The Terminator franchise returns to the big screen next summer without Arnold (aka The Governator) but with critically acclaimed actor Christian Bale as the grown up John Connor and with McG (We Are Marshall) at the helm. In early July 2008 Warner Bros Pictures invited a select group of journalists to the Albuquerque set of Terminator Salvation to check out this fourth film of the series. The Albuquerque Studios complex is enormous, and the Terminator Salvation production took up a fair amount of space in multiple buildings as well as exterior locations. Albuquerque has become a key player in keeping film production in the United States with its financially-friendly tax breaks enticing major studio films to consider New Mexico a realistic alternative to shooting in Canada. Studios now flock to the state, despite the fact the weather's not always the most accommodating (it was in the 100s the day we invaded the set).
There was so much going on on the day I visited the set, it was actually hard to keep track of all the activity. After first getting a rundown of the new machines that'll be showcased in the film (a cool fact: the Huey helicopters are designed to look as though they've been pieced together by human survivors using bits of scrap metal), we were walked through a room lined with storyboards which revealed two-thirds of the movie's plot. No spoilers here, but this new Terminator outdoes its predecessors with complex action sequences that – at least as drawn on canvas – will satisfy any hardcore action and/or Terminator fan.
Checking out the storyboards helped put in perspective the next part of our visit which was a tour of some of the key sets. We got a sneak peek at the area designated as John Connor's bedroom (a very utilitarian box-y room furnished with an uncomfortable looking bed, a tiny stove and lots of ammo boxes), got an up-close look at an outpost and a jail cell, and took a look around a creepy execution chamber complete with an actual execution table with straps to tie down victims. Needless to say that was one room I didn't want to linger in for very long.
In addition to a tour around the sets, we were able to watch Bale, costumed in military attire, film an importance scene involving a Terminator attack. Gathered together in a tight circle, we were yards away from Bale as he performed an intense sequence which is a pivotal point in the plot. Just being that close to the action on the set was an experience best described as a Terminator fanboy/girl's wet dream come to life. Flames shot from the floor and the lighting was so dim it was difficult to catch every detail, but the set absolutely reflects the tone of this new Terminator movie. This post-apocalyptic world created by McG and his production crew is dirty, dark, gritty, and grungy – exactly what you'd expect after Skynet attacks our world.
After McG gave a few directions to Bale and before he called "Action," the director shouted over the din, "I love this sh-t!," and it seems his cast echoes that sentiment. 32 year old Australian actor Sam Worthington ('Marcus') co-stars in the film and said McG explained to him at the beginning of the project that he wanted Terminator Salvation to capture the realism of the second Mad Max. The Aussie actor, a newcomer on the American movie scene, thinks McG accomplished that. "It looks dirty and rough, and we're covered in blood and sh-t – and that's a good thing. It's not fancy and clean."
In addition to capturing the tone of the previous Terminator movies, McG and screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato had to keep the mythology intact while crafting a new edition to the franchise. Anton Yelchin, Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation, was a huge fan of the other Terminator films and fully understood the challenges presented by continuing the franchise with a fourth film. "Kyle Reese is a wonderful character," explained Yelchin. "He's really, really complex character and I think playing him when he's younger allows you the ability to dig into what he was in the first one and say, 'Look, I'm going to take him apart and sort of show you how he got to that point.' And so I would watch the first one and just look at every scene and see what I could take from it and then bring it to this one. And if scenes needed to be adjusted to that, we'd adjust them."
"It's just really interesting to say, 'All right, he's so battle-hardened and tough in that one, and then when he has the picture he's madly in love with her and for the first time you see him so open. So how do I show you the openness that is in the guy that has the picture? Why is he so in love with her from just a picture, you know? How can I show you that as a kid? How can I show you him becoming battle-hardened, you know?' It's just great. It's a challenge…it's a wonderful challenge for an actor. It's so much fun, and there's of a wealth material in this script but then there's also this whole other material to dig into and use. So, it's been great."
I'll have more with the cast of Terminator Salvation and more from this set visit as we approach the film's May 22, 2009 release.