I just watched the new trailer for TERMINATOR: GENISYS. I am unenthused. I remember seeing the teaser trailer in the theater several weeks ago and it generated laughter, not the kind they want I assure you. I was excited for the last one, TERMINATOR SALVATION. I liked the idea of a movie set in the future world. I was disappointed. I still have never seen TERMINATOR 3 all the way through, although the ending was good. The TV series TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES was pretty good (trivia note: Sarah played by Lena Hedley from GAME OF THRONES, not played by Emilia Clarke, also from GoT). What seems to be entirely missing from the sequels, aside from James Cameron himself, is what Cameron brought to the table. The concepts are far more primal and considered; they have a theme.
What made the first TERMINATOR in 1984 and even the sequel (essentially a remake with better FX) TERMINATOR 2 in 1991 really work was a connexion to people that is taken for granted. James Cameron connected to audiences through a subconscious relation to dreams.
All movies, moving pictures and sound, connect with people via this subconscious idea. Movies emulate the human experience, how we see and hear. The one thing in movies that doesn’t relate to waking life is editing. While we are awake, there is nothing that feels like we magically appear from one place to another, one time to another in a blink. Why do we relate to this? Dreams. In a dream it is completely natural to just change locations or time. So when we watch movies or tv shows, we subconsciously relate to editing because of dreams.
And with this hypothesis, we get back to TERMINATOR. The first film really tapped into a subconscious norm from dreams; the idea of being chased and no matter what you do, you can’t escape. Anyone who has ever had a nightmare can relate to this feeling. The movie captured that feeling, much like modern Horror films were affected in the same way by John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978). Everyone can relate to a nightmare where no matter what you did, the bad guy is still chasing us. James Cameron tapped into this universal truth. Stan Winston’s design of the silver skeleton, very primal and similar to representations of death and skeletons that nightmares have originated for centuries.
When Cameron made T2 in ‘91, he updated it with better technology and a more modern way of feeling that impending, relentless dread. By using the liquid, unstoppable Terminator (Robert Patrick), people felt exactly what the director intended you to feel. It’s about dreams and nightmares. James Cameron pulled on a strand of the human mind and masked it as science fiction action movies. He made a relatable dream experience (a nightmare) into an entertaining film.
What was the theme of TERMINATOR 3? What was the relatable experience of TERMINATOR SALVATION? Which universal human truth are we exploring in TERMINATOR: GENYSIS? There’s a reason the originals are classics and these sequels are forgettable wastes of time (and incredible sums of money).
This is not just pretentious film analysis. It may not always been recognized, but these are the reasons some films resonate for years after they come out and others are just the popcorn entertainment that ultimately fade from memory.