment, Sam’s in his data suit and everybody’s running around with little balls hanging off their leotards, and I got to play with the cameras and talk to Jim at length. We’d had several phone calls, and he knows that I respect him a great deal. Like I said, I did not want to move forward on this picture if Jim Cameron were like, “Fuck you. What are you doing? You have no business moving forward on this!” I would have very simply acquiesced. I would have said, “You’re very right, you’re the creator of what it is, and I respect that.” And he was very encouraging, and we talked at length about the story, we talked about Sam. Most particularly, we talked about his experience on Aliens, and the idea of, you can’t live in fear, you’ve gotta move forward.
I mean, I remember when I was on Superman and people were kicking the shit out of me, and saying, “What kind of guy calls himself McG?” It’s the privilege of the public to do that, not knowing that McG is short for McGinty, and I’ve been called that since the day I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There’s nothing Hollywood about it. It’s a function of being poor and having three Joes in one household, so they didn’t call me Joe, they called me McG, short for McGinty, my mother’s maiden name. But, of course, as I said, we live in a shorthand society and people do what they gotta do. I’ve talked extensively to Brice about, you’ve gotta be on Happy Days before you can become the great Ron Howard. Maybe you gotta be Spicoli before you can be Sean Penn, and maybe you gotta do some time on 21 Jump Street before you can grow into the boots of Johnny Depp. There’s nothing wrong with paying your dues and I’m certainly willing to pay mine.
PF: Can you talk about working with Christian Bale?
McG: I’m delighted to speak about Christian, and I think everybody up here can talk about him. He’s the most professional, passionate actor you’re ever going to find. It’s just that simple. You’re looking at some professional actors sitting here now, and Bale is just all about the work. He loves his wife, he loves his child, he loves being an actor. He’s not interested in materialistic things, he wants to come to work prepared. I can’t go, “Okay, Christian, you go off camera left.” Christian is going to talk to me for—back me up—“What went into the decision to go off camera left?” Which his wonderful. It’s the elegant opposition you want. You don’t want people just going, “Yeah, whatever, tell me what to do and we’ll do it.” Everybody up here challenges me all the time. She got shot in the leg, she wanted to know the degree to which her limp should take place. She plays a doctor in the film, so we’ve got doctors all over the place trying to tell us how to perform properly so it’s credible to the medical community. Look at Common, the gun training these guys had to go through, so these guys that work for, what is it, Blackwater, and all these secret spy spots, come in and tell us how to take down a house and carry a gun properly and when you swing through your own people you break the axis of the rifle. Just such focused acting, to honor the story we’re telling and make it look credible, and Christian sets an excellent example in that way. Just for the record, he’s a big hearted, good guy. And I’ve worked with a lot of people and that’s just simply who he is.
PF: You’ve been shooting a lot of stuff and will it be a PG-13?
McG: Like I said, Robanoff is here today. Jeff Robanoff runs Warner Bros., he just walked out of the room, a guy named Jeff Blake’s here today, he just went over to Judd Apatow’s panel. He and Amy Pascal run Sony, both of whom are perfectly comfortable with the rate of our picture. We don’t aim—I mean, Sam, Anton, Moon, Brice, Common—we shoot the picture. Sam’s still got blood on his hands and makeup from what we went through yesterday, all the physical needs of that scene. We just shoot, shoot, shoot. And that’s not to say, “And therefore, it’s going to be NC-17.” You know what I mean? You and I discussed this, I have no problem with a PG-13 picture. I just saw The Dark Knight, and I thought it was a work of art. I thought it was immaculate. I thought it was made compromise-free. I don’t think Chris, had to go, “Ah, damn it, if I could just do what I want to do, and get that R that I want, the picture would be better.”
So I am saying, I’m not afraid of a PG-13 rating, at all. We are not rooting for anything, and I’m not going to let the fan base down trying to target a rating. The only people that would give us a hard time bout that would indeed be the studios, which you have to respect because they put a lot of money behind the making of the film. And like I said, Jeff Blake, I’ll grab him, and Robanoff, who was sitting in the front row, they don’t care. So if they say, “Deliver a rated-R picture,” that’s really freeing. It allows us to do what we want to do with the film, so… The film will rule the day, we’ll all be looking at rough cuts together and we’ll make those decisions. if it just comes down to, whoops, there’s too much blood on the head of the Marcus character, and that’s what pops you into an R, I don’t think that makes the film infinitely more valuable. So I get back to a PG-13. If they want to get rid of, um—you can’t have T-600s carrying mini-guns—then no, it’s an R, because there are certain things that are part of the iconographic nature of the film. You know, we talked about all this when we were on the set together. Like I said we just are really making the film in a vacuum, we’re just doing what we think is right creatively, day in and day out.
PF: The continuity was always a little flexible in the movies. What’s your take on the timeline?
