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‘Terminator Genisys’: How Alan Taylor Made the Retcon Sequel a Hothouse of Mixed Emotions

'Terminator Genisys': How Alan Taylor Made the Retcon Sequel a Hothouse of Mixed Emotions

Alan Taylor’s definitely drawn to dysfunctional families, which were a staple of his acclaimed TV work (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “Six Feet Under,” “The Sopranos”), and that’s what attracted him to “Terminator Genisys.” Beneath the sci-fi, time travel, political tyranny, man vs. machine, shoot-em-up action lies a very trippy story of lovers and parents and guardians trapped in a continuous loop.

But there’s a twist in “Terminator Genisys,” Taylor’s first film since blockbuster “Thor: The Dark World”: roles are reversed and it’s hard to tell who’s human and who’s a machine anymore. “Dysfunctional family was the first thing that I could think of to describe this,” Taylor admitted. “‘T1’ was a love story, ‘T2’ was a father/son story, and this one, because we have the same core lovers and very strange father figures, gets a dysfunctional family and some of the pleasures that go with it. The fate of the world depends on what you do, and things are blowing up, and it really comes down to a father’s resentment of a young man who presumes to step in and take his place with his daughter. So it’s about simple, relatable, intimate, human things. And that’s what I get excited about.”

John Connor (Jason Clarke), Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) are back again along with Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the past has been altered, the rules have changed and Schwarzenegger’s Guardian has aged 30 years. And Skynet has become the stand-in for the most nightmarish notion of the NSA bent on world domination.

“I think everyone’s a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more outrage,” Taylor said. “America prides itself on freedom and privacy. It’s not like the movie is saying ‘Beware!’ But it was definitely trying to tap into that kind of queasy feeling that we have where we know that we’re addicted [to technology], we suspect that it’s not entirely healthy, but we can’t let go of it. It’s the basis of the fear that drives this movie.

“Here we have two lead humans who are essentially programmed: Sarah and Kyle have done their mission. Sarah tries to rebel against it and Kyle barely understands it. It begs the question: Who’s more human and who’s more programmed?”

What Taylor learned from the first two “Terminator” movies was that you need Schwarzenegger, but also a new facet to explore. Here, the key element was not hiding from his age (“Old but not obsolete”). “He’s been here 30 years and is starting to break down but he also has a learning chip so he’s affected more by being around humans,” Taylor said. “There’s a moment in the movie that I’m not sure anyone’s going to notice or care about: We see Guardian do his classic smile, which gets laughs and is kind of creepy, and that’s him failing to fit in as a human. But there’s [a] close-up of Arnold when he’s looking at Kyle, and this knowing humanity flickers across his eyes. It made me realize there’s tremendous subtlety in that look. To me, that’s the most human moment that we see this machine get to in all three movies.”

Meanwhile, the biggest VFX feat (courtesy of MPC in Montreal) was recreating the opening of the first movie from 1984, in which the older Schwarzenegger cyborg fights the original T-800 model. The young-looking CG character is very believable, thanks to the latest tech for skin, hair and facial rigging (and a boost from RenderMan 19 and its ray tracing, which made it look physically accurate and naturalistic).

“It’s the hardest thing in the movie and, technologically, we barely did it,” Taylor added. “We knew we had to get it right and we didn’t know if we were going to get it right. We literally shot it in the first couple of weeks and didn’t finish the scene until the very end of our production schedule, like 30 minutes before we had to turn in our shots. And there are some close-ups that are just absolutely photoreal. He’s moving and emoting and you see the shimmer in his eyes and the glow on his skin. Now that we’re able to do it, I’m sure you’ll get more and more of that stuff. But for us it was a major achievement to pull that off and it was a fun scene to do.”

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