In this era, we live in, there are constant remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, and extended universes. So, let’s go back to a time when such a thing was very uncommon. Specifically, back to the days of Alien and Terminator, two high quality thrillers with great acting, effects, and mostly importantly intriguing and original stories. Both spawned a multitude of sequels and spinoffs that never lived up to the hype of the originals. The sequel to Alien, Aliens, is universally more beloved than its predecessor whilst the original Terminator, by critical consensus, hasn’t yet been surpassed even by its sequel. From there things just got worse and worse for these franchises, with entries like Alien 3, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Alien: Resurrection, Terminator Salvation, Alien: Covenant, and Terminator Genisys. While there are occasional fresh breaths of air in the franchise such as Prometheus and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which were unique yet familiar to most audiences, even these were nowhere near the promise and quality of the original, which leaves us all asking what went wrong.
These franchises have gone downhill due partially to different creative teams not communicating properly with one another between movies. Often, new creative teams would come in and simply scrap or ruin the work done before them. For instance, initially Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection was supposed to be a two-part movie based around a galactic version of the Cold War, which would pick up with Hicks, Newt, and a still comatose Ripley landing on a space monastery to investigate rumors of Xenomorph production, with Earth and the Weyland-Yutani Corporation mass breeding Xenomorphs. This was in order to combat one another on a cosmic scale, but sadly this idea was scrapped because the newly appointed producers wanted to make their own vision of the movie, eventually enlisting the help of then rookie filmmaker, David Fincher. That failed spectacularly.
History repeated itself again with what should have been the second half of this cosmic Alien Cold War, Alien Resurrection. As well as the disappointment of the original promise once again being ruined, it still failed miserably in spite of Joss Whedon’s writing because it lacked something that the first two films had: Realism. Characters that felt real to us, characters that react like we would react to body horror and graphic war. Both 3 and Resurrection lacked the humanity that made Alien and Aliens so enjoyable replacing it with hollow husks of people that we were supposed to feel emotions for, and unsurprisingly didn’t.
There are also many problems with Terminator franchise that are broadly quite similar. These movies started out with intense action, a great time travel plot, and timeless effects. I believe however the reason that these movies suffered a decline after 2 is because no director could really live up to the pace, cinematography, and standard of action scenes set by Cameron in Terminator and T2. T3 is the best of the subsequent run of terrible Terminator films, it’s okay but pales in the face of the original Terminator or even Judgement Day. I think that it’s as good as it was because the director, Jonathan Mostow, had a background in action-thrillers prior to making Rise of the Machines half decent. It’s sequel however was Terminator: Salvation, a 2009 release which was widely regarded as the worst entry until the release of Genisys. This one was directed by McG, was infamous for having directed the Charlie’s Angels reboot movies which, much like Salvation, was met with critical disgust almost universally for having bad action, one-dimensional characters, and a weak plot. Again, this is another director that can’t hope to live up to the nigh perfection created by James Cameron and just rushed a product out.
Moving into the present times with Terminator: Genisys and we have a movie which was intended to revitalize the franchise by resetting the timeline and using new actors in iconic roles that would be portrayed with a difference. This movie intended to have humor, reset the convoluted timeline, and bring good action to a mainstream audience. It did one of the aforementioned things, which was having good action. Sadly, it was miserable in every other department. If anything, it over-complicated the timeline, ruined the already well established characters of the original film by replacing them with Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney as Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese respectively, it added forced bits of ‘wittiness’ and an Old Man T-800 trying to be “human”. I will say however, that the action is pretty good and despite the over-humanization of the Terminator, Arnold is still enjoyable nonetheless.
This movie however cemented Terminator’s descent into garbage by turning a relatively simple time travel movie into a poorly paced, convoluted, wonky time traveling mess with bad acting and no practical effects whatsoever. This franchise went downhill thanks to the help of creative teams not communicating with one another between films and a heavier reliance on computers, when this franchise was built on practical effects, which it now utterly disregards. As previously mentioned however, the one key aspect missing from the films that followed the second is simple, James Cameron.
These franchises are fondly remembered as products that were once good, but rusted away against the tests of time. But what about the franchises that got better as time went forward? Some examples that spring to mind are the Captain America and Toy Story trilogy’s. In my opinion, both these series started off strong, were subsequently followed by a sequel that upped the stakes and expanded the world, and then finished with a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy that brings everything to a beautiful close with equal heart and humor. There is a reason why these films got better with each entry, and it’s because they kept the same creative team onboard for the entire series. In turn, because it kept the same team, it’s allowed these people to grow with the characters that they’re writing, directing, and shaping. One of the clearest reasons that Alien and Terminator failed was because of clashing creative visions that eventually betrayed the spirit of the original, while Captain America and Toy Story succeeded for the exact opposite reason. They have a clear creative vision from the start, because the team that was there since the beginning is still working on it, for the most part at least, and they know the spirit of the original and, in turn, they know how to find new ways to move the franchise forward. That in my view is the real thing that failed the untold promise of the Alien and Terminator Franchises, a complete and utter lack of creative continuity or vision.
Written by: Kyle Sivits – @TheWriterGeek