Book Review: Terminator Salvation: Trial By Fire by Timothy Zahn

Hi all…

Before I can talk about the book Terminator Salvation: Trial By Fire by Timothy Zahn, which follows upon the events of the 2009 movie Terminator Salvation, I need to provide a bit of background.

Arnold Schwarzenegger truly was a machine in 1984 when James Cameron’s movie Terminator burst onto the scene. He played a cyborg assassin from the future sent to the past to stop John Connor from being born. To do that, he needs to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) before he could be born. Of course, the Terminator wasn’t the only thing sent back in time. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) was also sent back by the John Connor of the future to prevent this from happening. These three characters – John, Sarah, and Kyle – are intrinsically tied across time throughout the entire series.

Putting aside the dangers of time travel and altering the future by affecting the past, Terminator was a science fiction phenomenon that inspired two other movies further exploring the potential of world domination by machines – Terminator 2: Judgement Day (T2) in 1991, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (T3) in 2003. Though I would like to forget T3, the first two were amazing films with special effects and ideas that really pushed science fiction films to become more technologically adept.

I saw Terminator Salvation in May 2009 and seem to be firmly in the minority when it comes to thinking the movie didn’t suck. Personally, I liked the film and feel it held true to the spirit of the original three films. Unlike the first three Terminator films, which started in the “present” of 1984 and headed toward the inevitable “Judgement Day” when the machines take over, Terminator Salvation picked up in 2018 after the machines had already taken over.

Skynet, an artificially intelligent computer system, started a nuclear war to destroy or enslave humanity to better protect it. The Resistance is a loose federation of quasi-military groups around the world hoping to destroy the machines and free mankind. The machines are pretty good at plotting to destroy the Resistance too.

[Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen Terminator Salvation yet.]

At the beginning of the film, John Connor (Christian Bale, Batman Begins) isn’t quite the all mighty Resistance leader he is when he sends Kyle Reese back in time in the first movie. But he’s rising through the ranks. After a successful attack on a Skynet base, he stumbles upon evidence of new type of Terminator incorporating human tissue. Along the way, they also discover a group of human prisoners used for some sort of experimentation. After John and his team leave with the rescued prisoners, one more form rises from the rubble – Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, Avatar)…

Wright stumbles through the remains of Los Angeles and runs into a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek) and his quiet companion Star (Jadgrace Berry). They save Wright from the attack of a T-600 Terminator only to get taken prisoner a bit later. Marcus finds a downed Resistance pilot – Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood, TV’s Burn Notice and Human Target) and the two set off for Connor’s base…

Through the course of the movie, we discover that Wright himself is unknowingly one of this new type of Terminator. Skynet is testing the new model as an infiltration unit that can get inside Resistance cells and with a command from the central computer destroy anything and everything around him. It would be devastating for Skynet to have that kind of capability. No one could be trusted and the Resistance would fall apart.

At the end of the film, the Resistance and Wright attack a Skynet base to try and free Reese and some of the other prisoners before a massive attack on the base can be initiated by the Resistance high command. Though they free the prisoners, Connor gets injured and the high command is destroyed, leaving Connor in charge. To save Connor’s life, Wright gives up his own supercharged heart to be transplanted into Connor’s body.

[End spoilers]

Ultimately it’s a great exploration of what makes us human. Are we simply parts of a big machine or more than that? Can a Terminator still have humanity?

So back to the book now… Connor is still recovering from surgery, but he and his lieutenants are directing Resistance members to kill as many “live” Terminators at the Skynet base as they can and collect as many working or repairable guns and ammunition as they can for the inevitable counter-attack from Skynet.

Connor’s second in command, Barnes (Common in Terminator Salvation) and Blair are on a secondary mission to find Barnes’ brother and give him a proper burial. Reese has been sent out to collect ammunition with a team and Star has stayed behind in camp to help with repairing weapons, which she has turned out to have a gift for.

