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Drawing the Apocalypse


As I’ve said countless times before, I’ve been dying to see the future war between John Connor and Skynet ever since I first saw Terminator.

At the very beginning of T2, and sporadically throughout T1, we were teased with brief glimpses of life after Armageddon. As far as 1991 visions of the apocalypse go, it was pretty cool. It was always night, there were lasers everywhere, and every flat surface was covered in human skulls. It was like a death metal album cover come to life. How could angst-ridden teenagers not want to live to see this future?

But upon rewatching Terminator 1 and 2, certain aspects of Cameron’s nightmarish future seemed a little outdated to me. For starters, the Resistance wears matching, ironed uniforms (complete with little grey baseball caps). They look like they’re about to paint a house, not wage war against the machines. Secondly, they use these little go-kart things that look oddly childish and out of place in the middle of a battlefield. Finally, it’s always night. When I was fifteen, setting a scene at nighttime was more than enough to convey an apocalyptic tone, but now I need something more…

Which is why I was pleased to see that McG has gone in a fairly different direction as far as drawing the landscape for John Connor’s ruined world. Visually, the world of Terminator Salvation is pretty far removed from what we saw in T1 and T2.

For starters, we can see remnants of society everywhere the characters go. Abandoned gas stations, half-demolished buildings, 20th century trucks and helicopters and planes. All in all, this world looks more like what I’d expect if we were to be nuked today: a patchwork collection of scraps and fragments of what was left behind. As cool as it may be, I just don’t think we’d be able to design and manufacture matching uniforms while on the run from Skynet.

Furthermore, the world of Terminator Salvation seems hot. It looks like Southern California: dry, dusty, and painfully warm. Cameron’s apocalypse, on the other hand, was cold and damp. Now, in all fairness, I don’t know which climate would be more realistic following a nuclear attack, but for some reason this just seems more appropriate to me. Maybe I’ve seen Planet of the Apes one too many times.

But most importantly to me, McG has said in interviews that he modeled his nuclear wasteland on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I mentioned this book a few weeks back in my “Required Reading” post, where I argued that The Road is one of the best portrayals of life after global destruction. As far as bleak, gritty, ugly, lifeless environments go, there ain’t none better than The Road. And true to his word, parts of McG’s universe do look surprisingly like the picture McCarthy paints. Most notably, the scenes on the abandoned highway (obviously…) are highly reminiscent of the eponymous Road. McCarthy really tapped into something with his use of road imagery (the hope, the endlessness, the progression, the regression, all that complex end of the world stuff), so I’m glad that McG shamelessly stole paid homage to it.

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  1. Brian
    May 11th, 2009 at 00:00 | #1

    Call me old fashioned, but I thought the James Cameron apocalypse was still quite scary to my standards and hardly feels outdated at all to me. I figured that the uniforms they wore were most likely salvaged military attire of some sort maybe even matching looted clothing to distinguish the resistance from civilian survivors. Who knows. I will admit that a few of the future scenes from the introductions appear outdated when it comes to styles at the time of production ofcourse, but the overall effect of each scene does what they’re intended to do: show darkness, though it may be literal darkness the main component is figurative darkness. I do believe, however, that the actual night scenes are more or less coincidental. I don’t doubt that dawn breaks at the same time everyday like it always has. I don’t recall any little go-cart things at all to speak of. Dune-buggies maybe? Another thing we all should remember is that the future scenes from T1 and T2 as well as T3 were either from 2029 or the 2030’s so there’s bound to be more skulls and building debris strewn about the landscape by that time as opposed to 2018. Although 15 years after Judgment Day should show considerable damage to humanity roughly 27 years after the initial apocalypse would show much more. Not to mention obvious advancements in weapon technology upgrading from bullet weapons to phased plasma weapons by 2029. Even so, I’m still exceedingly pleased with all I’ve seen so far. It’s great to finally watch the events we all wondered so much about finally unfold.

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