The References and Allusions of “Terminator Salvation”

I just got back from seeing Terminator Salvation which I found to be a little heavy on the action and special effects, and disappointingly light on character and intrigue. Perhaps more interesting than the plot where the numerous allusions and references which I spotted throughout the film:

  • The gas station where Marcus, Reese, and Star stop to fill up their Jeep Wrangler is clearly modeled after the Mexican gas station where Sarah Connor stops to fill up her Jeep Wrangler at the end of the first Terminator (where she has her picture taken by the young hustler).
  • The battle in the basement of Cyberdyne between John Connor and the T-800 is essentially a recreation of of the battle between Reese and the T-800 in the first film, right down to the close-up of the robotic feet ascending the steps and the fight on the catwalk. Of course, this is the same T-800 which, before its flesh is burned away, looks just like a young Arnold Schwarzengger (very impressive CGI, by the way).
  • The giant machines which are designed to collect, imprison, and transport humans are clearly inspired by the tripods of War of the Worlds. In particular, the sounds and smoke they emit are very true to both the H.G. Wells novel, and to Steven Spielberg’s modern interpretation.
  • It’s hard to believe that the red weeds that are shown in the scene where Marcus and Blair first approach the resistance hideout aren’t also inspired by War of the Worlds.
  • Maybe this one is a stretch, but the scene where Marcus hurls a chair through the image of Helena Bonham Carter sure seems reminiscent of the 1984 Apple Macintosh commercial warning the world of the dangers of conformity. (Is there a correlation being drawn between Skynet and Microsoft?)
  • While I’m stretching things a bit, Star sure seemed a lot like Newt from Aliens : big-eyed, quiet, and somehow wiser than those who take care of her. And, of course, Aliens was directed by James Cameron who also directed the first Terminator.

As expected, there were also several campy references like John Connor using the “I’ll be back” line, and Reese telling Marcus “come with me if you want to live” (which I believe has appeared in every Terminator story, and even the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles). The literal tie-ins to the first movie are too numerous to list.

The most interesting connection I’ve made so far, however, is between the plot of Terminator Salvation and the 1953 Philip K. Dick story, Second Variety. Second Variety takes place during the aftermath of a nuclear war between the UN and the Soviet Union, and describes a world where the robots that the UN developed to help fight the Russians have become self-aware, and begin constructing increasingly human-like machines to infiltrate both American and Soviet bunkers. Although they have succeeded in causing a great deal of destruction, every model eventually fails to entirely eradicate the remainder of the human race until the second variety proves just human enough to finally slip past the last of humanity’s defenses. If you’ve seen Terminator Salvation, this should sound very familiar, and probably not accidental.

The amount of time I spent looking for nods to other movies, novels, stories, and even old television commercials should tell you something about what I thought of the movie. It was certainly entertaining, but like all the other Terminator sequels, it doesn’t even come close to capturing the darkness, eeriness, and authenticity of the original.

2 thoughts on “The References and Allusions of “Terminator Salvation”

  1. Nice catch on all the references. Some of them, like the recreation of the last fight from the original Terminator, are very obvious. Others, you have to wonder about. Did they actually have this in mind? Or is just that there have been so many movies that just about anything anyone does is going to be a reference to something else. For the most part I think MCG was leaning heavy on WOTW and Terminator quite a bit. The Macintosh commercial I’m not so sure about.
    I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said something like, “I hate Shakespeare. Because no writer will ever write anything that isn’t seen as a derivation of one of, or a combination of, his stories. And of course Shakespeare borrowed just about everything from the Greeks.
    Ultimately I don’t think it matters. Variations on a theme can be damn entertaining. Sometimes more so than the original.


  2. The WOTW caught me first, then I started looking for more. My favorites are the motorcycle jump when Marcus escapes the camp; Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape.” also the hydro terminator looking very much like the chaser bots in “The Matrix.” When Marcus awakens and climbs out to the surface, he does a very “Shawshank” cry of freedom from filth and mud when the rain begins to wash him. Marcus being transported to the operating table after getting through the minefield was very “Gladiator”. Maybe even a little “Soylent Green” in the Skynet prison. Personally I love all the Terminator self references. It’s small details a fan recognizes that a casual viewer won’t, that make watching fun–even if the movie itself isn’t Four stars. When the creeps in the desert punch Marcus in the face and he merely absorbs the blow and gives them the eyebrow– classic terminator! Sometimes you just have to enjoy yourself.


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