'Terminator Salvation' - the Film Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Terminator Salvation' - the Film

0 Conversations

The Terminator Film Series
The Terminator | Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines | Terminator Salvation | Terminator Genisys | Terminator Dark Fate
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator Salvation is a film. Made in 2009 but set in the future world of 2018, unlike previous films in the Terminator series it does not involve any time travel and all the action takes place in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world ruled by the artificial intelligence Skynet. Machines known as 'Terminators' are used to hunt, enslave and kill the surviving members of the human race, while a resistance force tries to fight back.


In 2003 Marcus Wright, a condemned murderer on Death Row, agrees to give his body to science to help cancer research. He awakes in 2018 in a post-nuclear dystopia ruled by a sentient artificial intelligence named Skynet. Meanwhile John Connor, who leads a small group of resistance fighters, discovers that a 'new' Terminator is being developed; the T-8001. Connor, though an inspirational figurehead, is disdained by the Resistance's official Command, who see him as a self-important nuisance civilian that challenges their established military authority. The Resistance is commanded from the USS Ashdown, a submarine.

The Resistance hears Skynet announce that, within four days, it will kill all of Command, as well as John Connor and Kyle Reese (the teenager destined to become Connor's father in the events seen in The Terminator). Reese and Star, a young girl he looks after who never talks, meet and befriend Marcus. During a battle Reese and Star are captured by a flying Prisoner Transport. It takes them to Skynet's Los Angeles headquarters, which is a hub for human prisoners. Later in the same battle a Resistance aircraft is shot down and Marcus meets its pilot, Blair Williams. She guides Marcus to Connor. It is revealed that Marcus is no longer fully human and is part machine.

Command believe they have found a way to defeat Skynet. Their plan involves heavy bombing of Skynet's headquarters, which will result in the deaths of all the humans Skynet has imprisoned there, including Reese. Connor challenges Command, as he does not want the war to be fought purely with cold, calculating decisions like a machine, but with humanity and heart.

Can Marcus infiltrate Skynet and let Connor know where Kyle Reese is being held? Is Marcus being used to trap Connor? What other traps are being laid? Who is willing to sacrifice himself to save others and save the day? In a world turned to hell, can there be salvation?


Recurring characters who had appeared in previous films in the series appear in Bold. None of the recurring characters were played by actors who had appeared in previous Terminator films.

John ConnorChristian Bale
Marcus WrightSam Worthington
Blair WilliamsMoon Bloodgood
Dr Serena KoganHelena Bonham Carter CBE
Kyle ReeseAnton Yelchin
StarJadagrace Berry
Kate ConnorBryce Dallas Howard
General AshdownMichael Ironside

Christian Bale is a prolific actor who rose to prominence at the age of 12 when he appeared in Empire of the Sun (1987). He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2010 and is best known for playing Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012). Sam Worthington is best known for starring in Avatar (2009), directed by James Cameron. Anton Yelchin, who died in 2016 at the age of just 27, is best known for playing Chekov in the Star Trek remake trilogy (2009-2016). Bryce Dallas Howard starred in The Village (2004), played Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3 (2007) and is perhaps best known for starring in Jurassic World (2015).

Helena Bonham Carter is an award-winning actress whose numerous film parts encompass a wide variety of classical and genre roles including Fight Club. During the making of Terminator Salvation she learned that four of her cousins had died in a car accident, which led to her leaving partway through filming and completing her role later. Michael Ironside is well-known for appearances in science-fiction roles, such as Scanners (1981), V: The Final Battle (1984), Total Recall (1990) opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Starship Troopers (1997). Common is a Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist.

Joseph McGinty Nichol, known as 'McG', is guilty of directing Terminator Salvation. He had previously directed both Charlie's Angels films (2000-2002). To date (2018) he has not directed a big budget action film since Terminator Salvation; none of his subsequent films released in cinemas had any financial or critical impact.

Making Of

Terminator Salvation took six years to get from script to screen. When Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was being made, C2 Pictures commissioned the writing of a direct sequel to be set in the post-apocalyptic world seen at that film's end. However, the company collapsed shortly after licensing the creation of a television series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-9).

The Halcyon Company, an independent film company with big ambitions headed by Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek, acquired the Terminator rights from C2 Pictures, including the sequel script. They considered the television series to be a rival production, so they cancelled it at the end of series two. Though this angered the small but passionately dedicated core of fans of the series, who announced plans to boycott any Terminator film Halcyon made, Halcyon felt this was insignificant and hoped their film would appeal to casual film-goers.

In order to fund Terminator Salvation outside the main studios, Halcyon received funding from a company called Pacificor and negotiated distribution deals with both Warner Bros and Sony Pictures. This in place, they announced that they would be making a new Terminator trilogy.

