Paramount has had a remarkably rough go of it with their marketing campaign for Terminator: Genisys. From the moment the title was changed from “Genesis” to “Genisys” and publicity photos (which looked horrible) and plot details (Sarah’s now been raised by an aging T-800 model Terminator she calls “Pops”!) were first released through an Entertainment Weekly cover story, it’s been an uphill battle. The first trailer and subsequent Super Bowl ad did little to move the needle. Out of desperation (and possibly in response to a script leak), they opted to spoil the film’s big plot twist in the second trailer, much to the chagrin of the screenwriters and director (Alan Taylor). Worse yet, the fan reaction to the plot twist seemed to be a healthy dosage of internet snark followed by a yawn. Their final Hail Mary was to attain the public endorsement of James Cameron himself, hoping we’d at least accept the word of the man who wrote and directed Terminator 1 and 2. So rather than run with pull-quotes from random film critics as per usual, the latest TV spots feature quotes from Cameron, who we are supposed to believe truly meant it when he said “Terminator has been reinvigorated” and “The twist is more than you expected” and especially “You will love this movie.”
Instead, people just want to know how much Paramount paid Cameron for that endorsement, too cynical to completely buy his protestations that his endorsement was offered freely and came from a genuine place of affection for the film. Maybe he’s just offering his old pal Arnold a free favor as a thank you for all their years working together. Cameron is the one, after all, who actually gave the Genisys people an in-universe explanation for how they could make a new Terminator with a nearly 70-year-old Arnold, reminding them that since the T-800 model Terminator is living skin over a metal endoskeleton it stands to reason that the living skin could theoretically age just like a normal human being (although don’t start thinking about things like nutrients or anything else skin would normally need). Maybe he has an invested interest in not seeing the Terminator franchise being further devalued by a box office bomb since the franchise rights reportedly might revert back to him in 2019. Or maybe he just really likes the movie.
Who knows. But back in December Cameron attended a double feature screening of Terminator 1 and 2 at the Hero Complex Film Festival. During the Q&A afterward, here’s what he said when asked about Terminator: Genisys:
I pay attention to [the upcoming Terminator film] but I’m not terribly concerned about it one-way or the other. I’ve let it go. There was a point in time where I debated going after the rights. Carolco Pictures was failing and in bankruptcy and the rights were in play. I talked briefly to 20th Century Fox about it. At a certain point, I think I was finishing Titanic at the time and I just felt as a filmmaker maybe I’ve gone beyond it. I really wasn’t that interested. I felt like I’d told the story I wanted to tell. I suppose I could have pursued it more aggressively and gone to the mat for it but I felt like I was laboring in someone else’s house to an extent because I had sold the rights very early on. Basically I went from being a truck driver to being a filmmaker and part of my dues was that I sold the rights to The Terminator in order to keep myself attached as a director. And the outcome was fine. The rest of my career really hinged on that. But I no longer had control of it. I thought to myself why don’t I just create my own new thing that I’ll have control over the IP.
So I let it go and in the act of letting it go, I now have to live with the consequences of that — which is I can’t get too emotionally involved. Now having said that — when Megan Ellison bought the rights [to The Terminator], she asked me if I wanted to be involved. I said ‘Look – I don’t mind standing behind the curtain and whispering some court advisory in the 13th century type thing.’ My goal in that was not to insinuate myself artistically but to try to make sure they stayed true to the Terminator character and the idea of Arnold – he’s a friend of mine and we’ve been through all the wars together — I wanted them to see the possibilities I saw for what they could do with his character. And then David Ellison took the project over from Megan and he and I met a couple times. Arnold is very much front and center in the new Terminator films. So I might have had some tiny effect on it — but obviously they had to make the right financial and creative decisions themselves so I’m not trying to take credit for the film that they’re making but that was my goal for being loosely attached to the film.
That should pretty well clarify any confusion over Cameron’s exact level of involvement with Genisys. Also, kudos to Megan Ellison for offering him a chance to be involved when she bought the rights. It’s understandable that he remained detached since he’s already told the Terminator story he wanted to, but Genisys is looking like a disaster, both critically (25% on RottenTomatoes) and financially (Magic Mike XXL is beating it, and it cost $130m less to make). Maybe things would have turned out differently had James Cameron been more involved, but if we believe his endorsement he must not think he could have made anything better.