While Barnes & Blair are away, they discover a data cable leading into the mountains above the ruined base. Thinking it might be a secondary base, they follow the cable until they lose it in the trees, but find a group of people staying in the town of Baker’s Hollow. Led by Mayor Daniel Preston and his daughter Hope, the townspeople have struggled to keep a low profile and simply keep their population of 80+ safe, fed, and out of harm’s way.

Meanwhile, Kyle and his team have stumbled upon a hole covered by a partially intact Terminator. When one of the team gets stuck and they find a number of alert and intact machines below, it leads them in a perilous game of cat and mouse as they try to figure out what the machines are up to and how they can get out safely to get more backup.

Though I’ve not read anything by Timothy Zahn before, his name has appeared on my radar many times in the last 30 years. He’s written fiction in the Star Wars universe, as well as numerous novels of his own – the Cobra Series, the Conquerors Trilogy, the Blackcollar Series, and many others.

I found the book to be an extremely quick read once I got back into the Terminator mindset. It was fascinating to look at Baker’s Hollow as a pocket untouched by the machines so far. The people there were simply trying to hold on to some sense of normalcy in a world torn apart by war and doing a pretty good job of holding things together. Its residents fell back to a simpler way of life – hunting, gathering, and trying to keep sheltered from the elements.

But once outsiders arrive in town, things start to fall apart…

If you want to learn more about the world of Terminator Salvation, I’d encourage you to pick up Terminator Salvation: Trial by Fire. It’s a fast, enjoyable read that fills in a few of the blanks and shows more about how Kyle Reese becomes the man we know from the original Terminator movie. Look for the book in bookstores now!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for these great books at Barnes & Noble.

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Book Review: The Art of Terminator Salvation by Tara Bennett

Hi all…

In May 2009, Terminator Salvation began hitting theaters worldwide to continue the saga of the Terminator story begun back in 1984 by James Cameron. Set in the time after Judgement Day, when the self-aware computer system Skynet launched a devastating nuclear attack that was the beginning of humanity’s war with the Machines.

Terminator Salvation focuses on the intertwined paths of two very different men. John Connor (Christian Bale), a soldier in the Resistance, has not yet come into his own as the leader of the war. And Markus Wright (Sam Worthington), a prisoner condemned to death by injection, suddenly wakes up and finds himself in a world gone to hell. Both men are seeking to find their own way and both leave definite impressions on each other and those they encounter along the way.

Tara Bennett’s book, The Art of Terminator Salvation, provides a glimpse into some of the amazing art that led to the scenes eventually seen in the movie. Each image taken on its own is spectacular in its own right. But they’re even more impressive when you consider what it takes a movie crew to go from art to the finished product for a motion picture with a budget of $200 million.

Not only does the book provide glimpses into what the crew thought scenes might look like, but storyboards and context all the way from beginning to end. The artwork is simply stunning. And when you add technical drawings of some of the machines, like the Hunter-Killer, the Harvester, and the Moto-Terminators, you begin to see the engineering know-how that these talented people must have.

At the end of the book you get a glimpse of the production art for the Terminator Factory, and it is just incredible and scary at the same time. A factory run by fiercely intelligent machines creating an army of invincible robotic warriors. And to see some of the possible hardware the artists and designers imagined was unbelievable.

I was blown away by the artwork from beginning to end. I liked the movie, but books like this reinforce the sheer amount of talent necessary to make a movie of this size work. Whether you liked Terminator Salvation or didn’t, books like The Art of Terminator Salvation are inspirational and provide a platform for the many talented people to show off their work. And if nothing else, it’s one heck of an interesting centerpiece for a coffee table!

Be sure to check out The Art of Terminator Salvation at your favorite online or local bookstore. And while you’re at it, check out Bennett’s other book for the movie – Terminator Salvation: The Official Movie Companion!

–Fitz

p.s. Click below to pick up these books from Amazon!

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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!

–Fitz

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

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