Director McG has described his agreeing to direct the fourth Terminator film by saying:

I knew there was another 'Terminator' script floating around, but I didn't want anything to do with it. It didn't appeal to me. But then I heard that the take on the film was post-Judgement Day, after the bombs had dropped, and that appealed to me. The idea that this wasn't going to be a fourth film, but a new beginning, sold me... I didn't want to do it without Jim Cameron feeling bad about the whole thing, so I wanted to talk to him about my intention. I talked to Jim and he nodded and said, 'I reserve the right to like it or not like it'.

Sam Worthington signed up to play Marcus Wright as he felt Marcus' journey resembled that of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, except in this film it is the people he meets who help him to discover courage, brains and heart. Christian Bale played the iconic hero John Connor. McG had originally pitched the character of Marcus Wright to him, but he refused and only agreed to appear in the film if he could play Connor. To avoid Bale, the film's star, playing what had been a comparatively minor role, the script needed a complete rewrite.

Bale requested the highly-respected Oscar-nominated writer Jonathan Nolan, who had written films he had appeared in such as The Prestige (2005) and the Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan had a gap in his schedule, but almost as soon as he was hired the Writers' Guild Strike hit and work on rewriting the script halted. When the Writer's Strike ended, Jonathan Nolan's previous commitments took precedence. As all the studios, cast and crew had been booked, filming began without the completed script and, to make matters worse, when the script they were using was leaked online it was decided to completely change the film's ending. Without a finalised script, the plot was a mess.

The look chosen for Terminator Salvation was 'gritty realism', with dirty, grimy Terminators rather than the shiny, clean machines seen in previous films. Filming took place in the deserts near New Mexico, with an abandoned power plant doubling for Skynet's headquarters. In addition, over 65 sets were built.

As for previous films, the Stan Winston Studio built the Terminators. This film included a wide range of models, from the basic T-1 models on guard duty to T-600s, T-700s and even a T-800 as well as hydrobots, Moto-Terminators and vehicles such as Harvesters and Hunter-Killers. As McG wanted to have as many practical effects2 as possible and for the Terminators to have a real physical presence, actors wore blue costumes beneath a special Terminator-exoskeleton suit that had been designed by Stan Winston Studio. The blue costume allowed the actor's body to be digitally removed and replaced with effects shots showing the Terminator's inner working mechanism, making the Terminators appear unworldly and mechanical yet real.

The biggest sequence in the film takes place when the Harvester attacks the heroes who are hiding at a 7-Eleven shop and petrol station. An actual petrol station was built with working pumps. 7-Eleven, an actual American chain, provided both sponsorship and the signs visible in the set. As they flee, the heroes are chased by Moto-Terminators, which were based on Ducati 1100 motorcycles, and then flying HK-Aerials, which battle two of the Resistance's A-10 aircraft. At the end of the film a new T-800 is seen. Old footage of Arnold Schwarzenegger from earlier films is used to impressive effect to make it appear that he is the Terminator attacking John Connor.

In order for the film to look like it was set in a post-apocalyptic world, filming used Technicolor's Oz process which was then digitised and the colours were manipulated using a Digital Intermediate. This process turned the blue skies grey and desaturated all the colours to make the future look bleak and washed out. It also allowed the director to emphasise the bright red of blood as well as the grimy appearance of the Terminators so they looked more greasy and polluted.

During filming, Terminator Salvation gained notoriety when a recording of Christian Bale swearing repeatedly at a lighting technician was leaked onto YouTube and was watched by millions. However, on release the film was not as successful as had been hoped and the Halcyon Company faced legal action from Pacificor regarding the repayment of their funding loan. They were forced to file for bankruptcy. Their plans to make another two Terminator films were abandoned.

Terminator Types

Terminator Salvation probably features more types of Terminator than any other film in the series:

T-1A tracked cross between Johnny 5, WALL·E and ED-2093
T-600Humanoid covered with a rubber skin and wearing boots, easy to detect
T-700Grimy humanoid exoskeleton
T-800Newly developed model seen in the first two films looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
HK-Aerial Large, heavily armed flying weapons system used to hunt humans.
Transport Flying craft that holds imprisoned humans and comes equipped with HK-Aerials.
HarvesterThis 100-foot tall Stealth Terminator is capable of sneaking up on people completely unseen and unheard, capturing them for imprisonment on the Transport. It carries Moto-Terminators
Moto-TerminatorArmed motorbike-like Terminators that hunt humans. They can be hacked and ridden by humans.
HydrobotAn eel-like metallic aquatic Terminator with a clawed head that can attack helicopters.

