James Cameron is Right (Sort of)--Terminator 3 Could Have Been Terminator: Genisys

In the weeks leading up to its July release, Terminator: Genisys has been rolling out plot spoilers and a direct endorsement from Terminator creator James Cameron himself in order to convince fans that the new sequel is worth the price of admission. From the endorsement, the most publicized quote from Cameron is how he feels that Genisys is the "real" Terminator 3. To be more specific, he stated that “in my mind, I think of [Genisys] as the third film.”

The odd thing about this quote is that Cameron is more right than he realizes. According to an October 2009 blog post by Terminator 3 screenwriter John D. Brancato, the original draft of T3 sounds an awful lot like what we'll be seeing in Genisys. John Connor might believe that the future is not set, but it looks like the future that will become known as Terminator: Genisys was set as far back as 2001. Read on, with some minor spoilers ahead ...

Brancato worked on the scripts of both Terminator 3 and Terminator: Salvation, and his 4 Big Lies blog shines ample amounts of light on why these two sequels turned out the way they did. In fact, the blog only has three posts in it, so it seems like Brancato created it back in 2009 just to deflect criticism from his role in the Terminator sequels. Regardless, the post "How to Beat a Twice-Dead Horse" tells the real story behind the second half of the Terminator franchise and the original plot of T3. From the blog post:

The idea of a third installment with a new director struck me as sleazy and a little sad. The two Terminators had come to be seen as sacred works of genius, fueling the cult of James Cameron. Lines like, "I'll be back" and "Hasta la vista, baby" were permanently enshrined in pop culture. Put some other dude behind the camera, throw in new writers and skip any involvement from the King of the World? The world would line up to hate you.

The script Jon (Mostow) sent was a flat, fanboy retread of the second film, with another nice-guy Arnold and a female terminator even sillier than the liquid metal man, along with a slew of smarmy callback gags. John Connor was a slick dick of a Silicon Valley CEO, which in 2001 already felt dated. Sarah Connor remained an angry outsider, alienated from her son. It ended with nukes landing by the Washington Monument but failing to go boom.

The (T3) producers had offices in a grafittied single-story building in Santa Monica. The pair in charge had foreign accents, Ferraris and elaborate facial hair. Their underlings were more familiar development types, although one had almost sued me over rights to that last spec script of ours. This braintrust had decided on a series of givens: Arnold had to play a good terminator (again), the bad terminator had to be a female (robots have genders?), John Connor had to be a successful executive (and not Eddy Furlong). These were potentially fatal handicaps, but we still managed to come up with some ideas. Trusting Mostow's recommendation more than seemed wise, they said sure, here's a deal, go write a first draft.

Arnold shows up and tries to kill rich, smug John Connor. A female terminator, a nanotech assemblage of micro-bots, strives to protect him. Yet it turns out Arnold was sent by the Resistance--and the nano-chick is Skynet's most nefarious creation of all. See, after the first two pairs of terminators were sent back from 2029 for the first two movies, JC revealed himself to be evil--a Skynet deep-cover agent. He destroyed/will destroy the human resistance from within. This is all because the female nano-terminator supposedly defending him actually infects him in the present day, with a nanobot that bores deep into his brain. So after Connor betrays humanity in 2032, his mortified wife Kate sends Arnold back to kill John Connor in 2003. (Sarah Connor is already dead of cancer, by the way.) In the film's action, the Arnold terminator fails, nano-bitch kills true love Kate--but Judgment Day seems to have been prevented yet again (although Connor still has a scrap of Skynet inside his head, the-end-or-is-it?). This script was, admittedly, pretty insane, trippy and multiversive. We were out to conjure some of the dizzy absurdity of the first Terminator. I was happy with the script. ... It nearly got us fired.

The post goes on to discuss how the T3 script changed into what finally ended up on the big screen and the convoluted development of Salvation. This post is a must-read for any Terminator fan and it goes a long way towards explaining how the franchise had changed (at least the movie half of it, not the TV half) since Cameron left the series after T2.

A brainwashed John Connor (Jason Clarke, center) rubs elbows with Miles Dyson (Courtney B. Vance, left) 
and his son Danny (Dayo Okeniyi, right) in Terminator: Genisys.

It's funny to read a blog post from 2009 that describes a plot twist that was rejected for a sequel that was released in 2003 but will later become the plot twist for another sequel that's going to be released in 2015--a sequel that is supposedly going to "reinvigorate" its franchise, no less. Even though Brancato and T3 co-writer Michael Ferris were the ones who came up with the controversial plot twist of a John Connor who is brainwashed by nanobots, they won't be getting any on-screen story credit for Genisys. In light of this revelation, it makes me wonder if Cameron really believes that Genisys is the "true" Terminator 3, or if his comment is some kind of sly in-joke. Maybe the new new sequel should be called Terminator: Recycled.

The future war against Skynet may be tough, but earning a living as a script writer in Hollywood is much, much tougher.


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