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Saving the Terminator: Five Better Storylines than 'Salvation'

James Cameron swears it was an original idea. Harlan Ellison begged to differ, and was awarded a screen credit (and one assumes, some cash) for challenging said statement. It turned Arnold Schwarzenegger into a superstar and reset the tone for actions movies for decades to come. Yet few who saw the original Terminator thought it would be a sleeper hit. Cameron, working with a tiny budget and a mostly no-name cast, had to be overly inventive in his story of a killer from the future chasing down the mother of the man who would lead the human resistance against the machines in a future war fraught with death and destruction. The results hit audiences desperate for something both intelligent and energetic. The sequel was even more satisfying, utilizing amazing special effects that, once again, rewrote the sci-fi filmmaking rule book.

But then time passed, and studio suits grew antsy for more fanboy cash. They cooked up a warmed over version of the second film, hired a then flagging Ah-nold to return to his signature role, and went all girlie on the potential murder machine. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had its moments, but with its shockingly similarly storyline (a 20-something John Connor is chased by an advanced cyborg, only to be protected by another Schwarzenegger-bot) and downbeat ending, everyone could see the corner the series was staring into. Now, with the less than successful returns for the fourth installment, it seems like nothing can successfully bring the Terminator back to Cameron era, excellence.

Of course, in between blaming Christian Bale (who eviscerated the Terminator Salvation script to meet his own star turn demands) or the original premise of the screenwriters shuttled by McG (can you say criminal turned cyber-clone Marcus Wright? A Matrix like Skynet spa where man-machine hybrids live unconscious subservient lives?), one need only look at the lame-ass narrative to see where Salvation comes up stale. Massive machines battling Neanderthal like humans who, apparently, have a hard time with complicated concepts like hiding and maintaining sufficient weaponry. Skynet doesn't know that Kyle Reese is John Connor's dad? Huh? What?

We think we can trump up something much, much better. Therefore, SE&L is summing up its closet screenwriter and has conceived five ideas we like better than the recent cinematic installment now playing. Sure, some have possible pitfalls and problems, but as initial concepts, they are a lot more intriguing than an angst-filled ex-con machine clone wandering around a desert California looking forlorn. Let's begin with a biggie:

Kill John Connor/Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese

The biggest obstacle to overcome in any future sequel to the Terminator films is the unbearable burden of having to center everything around John Connor and his narrative arc ancestry. So why not "reboot" the franchise, ala Star Trek, by killing off these barriers and turning the story on its preplanned head. Surely, some other member of the dying human race could step up and take their place. Even better, make the entire Connor mythos a grand and glorious smokescreen, a way to get Skynet to focus away from other individuals to make this family its primary objective. Then create a new character that inadvertently discovers a way of destroying the machine technology once and for all. Bingo! New life - and possible series - for this fresh and clever plot curveball.

Follow the Terminator 3 Opening

In that regard, why wouldn't the super smart Skynet, capable of determining all facets of the Resistance, go back in time and destroy everything BUT John Connor, especially since he's been warned about a bagillion times. Wouldn't it be more practical to kill hundreds of followers who would never exist to help this messianic leader than singularly try to take him out? Now, with such a set up, John himself can step up and play an important role in the protection of the future. He can be the one that preserves the prospect of a rebellion by actually saving those who will be his lieutenants, his followers, and his mentors. This would spark a far more interesting cat and mouse than routinely trying to rub out the sole savior of humanity.

Send the Terminator to…the Far Off Future

If Skynet's purpose in eliminating people from the planet is removing an inherent barrier to their eventual total AI take-over of Earth's rule, then why not hit the human race when it doesn't expect it. Wait a few years until the remaining members of the populace rebuild society, setting up brand new connections to the minimal machines they need to survive. Then, when those rudimentary items are in place, send a Terminator forwarad, have him fiddle with their basic programming, and send them out on a strict search and destroy mission. Lay the foundation for a second wave of artificially intelligent killers, and then let the F/X epic play out. Or you don't even have to have Judgment Day. Let Skynet sit, like a virus, waiting to strike when humanity has its guard down - then let the real carnage begin.

Focus on John's Life Post-Nuclear War

We all know that, in Part Three, John and his inferred future wife end up in a government bunker reserved for highly placed politicians and leaders. They have food and other provisions to last a long time. Why not make the next Terminator movie about his first steps into the barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland where machines are still being manufactured for eradication of the human race. Make the main plot line about finding Skynet's automated factory and sabotaging the set-up. The entire narrative could be a build up to the moment when John Connor pulls the plug on an assembly line of basic Terminators, only to find that (as Part Four suggests), Skynet is a global, not a localized entity. Same doom and gloom ending - different personal perspective.

Make a Major Meta Merge of All Three Previous Films

The time travel element in the Terminator films is always the most underserved (and underused) aspect of the entire story set-up. Once the liquid metal menace of the T-1000 goes back to take out a teenage John Connor, the concept is open for reinterpretation and reuse. So why not do something akin to Robert Zemeckis' brilliant Back to the Future 2 and turn the past, present, and future on its space-time continuum ear? Have a fluke technical malfunction leave a doorway open in the vortex which allows Kyle and the Terminators to pass through, and have said gateway play a major part in a cross-centuries chase which sees the main players pass through differing versions of events and planetary possibilities. While it might require a leap in imagination no writer can fully realize, it would genuinely be the epic the original idea suggests.

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