Impressively the hydrobot was a pneumatic and cable-controlled model capable of working in water. This was built by Stan Winston Studios. A month into filming Terminator Salvation, Stan Winston himself passed away. The film is dedicated to his memory.

Review: The Far Future World of 2018

The film's introductory text asks 'Is John Connor a false prophet?' A better question would be 'Is Terminator Salvation a false Terminator film?' The simple truth is it is not in the same league as The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, directed by James Cameron.

In the previous films the future world is glimpsed in brief sequences, all of which are action-packed, stylish and far more poignant than this film. The imagery was previously highly consistent, yet Terminator Salvation appears completely different and is less effective. In short, it does not live up to expectation. Notably the future dystopia has far fewer skulls than the futures previously glimpsed in which skulls are strewn across every landscape. In fact only one skull appears in the entire film, although a Terminator does step on it4. The Terminators look dark and grimy rather than shiny chrome. There aren't any lasers and the Resistance is remarkably well-stocked with advanced aircraft and other weapons. In short, the future isn't what it used to be.

Terminator Salvation lacks the urgent, relentless pace of previous films and is far more episodic. In each of the previous Terminator films, there had been an identifiable and terrifying enemy throughout as an ever-present threat. There isn't in this film. Sadly John Connor taking and then ignoring orders issued by Command via radio lessens the tension as the characters are physically distanced from each other. A series of different Terminator models threaten at various times, but as each is defeated or escaped it does not create the same degree of tension. Similarly the film's focus keeps changing. The film begins with John Connor. Next the film is about Marcus, Kyle and Star. Afterwards the film is about Marcus and Blair. It is then Marcus and Connor. This breaks the film into quite separate sections, as most of the characters never interact.

There are a lot of disassociated explosions that happen with no real relevance to the plot. For example a multi-storey building collapses for no apparent reason when an HK-aerial flies by. Pyrotechnics and explosions are spectacular, but if they don't affect the plot and have no impact on the characters they are pointless. Similarly Connor and Marcus fight each other for a protracted time, making the audience impatient for when they will actually get on with trying to defeat Skynet instead.

The female characters need to have been given more to do rather than serve as the foreground for impressive effects exploding behind them. For example, the character of Star does not do a great deal herself – a young girl who never speaks, she was introduced to reflect Reece's caring side that was an established part of the character in The Terminator. Moon Bloodgood who plays Blair based her performance on Sigourney Weaver in Alien, which is effective, but like Kate Brewster, who is now a doctor rather than a vet, her character is not given a lot to actually do in the film's closing act.

Kyle Reese does demonstrate leadership qualities despite being a teenager, while Marcus was effectively conceived as a man who only finds his humanity when he no longer knows how human he is. The theme of salvation and redemption, for both Marcus and mankind, work well but when Connor is called a 'prophet' the film seems needlessly messianic. McG described the title with the words:

It's a biblical, two-hour definition of the word 'salvation', which is deliverance from your sins and how that's earned.

Quite important events in the film are never explained. Looming large among these is how a 100-foot tall noisy Harvester robot sneaks up on a large number of characters in the middle of a flat desert completely unnoticed. It is also never explained why Skynet's headquarters are located next to a human concentration camp. Are the humans being used as slave labour, or as guinea pigs for emotionless experiments or as a human shield to deter attacks from the Resistance?

There are some enjoyable nods to the past. Connor plays 'You Could Be Mine' by Guns 'n' Roses, the same song the character had listened to in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Another moment is that John Connor and Kyle Reese end up on a Terminator assembly line. A T-800 assembly line had been in the momentous Terminator 2 trailer but had not made the finished film.

Yet overall the film comes across as disappointing.


The usual array of merchandising was sold to tie in with the release of the film. This included the inevitable console game and of course a novelisation by Alan Dean Foster as well as spin-off novels and a web-based animated series. These were marketed as 'exploring the post-Judgement Day world of the hit movie Terminator Salvation', which rather presupposed that the film would in fact be a hit. There was also a 'making of' book published entitled Terminator Salvation – The Official Movie Companion, which strangely does not at any point mention Christian Bale's infamous tirade. Its opening sentence is 'Why make another Terminator movie?'

1This is the same model that had been sent to kill his mother before he was born in the events seen in The Terminator.2Practical effects are special effects produced physically on the set rather than virtually in a computer and added in post-production.3Robot characters first seen in Short Circuit (1986), WALL·E (2008) and Robocop (1987) respectively.4While Kyle Reese says that the difference between men and machines is that men bury their dead, this presumably does not apply to skulls.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

There are no Conversations for this Entry

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by


Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more