"The Terminator" will be back next summer, but the original killer robot, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a bit puzzled by this new model, at least so far.
"I still don't know how it will play out with this one," said the star-turned-politician, who said he was given a private screening of early footage from "Terminator Salvation" by producers of the franchise reboot directed by McG. "They showed me some footage, but I don't have a feel for the movie. I didn't see enough. I wasn't sure who the Terminator was. I don't know if there is one or if he's the star or the hero. These are the things that determine the success and how the strong the movie will be."
This will be the fourth of the "Terminator" films but the first without the Austrian-born muscleman who became a international film icon in the role of an assassination machine with cool sunglasses and a deadpan delivery. "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" in 2003 was Schwarzenegger's last starring role before he gave up Hollywood for Sacramento.
Schwarzenegger loves to talk Hollywood, and on Friday afternoon he chatted about his favorite recent movies -- he absolutely loved "Wanted," for instance, and he says Will Ferrell movies are so funny that he's getting "a six-pack" of abs from all the laughing -- and he addressed the tender topic of a new "Terminator" for the first time in any depth.
Schwarzenegger has been playing a different sort of "Terminator" these days -- last week he ordered the layoffs of 10,000 state employees. He has said that move, along with sweeping salary reductions for state workers, will take pressure off the California coffers during the ongoing budget impasse in Sacramento.
"Terminator Salvation" is being filmed now in New Mexico and stars Christian Bale (above), who wears the mask of Batman in this summer's history-making hit, "The Dark Knight," which is making a run at "Titanic" for the highest-grossing film ever.
Bale won't be a Terminator robot -- just the opposite, he plays a grown-up John Connor, the leader of the ragged human resistance against machine-men oppressors of the future. "Salvation," directed by the filmmaker McG, will be a prequel to "The Terminator," the landmark 1984 film directed by James Cameron. In 1991, Cameron and Schwarzenegger teamed up again for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," which not only grossed more than $200 million in U.S. theaters, it became a landmark achievement among special-effects films.
"Salvation" is trying to pay homage to that history even as it charts its own course. McG ("Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," "We Are Marshall") sought out Cameron's blessing for "Salvation," which is far more bleak, unsettling and savage than the third film in the series, directed by Jonathan Mostow. "Salvation" producers also arranged for the governor to see an early "sizzle reel," a montage of scenes of the sort shown at Comic-Con International last month, where "Salvation" was popular with fans.
Schwarzenegger was polite but cautious on Friday when he was asked if he thought the reel actually had the sort of sizzle he expected.
"I've seen very little footage so I don't really have a feel for it. I hope they do well, and I hope it is a huge hit. I do hope it creates a spectacle on the screen. That is what James Cameron created."
The politician, who turned 61 last week, remains an ardent booster of Hollywood. Despite the crises around him in the state capital, he gushed about what a wonderful season it has been for popcorn entertainment.
"It's been pure heaven! We've never seen anything like this: Every week, Hollywood has been pounding away. And look at that, the economy is going down but Hollywood grosses are going up. It shows how important Hollywood is to our state economy and how much people love movies.
"There are such high standards and now there are always new standards being set for action," Schwarzenegger said. "You see that with 'Iron Man' and with the new Batman movie and that other film this summer, um, 'Wanted.' That was an excellent movie! There was this train coming down from a bridge, falling, and they're fighting inside the train car. Jesus, that is unbelievable that you can do that. To have the imagination to write it and the talent to shoot it and make it real on the screen. It's a whole new dimension."
The father of four said it's the "huge visual effects, the super-heroes," that make him and his kids want to "run to the theater," but the state's chief executive apparently also has a soft spot for "Step Brothers" and "Semi-Pro."
"It's the big action ones or the ones with Will Ferrell. In those you howl for two hours and you feel like you get a six-pack [of ab muscles] from all the laughs!"
His tone turned cautionary, though, on the topic of "Terminator Salvation."
"With Batman and Terminator, those big movies, there's a certain expectation and if you don't live up to it, if the movie is not a 10, then the business will be soft," the governor said. "If ['Salvation'] is pushing it forward, it will be breaking records all the time. If [director McG] has the T4 and the kind of shots that has the audience thinking, 'Now how did he do that?' -- then it is 'Terminator' and you can blow everyone away and every record at the box office."
In 2003, the American Film Institute made a list of the top 50 film heroes ever and a list of the top 50 villains. Schwarzenegger's Terminator is the only character to appear on both lists. The imagery from the films is part of his defining persona, whether it's the nickname "the Governator" or the state employee protests last week in which the politician's name was written on a pink slip along with a slogan saying he was the one deserving job termination.
Will Schwarzenegger be able to watch any new "Terminator" film and not feel a pang of loss?
"No, the same thing happened with bodybuilding. Seven times I won the Mr. Olympia title, a record, no one had done that. Then someone else [South Carolina native Lee Haney] won it eight times. Do I sit and say, 'Darn it, my record is gone' or 'Darn, I'm not up there on stage.' No, because I've moved into other phases of my life. I moved on from bodybuilding into entertainment. Then I moved on from entertainment into a political life. Now this is the most exciting experience of my life. When this movie comes out, I won't be sitting there saying, 'Why can't I do that?' I hope it makes a lot of money and is very successful."
-- Geoff BoucherPhotos: Top, Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role of the Terminator. Center, Christian Bale stars as John Connor and Sam Worthington stars as Marcus Wright in “Terminator Salvation.”