Scene Stealer: ‘Terminator Salvation’

May 28, 2009 | 4:14 a.m.

‘Extremely complicated’ is an understatement for a two-minute scene that took two weeks to film.


Early in “Terminator Salvation,” Christian Bale as future resistance leader John Connor leads a raid on a Skynet facility, escapes in a helicopter, gets walloped by the force of a nuclear explosion, crash-lands and crawls from the wreckage, only to get attacked by a crawling Terminator. Did we mention this is all in one shot? To achieve this, visual effects supervisor Charles Gibson coordinated two film crews working over multiple locations to compile all the elements of the scene. “This sequence was extremely complicated,” Gibson says.

The shot begins on a back lot in Albuquerque, with Bale crawling out of a hole. A whip-pan shot blurs the transition to the helicopter suspended from a construction crane in front of a blue screen. As Bale runs to the helicopter and grabs the control stick to take off, the background shows a miniature of the facility. The model was then blown up, switching the view to that of a computer-generated helicopter buffeted by the force of a nuclear explosion. As the camera pushes back into the cockpit, the scene seamlessly transitions to a hand-held camera take of Bale struggling with the controls. The helicopter, meanwhile, is on a rig that’s spinning it around.  When the helicopter crashes, we’re shown a new helicopter already arranged in crash position, with a stunt man in Bale’s seat. After he unhooks himself and falls to the roof of the cockpit, Bale picks up the action, crawling out of the helicopter in time to see a mushroom cloud and be grabbed  by the Terminator lying in wait.

“It was one of the most-planned sequences of the movie,” Gibson says of the two-week shoot (for two minutes of screen time). “We try to leave a little bit of breathing room. You get a much more fluid execution and you don’t feel the phases of the shot as you move through them.”

— Patrick Kevin Day




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Photo: Christian Bale in “Terminator Salvation.”  Credit: Richard Foreman / Warner Bros.


One Response to Scene Stealer: ‘Terminator Salvation’

  1. Al says:

    Isn't it ironic that in the scheme of this film, this expensive, complicated scene was completely unnecessary? Did anyone congratulate McG on his script overhaul? Seems like he really nailed it.

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