Arnold returns to 'Terminator.' Is it a good idea?
The news Tuesday that Arnold Schwarzenegger will return to the "Terminator" franchise provides a colorful coda to several story lines.
The new film, loosely dubbed "Terminator 5," is being shopped to studios. There is no script or screenwriter, but a person close to what Hollywood terms a film package, who asked not to be identified because of the early nature of the negotiations, confirmed that Creative Artists Agency has begun shopping the rights to make the movie, though with no plotline as yet. Schwarzenegger, the person said, would play a starring role as the title character in the science-fiction film, not a supporting role in which he passed the baton to a new hero. The movie would be directed by "Fast Five" director Justin Lin.
The package represents the latest twist in a tortuous business story. Early last year, Sony and Lionsgate joined forces to bid on the rights held by the Halcyon Co., the bankrupt "Terminator Salvation" producer. But, in a controversial decision, the rights were handed to the Santa Barbara hedge fund Pacificor, which had backed Halcyon.
In May, Hollywood agency William Morris Endeavor announced it had been chosen by Pacificor to sell the rights to studios. But no sale materialized, and CAA replaced WME; CAA, which has long represented Schwarzenegger, held an obvious advantage: the clout to convince the actor to come back.
Tuesday's news raises nearly as many creative questions as it answers. The offshoot "Terminator Salvation," directed by McG, was roughed up by critics but pocketed $371 million worldwide. It was supposed to be the start of a new trilogy starring Sam Worthington. But the return of Arnold, and the fact that McG will not have a place on this film, means that the new Skynet saga could pick up the narrative trail of the third picture, 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," or start in yet another new direction. ("Machines" finished with Nick Stahl's John Connor and Claire Danes' Kate Brewster running from Schwarzenegger's Terminator, with all three still alive at movie's end.)
But perhaps the biggest point the news highlights involves Schwarzenegger's career direction. The 63-year-old former governor told The Times recently he's diving back into acting. "I can step very comfortably into the entertainment world and do an action movie with the same violence that I've always done," he said, predicting he'd be on a set by the end of the year.
At the time, some speculated he could star in the drug-themed action film "The Last Stand" or the prison-escape movie "The Tomb," both new properties and potential franchises. Those remain possibilities, especially with a script not yet written for "Terminator."
But it's clear Schwarzenegger also has the past on his mind. He's already signed on for a cartoon called "The Governator," featuring his voice and likeness. Now it looks as though he's intent not only riffing on past glories but reliving them.
It remains to be seen whether Schwarzenegger could take on the required stunts at his age, and whether a population that didn't think much of him as a governor wants to vote for him with their dollars at the box office. It would also be nearly 30 years since he first incarnated the Terminator role in the James Cameron original; there are few examples of an actor holding a lead film role for that long.
Still, the former governor would have precedent in a return to the screen. Both Jesse Ventura and Fred Thompson went back to acting once they said sayonara to their political careers. As Joe Klein said when we wrote last spring about Arnold's possible return to acting, "When politicians leave office, they almost always try to re-ingratiate themselves with the public they've inevitably disappointed. Acting would be a way for Schwarzenegger to restore himself in the eyes of the public."
-- Steven Zeitchik, with reporting by Ben Fritz
Photo: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." Credit: Warner Bros.