Terminator: The Remix

The Terminator: Genisys trailer interests me because it seems a major indication of Hollywood embracing remix culture. The movie seems to be a clever take on the standard reboot: Rather than simply reapproach or update the canonical material, T:Gsys considers the audience’s familiarity with the source material (particularly the first two movies) to be a given, and recontextualizes their tropes and iconography to subvert and surprise. It uses their original source material to tell a different story.

If that ain’t a remix, I dunno what is.

A good remix stands on its own while paying hommage to its source. You want to think that you can appreciate a remix on its own merits, but any familiarity with the source material renders such judgments difficult. In the same vein, it’s difficult to consider T:Gsys apart from Terminator and T2: Judgement Day, but I think that’s precisely the point — you aren’t supposed to. Rather, the first two movies inform this telling. In this version we have events already familiar to us from earlier versions, often inverted here, whose express objective is to prevent the occurrence of those very events.

In the Terminator series, the device that makes this recontextualization more than a simple act of arrogance or exploitation is the theory of alternate timelines. It’s a terrific justification. Rather than reshuffling and redesigning the deck of already-known moments because of hubris or greed (It wasn’t broke, but we’re fixing it!), the assumption here is that the timeline itself is broken, and this movie is fixing it. Doing that requires different approaches to familiar events.

None of this necessarily means that T:Gsys will be any good. But the approach itself is fascinating, and the fact that considerable effort and expense have gone into it is, I think, significant. Offhand I can’t think of another cinematic remix at the studio level.

I’ve long held that the remix is the metaphor for art and digital technology of the early 21st Century, and I think T:Gsys has the potential to be a watershed moment in the re-envisioning of approaches to earlier films. As with Fred Astaire dancing with vacuum cleaners or Audrey Hepburn shilling chocolate from beyond the grave, undoubtedly there will be lots of debate about whether or not this approach is a good thing. But as with any creative endeavor, the answer to that will lie not in any inherent goodness or badness of the approach, but in whether or not the work itself was done well.