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Want to save Sarah Connor? Terminate The Terminator

Image: Business Insider
Image: Business Insider
Image: Business Insider

The announcement that Linda Hamilton is to portray Sarah Connor again ought to cause plenty of excitement among film fans. Connor is one of the most famous female characters of science fiction; Hamilton’s performances in Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day made her character known as a symbol of strength, resilience and determination, certainly not a ‘damsel in distress’.

But if the next – the sixth – Terminator film is anything like its predecessor, Hamilton might regret returning to the role. Hamilton’s character runs the risk of being caught up in the wave of reboots and remakes, writing out Connor’s great moments in favour of a fresh, profitable alternative story.

Nothing could disappoint a fan of the series more than its most recent installment, Terminator: Genisys, yet another unnecessary attempt to make capital out of a major franchise. A nod to the originals can make viewers smile in the cinema, but with so many lines lifted and scenes remade from better entries in the series, Terminator: Genisys ended up telling a story cobbled together with half-hearted attempts at originality. The writers’ best idea, it seems, was to turn Terminator‘s ultimate hero, John Connor, into its villain. But this idea is one of many silly ones that constitute a mangled, ludicrous plot all about time-travelling and alternate timelines.

Terminator: Genisys is but one example of a dangerous film-making mentality: finding a brilliant film or franchise that has had a great impact on film and culture, crank out a plot and announce that the series is not yet finished. It’s not so much that these new films are bad per se – it’s the reboot mindset that kills them. Genisys has all the hallmarks: throw everything currently loved in the films upside down, bring back old faces and cast them into the mix and, crucially, make damn sure there is an opportunity for another film. At the end, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 sinks into liquid metal, only to return with new powers; despite the heroes’ efforts, Skynet survives unbeknownst to all. No doubt this will be the conclusion of the next film, and the next, and the next…

What is particularly saddening about Terminator: Genisys is its departure from Terminator conventions. Watch the original 1984 film and the T-800 still terrifies. Schwarzenegger’s robot kills innocents in cold blood, from Connor’s roommates to an entire police station. As Kyle Reese warns: “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop… ever, until you are dead!” In Terminator and its immediate sequel, ordinary people fled a driven, self-repairing organism that killed anyone in between it and its target. Contrast it with the bloodless rendition that is Genisys, where the blood and nudity is taken offscreen and the villain makes no impression on anyone. Instead of grit and pushing boundaries, Genisys has two Schwarzeneggers fighting each other- a strange metaphor for the original Terminator battling with its awful remake – and fist-fights that resemble the superhero clashes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It is rare for a belated sequel to a classic film to be as well regarded as the original (Mad Max: Fury Road, is one of the few examples of such). Hamilton once remarked that Terminator and its first sequel were quite enough. James Cameron impressed audiences with his sequel to Alien, but further Alien episodes were ever-greater disappointments, even when directed by the series’ creator, Ridley Scott. In these instances and beyond, two things are clear: directors tend to continue or revive historic franchises because they make big bucks; they also tend not to make good sequels. (If you’re looking for the ultimate example of a franchise-destroying sequel, watch Jaws: The Revenge.)

When you have cinematic catastrophes like Terminator: Genisys, bringing Hamilton back to the historic role is too great a risk. The quest for reboots can spoil a classic franchise and its characters. The Terminator films have to terminate before it destroys its own legacy.