The worst kind of movie isn't a bad one, it's a mediocre one—the sort of film where you can see unrealized potential, something great inside, straining and failing to get out. Despite what J.D. Salinger says, Terminator Salvation is just such a hunk of mediocrity: It's filled with really good ideas, and you can totally imagine how it could have been badass... but the final experience is just underwhelming and kind of angering.
That sentiment gets even stronger if you check out the snazzy hardcover The Art of Terminator Salvation, by Tara Bennett, from Titan Books (which published a similar book for Watchmen a few months back). The Art of Terminator Salvation is $35, but for those of you who dig the Terminator franchise, it's worth it: With a ton of concept art, storyboards, and photographs, Bennett's able to show the Terminator that the film's crew thought they were making—and it's a way better film than what we actually ended up with.
Hit the jump for some more images from the book, and let us mourn what might have been.
I'm a sucker for production and concept artwork, and post-apocalyptic stuff, and killer robots, and making jokes at McG's expense (who isn't?!), so you can imagine my delight at flipping through these pages. My favorite stuff seems to come from production designer Martin Laing (who also worked on the gorgeous City of Ember, as well as Titanic and Pearl Harbor). Laing seems to just get it—he at once stays consistent with what's come before, but he also figures out how to push the film's look in new directions. Here's one of his many statements that's included in The Art of:
I came up with the idea of making the Terminators dark. I said, "We don't have to make them silver--the whole 'silver sci-fi silliness' as I call it; we don't have to go down that road. Let's bring it more into reality." I think you want to try and ground things while you are making a sci-fi movie and make it as real as possible, so people can actually relate to the world you are creating. So now our Terminators are made out of steel. As if you went to an old locomotive train yard, and you saw the beautiful, strong, steel structures of the trains and how things were cast. They were very oily, very metal, and very, very dark, and that's the world of our Terminators here. It's a grittier and darker movie, but yet it has that sense of reality as well.
One might be able to argue with the concept about having to "ground things while you are making a sci-fi movie"—and if one were to do so, it might not be a bad idea to mention the success of this summer's shiny Star Trek compared to the disappointment of the grimy Terminator—but nevertheless, Laing's a philosophy results in some really great concept art.
(Laing did an interactive slideshow for the New York Times about some of the artwork for Salvation, which you can check out here.)
Two big complaints about the book: First, like The Art of Watchmen before it, The Art of Terminator Salvation doesn't always bother specifically crediting the individual artists who created these images. This seems like something that wouldn't have taken a whole lot of extra work, and would've helped immeasurably in terms of figuring out how different artists contributed to different aspects of the film. Second, there's next to nothing on how they conceived John Connor's end fight with a CG Schwarzenegger—I'm guessing this is because the book had to be finished before the filmmakers had official confirmation that Schwarzenegger was going to allow them to use his likeness, but who knows. Regardless, I'm guessing there's some great material out there about how they conceived that sequence—but if there is, very little of it is here.
Those quibbles aside, though, it's pretty cool—and only moderately depressing—to see all the work and ideas that went into Salvation before the film even started shooting. After looking at this art, one can imagine a film that's a bit weirder and a bit ballsier, a film that feels punchier, more enthusiastic, and maybe one in which giant Terminators would look original and creepy—
—rather than exactly like Michael Bay's Transformers. Maybe if McG had stuck closer to some of this production art, or if the filmmakers hadn't had to frantically scramble to come up with a new ending (more on that here and here), Salvation could've done justice to the artwork behind it.