McG: Well there’s no doubt that at the beginning of T3, for example, begins with a bit of a punt. As to what happened at the end of T2, and there’s some rejuggling of the timelines. We’re largely treating it as though the bombs have gone off. I’m not going to share with you what the date is where the bombs go off, and we come into the picture in 2018. We do the best we can to honor the timelines that have been put into place. I think it ultimately feels very satisfying. If we’ve done our job properly, then this will be regarded as the statement of the time and the place and the where and the when and the why and the how. And it comes from a place of doing a lot of research with, you know, futurists, with scientists who talk about how long it would take the atmosphere to clear itself out so you could actually go back outside and do your thing. we’re trying to just sort of amalgamate three pictures, and amalgamate the intention. And then answer that to the best of our ability.
Again, there are certain things that are in stone. The T-800 comes in 2029, you know, we’re building towards that place. Therefore if hardware should show up in 2018, that was supposed to be around in 2029, that’s a problem for John Connor.
PF: What do you remember about seeing the first Terminator?
McG: I’ve always regarded the first picture as a horror picture—it’s a chase picture. It’s Halloween. What’s the difference between Schwarzenegger in the first picture and Michael Myers in Halloween? Which is wonderful, I’m complimenting the picture. And then the second picture, I thought brought a level of complexity that you can’t hope to achieve on a sequel. Sequels are tough. I made an inadequate sequel! I made it with this woman back here, Kim Greene, we made a good first picture and the second picture was a lesser picture. For Cameron—I blame you, you did the makeup!—for Cameron, to make a sequel that elevates to the degree? How many sequels are better, we talked about this too, how many sequels are better than the original? Arguably the second Godfather. Arguably. Arguably Jim’s Aliens. Dark Knight? Arguably Empire [Strikes Back]. But it’s a short list, we all agree. Far more often than not, we go to the sequel, we go, “What?” You know? And we all feel—
McG: Meatballs Two was shit, let’s be honest.
PF: So why continue on?
McG: Well, the easy thing for us is, we have after the bombs. Just put most simply—every other picture has been present day. This is after it happened, so therefore it’s a totally new beginning. It’s a totally new beginning! Are the lights on? That’s so graphic and so wonderful, this is where it all happens. Inside this, the CPU that will represent the rise of the machines to a place of complete dominance. We’re hearing towards that place very rapidly, day in, day out. I’m looking at all the open laptops. I’m looking at the digital cameras, all these things are brand new, and just getting faster and more intelligent and more intuitive all the time. So…
PF: What’s the relationship with the TV show?
McG: I’m a buddy with Josh Friedman, who runs the show. We had a meeting early on, and we want to honor that at all times, but we can’t, I know about episodic television, with The O.C. and Chuck and Supernatural, what it takes to generate stories hour in and hour out, every week. We just put most fairly, and Josh was the first to jump on and say so, we can’t chase their story threads, you know? We honor it, we’re all using the same language, but this is this and that is that. I say that as a huge fan of the series. Where’s Jean? Jean and I talk about it all the time—she watches every minute of it and comes back and report on it, and do the whole thing. But at some point, you’ve got to create some freedom and tell the story that you regard as most compelling.
PF: Is the advance of technology scary to you?
McG: I think it’s a scary thing. Who here would suggest that humanity is in great shape? [laughs] You know, it’s just, think about it, we’re melting the oceans, we have a true population problem. I always talk about it, if I type A and N in my Blackberry, it types the D—that’s artificial intelligence. It’s no longer George Orwell—it’s here. You know? I meant what I said about, don’t work on getting happy, just manipulate the chemicals of your brain. How far can we go with that? And where does humanity begin and the machine world end? We can deconstruct the human genome so if your dad had high blood pressure your kid doesn’t have to. It’s kind of scary and amazing, and therefore that whole idea of Pandora’s box. This is just an illustration of here we go, and it’s likely to happen. Think about how much more quickly a computer can make a decision than our human mind can. Should that computer become aware, who knows?
PF: Talk about that as a filmmaker using technology.
McG: Here’s the thing: all the machines you see in his film are physics-based. It would be no different than if you and I went out to skunk works and said, “What have you guys got on the Cat Systems?” Wings articulating and engines doing what they do, and G-suits that create, you know, blood flow back to the head so you don’t to pass out and creating impossible turns. What you’re going to see is not built that I’m aware of, but based in physical reality. It’s not just hovercraft and simple dopey things. All day long we’re out here with ospreys out in New Mexico. Ospreys are those aircraft that take of vertically like helicopters, then midflight rotate and move to fly like a fixed-wing aircraft. You just watch that, that’s influencing us all day, every day. It’s just, here we go. What are the limits, who knows? Imagine how you felt the first time you saw a stealth fighter? Honest to goodness. I remember seeing that son of a bitch and I could not believe that was real. I could not believe that was real, and here’s the funny thing—how long ago did we roll out the stealth bombers and the stealth fighters? 10, 15 years ago? ‘89? Okay, so think about when that was on the books—‘75? Imagine what some whiz kid at MIT or in the black ops operation at Langley, think about what they’re up to. That’s the stuff that just sort of says, enough is enough. It’s a question, Rutger Hauer posed it, I, Robot got into it, it’s everything Asimov, it’s everything Phillip K. Dick—does the android dream of electric sheep?
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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