Home > the story > Is Terminator Salvation the next Casablanca? Yes… Yes it is

Is Terminator Salvation the next Casablanca? Yes… Yes it is

April 13th, 2009


Rewrites often spell disaster for a film.

Most times, when a script needs to be sent back and changed in any significant way, things don’t go well. From an artistic standpoint (I suppose…) if a script isn’t good enough in its original state, no amount of tinkering can change that. Rewrites are often seen by cynical film critics (and by extension cynical film bloggers aspiring to be cynical film critics) as a studio’s very weak attempt to patch up a subpar product. Recent examples include The Invasion, Mr. Woodcock, and The Golden Compass. Draw your own conclusions.

And so, when I first heard that Terminator Salvation was going through rewrites, I wasn’t thrilled.

But as any film historian worth his salt will tell you, every now and then major rewrites have unexpected results. Case in point, the most beloved, acclaimed, and worshipped American film of all time: Casablanca.  Having a tight, compelling narrative that critics continue to praise to this day, it may come as a surprise that the script for Casablanca was an absolute mess. The screenplay went through countless changes, combining ideas from a whole team of writers. By most accounts, nobody had a clue how to finish the thing. The writers more or less lucked into the most famous of all Hollywood endings.

While the script for Terminator Salvation doesn’t begin to approach the chaos of Casablanca, I want to suggest that rewrites may very well have been the best thing to happen to this film.

Credit for the first draft of the Terminator script goes to John Brancato and Michael Ferris, two pretty talented dudes whom I would have thought would produce a decent story… were it not for the fact that they were also the writers behind Terminator 3, and I think I’ve already said enough on that subject…

What you won’t find in the credits, but has been mentioned frequently in interviews, is that the T4 script was then rewritten by Paul Haggis, an amazingly talented writer (and a Canadian to boot!) whose work includes Million Dollar Baby, Crash, Letters from Iwo Jima, and most importantly for our discussion, the Bond reboot Casino Royale. Here’s a guy who can write critically-acclaimed drama, but also knows how to restart a dying, outlandish genre franchise. Haggis is perfectly suited for the job of fixing up Terminator, and I don’t think there’s anyone I’d rather see working on this script…

Except, of course, for Jonathan Nolan, the man responsible for the second round of Terminator rewrites. Nolan, for those of you who don’t know, is an up-and-comer whose work includes Memento, The Prestige, and a little indie flick called The Dark Knight. Yes, that’s right, the brains behind the most wildly successful movie of the decade had the final say on the Terminator script. Bottom line: Nolan knows gritty, sci-fi goodness, and he knows how to write dialogue for Christian Bale. And he knows Batman, which in my books qualifies him to write anything he wants.

So, as you’ve probably gathered from my besotted tone, I think this is the dream team of screenwriters, but I’m sure others are less convinced. Are these rewrites a good sign? Too many cooks in the kitchen, or the perfect blend of genre and drama? Let us know in the comments below!

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