Book Review: Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion by Tara Bennett

Hi there!

In 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, and Linda Hamilton starred in Terminator, which introduced us to the spectre of a dark future. On Judgement Day, Cybernet, an artificially aware computer, starts a nuclear war. From that day forward, the machines ruled the earth with only a few ragtag resistance groups fighting back.

In 2029, the machines send back a “Terminator” (Schwarzenegger) – a cyborg – to kill the mother of John Connor, leader of the resistance mounting against the machines. Sarah Connor (Hamilton) is saved by Kyle Reese (Biehn), a soldier sent back to stop the Terminator. During their fight for survival against the Terminator, they fall in love and through that union, John Connor is conceived.

Directed by James Cameron, Terminator was a science-fiction stalker movie that caught moviegoers by surprise and gained worldwide notice.

In 1991, the fight against the machines continued with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This time, a Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is sent back to protect a young John Connor (Edward Furlong). A second, more advanced Terminator (Robert Patrick), is sent back to kill John. John and his protector work together to get Sarah Connor (Hamilton) out of a mental hospital and then the trio work to stop the new, shapeshifting cyborg from killing John.

As with any good movie idea, the second movie spawned a third and in 2003 we saw Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Continuing the story, we moved further along the Terminator timeline to the days when Cybernet became self-aware and triggered nuclear holocaust. Along the way, we meet Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), John’s future wife, and a more grown-up John Connor (Nick Stahl).

That brings us to May 2009, when Terminator Salvation began hitting theaters around the world. Writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris and director McG aimed to reboot the Terminator franchise and fill in the time between Judgement Day and when Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect an unknowing Sarah Connor from the machines.

Tara Bennett’s book, Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion, provides a closer look at the process that went into making Terminator Salvation, from pre-production through to production design, costume design, actors, stunts, cinematography and visual effects.

The book goes into a ton of detail about each phase of production, providing a wide variety of pictures and text to inform the reader about decisions, early designs, and discussions with cast and crew. Some of the imagery is striking, including an image of four different Terminator endoskeletons, from the initial T-600 of the first movie through to the time of Terminator Salvation. The many storyboards scattered throughout the book are also very helpful as you see the progression from early thoughts to finished product.

The production design chapters included many, many pictures from early phases of the movie. Production artists created what must have been 100s of different paintings depicting different scenes and how they might look. Comparing those early images to what they looked like in the final product was very cool.

Christian Bale as John Connor in this incarnation was a bold choice by McG. Bale has a history of devoting himself fully to projects like American Psycho, The Machinist, Rescue Dawn and both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. He works very hard at each role, investing himself physically and mentally at each phase of production. This movie was no different. As McG says in the book, “This is the story of the becoming of John Connor.” Bale took that seriously and made sure Connor started at one point in his development and came out the leader of the Resistance he would become.

Sam Worthington is a relative newcomer to Hollywood, but he was picked for James Cameron’s upcoming film – Avatar – and was approached by McG to become Marcus Wright, a core character in Terminator Salvation. McG looked hard “who can stand up to Christian Bale, face-to-face, and not flinch.” And Worthington fit the bill. Originally a brick-layer in Western Australia, Worthington has a working-class quality that comes across in his acting.

And the rest of the book dives deeply into constructing the many different Terminator models seen in the film, working with cast and crew on this project, and so on. Definitely a ton of detail to make you appreciate the time, energy, and skill that goes into making a film of this scope.

If you liked the film, this is a great book to learn more about how it was made. But even if you didn’t like Terminator Salvation, I’d recommend you take a look at the Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion just to understand how much work went into the film. It’s obvious from the book that everyone was quite passionate about the project – not only as a huge film production in the present, but to make sure that it lived up to the legacy of the previous Terminator films.

Be sure to pick up a copy of Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion at your favorite online or local brick-and-mortar bookseller!


p.s. Click below to pick up this book at Amazon!

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