Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Story Behind THE TERMINATOR's Story!

What's up with that acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison credit at the end of THE TERMINATOR?

Let's find out in this excerpt from my book THE TERMINATOR MOVIES!

THE TERMINATOR (1984)

It began with a fever dream about a robot skeleton rising from the flames. James Cameron was sick as a dog, editing his first feature: PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING, and had this nightmare which became an idea for his next film... if he ever had a next film. He was fired from PIRANHA 2 twice, locked out of the editing room, and thought his career might be over before it ever really began. But his next film, THE TERMINATOR, would insure that he would still be making movies to this day... and probably allow him to escalate his budgets on those latter films to record breaking amounts.

James Cameron was from the “Roger Corman school” and had worked on a bunch of low budget films doing set design and special effects work. The great thing about working for Roger Corman is that you learn how to make a movie for next to nothing that looks enough like a big film that people will buy tickets. Cameron worked on the special effects crew for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, Corman’s science fiction retelling of THE SEVEN SAMURAI with a screenplay by John Sayles (LONE STAR, EIGHT MEN OUT) and a great cast... unfortunately, one of the worst directed movies ever to come out of the Corman factory. But the space ship miniatures in that film are amazing - and I think some of those were the work of Cameron. Those space ships ended up being recycled into a movie that *I* wrote for Roger Corman! By the time Cameron came to direct TERMINATOR film, he already knew how to get the most bang from your buck, and did storyboards and production sketches and even paintings that were used to entice stars. The great thing about low budget filmmaking is that it forces you to use imagination instead of money to solve problems. And this film is *full* of imagination.

The concept is brilliant. Basically a riff on a serial killer movie like HALLOWEEN (1978) about a relentless killer of women and the “Final Girl” who has to fight to survive, Cameron gave it a high concept twist by having the killer be an android from the future sent back in time to kill the mother of his enemy. That android is an infiltration unit, so it looks just like a human. The great part about that is that it is just an actor (great for low budget) who is playing a machine. While other low budget movies just found different ways to kill the teenagers in their HALLOWEEN knock offs, Cameron’s high concept twist takes this out of the horror genre and into uncharted territory. His imagination made this film something we hadn’t seen before. Those other producers could have made the same film... if they’d had the imagination.

Though Lance Henrickson was originally supposed to play the Terminator, and then O. J. Simpson was up for the role, they ended up casting Arnold Schwarzenegger... who took special care to move like a machine (I could easily make a joke about that, but the way he moves his head in this film is *not* the way a human would - real acting was involved.) But Cameron didn’t stop at HALLOWEEN with an android, he kept adding more twists and turns to the idea - including an “I’m my own grandpa” romantic subplot... and a soldier from the future sent back in time to protect that “Final Girl”.

Which brings up Harlan Ellison and his end credit on the film for “acknowledgment to the works of” What the heck does that mean? Well, his short story “Soldier From Tomorrow” which was made into the OUTER LIMITS episode SOLDIER which was the first episode of the second season on that show. That story is about a pair of soldiers on opposite sides of a war in the future who are zapped back to Los Angeles in our time. One of the soldiers is captured by the police who have trouble believing his story, but linguist Tom Kagan who has been brought in to translate his futuristic version of the English language befriends the soldier. The soldier has only known war, never known family. So Kagan takes him home to live with Kagan’s family. But that enemy soldier has also been zapped back in time, attacks the Kagan home... and our soldier gives his life so that the Kagan family will be safe, killing the enemy soldier.

Ellison has another short story made into an OUTER LIMITS episode DEMON WITH A GLASS HAND about a man named Trent who is zapped back from a future at war into an office building in our time that is closed for the night... the only person inside is a pretty woman names Consuelo. Enemy soldiers have been zapped back in time to capture him, and there is a deadly game of hide and go seek as they chase Trent and Consuelo through the dark building. Trent’s mission - to save the human race. Of course he falls in love with Consuelo and...

After the success of THE TERMINATOR, Ellison sued - believing the film was based on his material. Though I think all three stories contain the same germ of an idea, all three are completely different... unlike, say, Ellison’s SHATTERDAY and the ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM which are pretty similar. But they settled out of court with Ellison and he gets a closing credit on THE TERMINATOR. Which explains that strange credit.

The idea of a military defense computer system being given control of our nuclear weapons... and then deciding that humans were the real problem, can be found in movies like COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970)... and a bunch of material written during the Cold War when we were afraid that *someone* might push that button an unleash the nukes, beginning World War 3 and ending the world as we know it. So all of these ideas were floating around out there, but what Cameron did is find his own way to tell the story and make a low budget movie that really delivers. A movie that has spawned four sequels and counting!

bluebook

247 pages!

*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!


He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.



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- Bill

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