Thursday, 12 May 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #723: Terminate The Terminator Before It Terminates You

There are times in my life where I am forced, nay , compelled, to repeat myself. I don't like to repeat myself, but some folks just refuse to learn from my vast and impressive wisdom. (Which, when put next to my great humility, makes me just about perfect.)

Alas, this is one of those times.

Indie film financier Megan Ellison has declared her intent to fight with Lionsgate over the rights to the
Terminator franchise, and the inevitable Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle it will become.

Now let's take a moment to remember the fates of the companies who brought us
Terminator movies in the past.

Hemdale- Producer of the first movie.


Orion Pictures- Distributor of the first movie.


Carolco- Producer of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.


Halcyon Company- Producer of Terminator 3, the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series, and Terminator: Salvation.


Now I'm not saying that the Terminator franchise is directly responsible for the downfalls of all of these companies. Some collapsed years after making their contributions to the franchise, some mere months. However, simple superstition should activate more flight than fight in the darker, more reptilian part of your brain when it comes to your company making more of these movies.

But let's put superstition aside, and take a look at the simple facts about this franchise to see if it's worth continuing.

1. THE STAR: When Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in the first Terminator, he was a minor celebrity known mostly for size, his almost indecipherable accent, and for appearing in the modestly performing cult film Conan The Barbarian. To the bulk of the audience he was either a novelty act, or an unknown quantity. The first Terminator used those qualities to its advantage. His size and accent made him believable as an unstoppable killing machine, and those who saw him as a novelty act, or didn't know him at all, were surprised at his bad-ass performance.

By the time
Terminator 2 came around Arnold was a brand all to himself, embodying the modern Hollywood action hero, big, unstoppable, and capable of selling tickets like a bastard.

By the time of
Terminator 3 though, things had changed. It had been a while since he had the sort of mega-blockbusters that he used to get just by showing up. His hyper-muscular swaggering action hero persona had fallen out of fashion for the most part, and his attempts to play more "regular Joes" had for the most part failed to connect with audiences. However, there was still a lot of goodwill towards Arnold and the role that made him a star.

Hence the paradox. That goodwill was enough to get Arnold the sort of contract most actors dream of. Tens of millions of dollars up front, 25% of the gross, starting at the first dollar, and literally truckloads of perks and extras to keep him in a level of comfort akin to a medieval sultan. However, that goodwill wasn't enough to get people to buy enough tickets to make the film with the $200+ million production budget & equally massive marketing budget to make money. Especially since they had to fork over 25 cents on every dollar they made to their star.

Arnold made out like a bandit. Halcyon, the production company, took a bath in red ink. Hence they tried to recoup their losses by trying to find ways to make the franchise work without him. More on that in a minute, let's get back to Arnold.

As I write this Arnold is now the ex-governor of California and looking to make a comeback. As you can see by the illustration to your right, his taste in comeback projects is questionable at best, but that's not stopping him from going after the
Terminator part again as his ticket back to the big time.

But now his image has changed again.

First time, he was a novelty/mystery turned surprising bad-ass.

Second time, he was a major league action star and a major brand all to himself.

Third time, he was an aging action star that kept trying to re-bottle the lightning that made him a mega-star, but used up his audience capital by sucking up too much of the movie's capital.

Now his image is different. He's no longer the brand that he once was. He's become a novelty act once again, but not in anyway he wants. During his time as Governor he transformed from the unstoppable, unflappable action hero to the very stoppable, and extremely flappable politician who, when faced with opposition from the special interest groups whose power he promised to reform, he folded faster than The Flash on laundry day. The only thing he successfully terminated during his time as governor was California's economy, its education system, all of his political capital, and probably his marriage.

And let's not forget that he's 27 years
older than he was when the franchise began, and people expect him to play the ageless war machine? And let's not forget the money, Arnold will most likely want a repeat of his profit crippling T3 deal, and judging from reports about the payday for his first comeback movie he'll probably get it.

Now let's get to...

2. THE FRANCHISE ITSELF. One of the biggest problems with the Terminator franchise is continuity. Even for a story based in time travel the continuity is more tangled than a plate of spaghetti covered in confusion sauce. The first film made a big point about how the Terminator android and the soldier played by Michael Biehn were the only people that got through the time machine before it was destroyed. In the second movie the audience was told that piece of info was a twee bit incorrect, two more people, the 2nd Arnold-bot, and the liquid metal guy got through. The audience forgave that little infraction because they had the "Terminator creates Skynet who creates Terminator" paradox, lots of action, and Arnold's Terminator sacrificing itself because he learned why humans cry.

It then had a little epilogue about how now the future was a blank slate again, and they were finally free of the coming apocalypse.

Then came T3, which basically said, all that stuff that everyone went through in the last movie was for nothing. While it sold a lot of tickets, most fans of the first too saw it as a cash grab by a lot of folks more interested in money than in continuing the story in any meaningful way.

But that wasn't the end. A lot of tickets were sold, and that told the people behind the project that if they could do it cheaper, and by cheaper I mean
sans Arnold, they could have a winner.

That thinking was behind the
Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series and Terminator: Salvation. Soon everyone's bopping back and forth in time like it was as easy as crossing a street, there are Terminator cyborgs on every corner, and the events of T3 were all for nothing.

Meanwhile, the same people were putting together
Terminator: Salvation, a mega-budget feature film that tried to do the franchise sans Arnold, and apparently no continuity with the television series. Both opened to lots of attention, and both quickly fizzled as overly expensive disappointments, and the company that made them, Halcyon, followed its Terminator predecessors into bankruptcy.

Basically, since T2, the story's spent. You can't base a franchise on what is essentially people and robots running around in circles and you know that no matter what happens, it'll all turn out to be for absolutely nothing . At least with the Star Trek reboot J.J. Abrams at least had the good sense to say that his story is happening in an alternate timeline, thus sparing the circular trap that ensnared the Terminator franchise.

If you don't believe me that this venture is doomed to failure, then ask yourself this question:

If The Terminator is such a shoo-in, why aren't any of the major studios joining in the bidding?

Think about it, the major studios love remakes, love franchises, and usually sweep in to get their hands on anything with the remotest chance of franchise potential.

Yet they leave The Terminator movies to independent financiers and producers. They'll distribute a Terminator movie, or help get a TV show on the air, but otherwise they keep the franchise, as well as the greater part of the expense and risk, at arms length.

If that doesn't tell you to stay away, then nothing will.

UPDATE: Megan Ellison has won the auction to financially cripple her Hollywood producing dreams.

CORRECTION: I rarely make mistakes, but in my haste writing this post, I mistakenly credited Halcyon as the producer of T3. T3 was made by C2 Pictures, a company set up by the original Carolco partners to revive the franchise. When the film failed to break the records it needed to break even, they sold those rights to Halcyon.


  1. C2 not Halcyon also produced The Sarah Connor Chronicles. They seem to have survived the "Terminator curse".

  2. What I've been able to dig up C2 made some of the show's episodes, sold everything to Halcyon & haven't done anything since.

    Are they defunct? We have to wait and see, but I'm not holding out much hope. The curse is truly deadly. ;-)