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October 07, 2011

‘Terminator': Justin Lin looks at ‘sacred’ franchise’s future

Posted in: Movies

terminatorfastfive Terminator: Justin Lin looks at sacred franchises future

Vin Diesel in a scene from "Fast Five," left, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." (Jaimie Trueblood / Universal Pictures and Warner Bros.)

Director Justin Lin has set aside his plan to make a “Terminator” film but if you wanted a phrase to sum up his mind-set, a good one might be “I’ll be back.”

Lin had been ramping up a fifth installment in the classic killer-robot franchise (despite the history of business challenges that have complicated the franchise’s status), but now that effort has taken a backseat after the success of his action film “Fast Five” and his desire to take that high-velocity franchise to its narrative finish line with a planned trilogy that now has a lot more industry fuel in its box-office tank.

“Creatively, I’ve had to put some stuff on hold and walk away from some projects that I’d really love to do, but this is an opportunity for me and for us to close out the franchise the right way,” Lin said of the car films. “It comes with a price but it’s something that I look forward to.”

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Dwayne Johnson, left, and Vin Diesel in a scene from "Fast Five." (Universal Pictures)

The price, apparently, is the immediate opportunity to go back to the future with the classic man versus machine epic that began with James Cameron’s “The Terminator”  in 1984. Lin was in his early teens when the first film was released and speaks of it with nothing less than reverence.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 2." (Artisan Home Entertainment)

“Those first two ‘Terminator’ films, we have such a strong connection to it and there’s always a desire to revisit anything that can cause us to feel like that. Being someone who really holds that sacred, I feel like there is a way of continuing that journey. Also with the time travel and canon there’s a version there that you can do right. For me, there’s still some characters and themes that were kind of promised and exhibited in those movies that we have never actually seen. Those are things that got me excited about potentially trying to crack all of that.”

How big of a delay is Lin willing to accept? If he moves forward with two “Fast Five” sequels first (filming them, it appears, at the same time) does that mean Skynet won’t be reaching the screen until, say, 2014? He declined to delve into details or predictions.

“The timing for that is a little bit off [in the distance] but the good thing is it doesn’t feel like creatively it’s been compromised,” Lin said. “I don’t think anyone is trying to hurry anything. I’m hopeful it will work out but at the same time I’m going to be hard on that film if I get a chance to make it. With that franchise, that’s what it deserves. I remember growing up and watching the first ‘Terminator’ films and they defined my youth in many ways. That’s something I want to try to seek out and recapture.”

Lin already got to connect with the “Terminator” heritage in a big way thanks to story meetings preparing for the new installment. “On a filmmaker level,” Lin said, “to be able to sit in a room with Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron and be able to talk it through and kick ideas around, that’s been priceless already.”

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Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene from "The Terminator." (Warner Bros.)

Cameron’s involvement in the project appears to be as an emotionally invested consultant but the stakes are much higher for Schwarzenegger, who is trying to relaunch his Hollywood career after his Sacramento adventure. And Lin said the star has a place in his film despite the fact that he will blow out 65 candles on his next birthday.

“There is a way to do that. I don’t want to give anything away but I have a very clear idea thematically and arc-wise where we can go,” Lin said. “Again, it’s been just great to throw that around with James and Arnold. Is time our enemy? Well, there is a ticking clock but anytime anything goes into development — with the state of filmmaking and the way films get made — you’re always fighting for more time. The biggest enemy is rushing things. I don’t think it should be rushed. Creatively, it will come when it comes. Passion is always the currency and it’s the thing that will create momentum. If that’s not there you shouldn’t do it. Obviously, there’s a lot of money involved and with that money the clock is going to keep ticking.”

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Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." (Robert Zuckerman / Warner Bros. Pictures)

But, really, how smart is an investment in a franchise that hasn’t been cutting-edge since 1991? “Terminator Salvation” in 2009 did little to energize the future of the brand and (despite Lin’s enthusiasm) there’s really no reason to assume that the moviegoing public will flock to see Schwarzenegger back in sunglasses. Still, Lin has directed three “Fast” films to date and has shown a deftness for crowd-pleasing action. He pledges that his motives are more about the history books than box-office receipts. He  said he would rather leave the franchise at four than deliver a fifth movie that didn’t live up to the brand’s early standards.

“I do hold such a strong admiration for it that if it’s not really coming together in the right way, I don’t really want to partake in anything like that,” Lin said. “That’s a great way to approach it creatively. And to be able to work with people who are passionate, especially with Arnold and James. It’s such a big part of who they are and to be able to have that conversation and try to up the ante, you can’t ask for anything better.”

– Geoff Boucher

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