Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen (Meet Me in Montenegro) Talk Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys

Watching the latest in the Scharzenegger cyborg franchise prompts an unexpected viewing of the first film, and some realizations about action movies.

After being on the move for three weeks straight, jumping from film festival to film festival with Meet Me in Montenegro, we were in the mindset to write about some great and artistic film. But we got so caught up in press and screenings that the time simply ran away from us, and we ended up with few options – and decided ultimately to watch and write about Terminator Genisys. This generic action film is probably as far as one could possibly get from our own personal romantic story, but the theme of Meet Me in Montenegro is getting out of your comfort zone, so in a way it seemed fitting.

In 2015, a movie about robots taking over the world is not as novel as it was when the first Terminator came out back in 1984. And Terminator Genisys is not the kind of film we’d usually see — not because we don’t like action movies, but rather because most action movies are so formulaic. It’s clear they are following a recipe, and that the film’s sole purpose is to earn money, milk the commodity, and nothing more. It’s like a product sold in a chain store; there is no real care and love put into it. In the first ten minutes of the movie, there will be a big action sequence, some sappy emotional moments, and someone will die. Then there is the need to incessantly explain to the audience what is going on, though despite much explaining, the overly complicated story is hard to follow, so you end up tuning out from time to time.

Linnea had never seen any of the Terminator movies, having been too young to get caught up in the hype. Her favorite part of Terminator Genisys was Arnold Schwarzenegger. It felt like he was the only one taking this seriously. Even though he is playing a robot, he is the most real character of them all. It seemed like a paycheck job for the other actors, and it hurt a little bit to see Khaleesi [aka Emilia Clarke, who plays Sarah Connor] running around with a gun and saying, “Bite me.” We want you back with your dragons, not “Pops”!

Another thing we liked in Terminator Genisys was the use of the clips from the first Terminator film, which had a retro style and humor that felt more fun than the generic, watered-down style of today. Our appetites whetted, later that day we decided to check out the opening scenes of The Terminator – and ended up watching the entire film. It’s moody, cool and pure fun. They shot on the gritty streets of downtown Los Angeles. Sarah Connor was a real person. She had the crazy ’80s dresses and perm hair, and a roommate with a sexually frisky boyfriend. She waited tables at Bob’s Big Boy and was dumped on a date that night. The music was ’80s synths. Arnold was a brilliant piece of casting, as was Michael Biehn as Kyle, who was a rough-and-tumble guerrilla fighter and looked it. While there were a couple of one-liners, they were genuinely funny because Arnold was such a complete cold-blooded killer. They weren’t a tired old bag of tricks trotted out to make a few bucks.

Amusingly, Terminator Genisys is about the machines taking over the world and killing the humans, but the filmmakers are so focused on the CGI effects that the effects completely overpower and kill the humanity of the characters and the story. Machines win! To make a good action movie, you need to make sure that even if your main characters are superheroes or aliens, from the past or future, we can relate to the personal story and what the character is going through. It feels like in Terminator Genisys Sarah Connor is taken from a ’50s movie, so comically prudish that believing she is a woman living in 1984 is very hard to do. This battle-hardened woman must fight to survive and mate with a time-traveling warrior, Kyle Reese, before he dies, which could be any minute. This could be some fun for these characters, right? Wrong. It’s played like the characters are at a seventh-grade dance. They hem and haw as Sarah insists she must fall in love before they do it (damn the world, which will end in nuclear holocaust if they don’t mate…).

Are we all just avoiding anything real because dumbed-down moviegoers and/or kids are still at the table? Once they go home or to bed, let’s hope we can break out the booze and have a real conversation. Terminator Genisys is scarily G-rated – Arnold’s butt is even cropped out in a shot from the first movie. I think kids can take a naked butt, especially if you think of all the things they have already seen on the Internet. Give them something better, give them someone real.

Just thinking about the moviemaking blockbuster machine makes one quite upset and frustrated; you see nothing but a bleak future. As in the Terminator universe, we need a revolution – we need to fight so that stories and creativity can still exist in studio movies. We mustn’t let the machine win!

Alex Holdridge is the writer-director of the films Wrong Numbers (2001), Sexless (2003), and In Search of Midnight Kiss (2007), which won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award. Holdridge and Linnea Saasen, a Norwegian artist, dancer and experimental filmmaker, together acted, co-wrote, co-directed and co-edited Meet Me in Montenegro, which premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and on July 10 is released theatrically and on VOD through The Orchard.