The Terminator franchise prepares for another new iteration with Terminator Salvation hitting the big screen on Friday. Here’s the scoop in a nutshell: Skynet is an artificial intelligence network that seeks to topple mankind. The remnants of humanity that are locked in battle with Skynet are led by John Connor. The previous films in the series focused on Sarah Connor and/or a young John Connor being hunted by Terminators sent back in time from the future to kill him and thus prevent him from leading the resistance which will presumably topple Skynet’s reign. The latest installment, however, takes place in the post-apocalyptic future of 2018 and actually focuses on the war between man and machine as its taking place.
Anyway, let’s get down to business.
Skynet originated as a computer-defense system created by the U.S. Military in the late 20th century. Upon being placed in control of all military weaponry and tasked with protecting humankind, Skynet gained sentience on August 29, 1997 and decided that it would rather wipe us all out, initiating a full-scale nuclear assault, an event known as Judgment Day.
But humanity survived, as we so often do, and a resistance began to spring up, led by John Connor. After losing several key battles, Skynet sensed defeat and in attempted to solve their problem before it even started: a Terminator was sent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, the woman who would become John’s mother, thus preventing John from ever being born and allowing the machines to win by default. It’s a pretty novel idea, but it still counts as cheating in our book. Not cool, Skynet. Not cool at all.
This initial attempt was foiled and the Terminator is crushed in a hydraulic press located in Cyberdyne Systems, a manufacturing corporation. The scientists at Cyberdyne find the arm and begin reverse-engineering the technology, eventually creating Skynet! It’s a lot like that movie Somewhere in Time where Christopher Reeve receives a watch from an old lady then travels back in time and finds the lady and gives her the watch; only with a lot more killing. Perhaps if Somewhere in Time had more killing, it would’ve been a better movie? We may never know.
Anyway, Skynet tried again when John was 10 years old, but was foiled again, this time by a reprogrammed Terminator sent back by John Connor himself. The Connors managed to postpone Judgment Day to 2004, but could not prevent it completely. This is pretty much where the events of Terminator 3 leave off.
Now that you know who’s in charge, lets press on and get down to the real nitty gritty. The Terminators.
Clip: Skynet will change the future!
The T-1 makes its first appearance in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and is basically just a torso, a couple of gatling guns and some tank treads. It is never actually referred to as a “terminator”, but it is granddaddy of them all.
Clip: A segment of T3. The T-1s are unleashed about 2 minutes in...
The T-70 is the earliest Terminator model to have a humanoid form. They are basically mechanical soldiers with machine guns mounted on their arms and they aren’t actually seen in any of the films. They were created for the Universal Studios T2 3-D ride. Since the ride takes place in modern times and the T-800 (Ah-nold) series wasn’t created until the future, an earlier model needed to be developed, so James Cameron designed this one. And as it turns out, the ride isn’t even that cool.
Storywise, by the time Skynet was able to mass-produce the T-70, the technology was already outdated, so they moved on to bigger and better things.
CLIP: Spy footage from the attraction at Universal Studios Japan. The T-70s are unveiled at about the 1 minute mark...
The T-400 appeared in the Terminator: Dawn of Fate video game and probably doesn’t deserve to be featured here, but we figured that since the Terminator from that crappy 3-D ride made it, it would be cruel to leave out ol’ 400. Poor little guy.
Clip: The T-400 appears in this Dawn of Fate trailer. They're boxy but get great mileage.
This is when stuff started getting good. The T-600 is mentioned by Kyle Reese in the first Terminator film, but wasn’t actually seen until it was depicted in a series of flashback scenes in The Sarah Connor Chronicles. This model will be featured prominently in the upcoming Terminator Salvation movie.
Some T-600s were outfitted with rubber skin and used for espionage purposes. The unconvincing disguise made them easy to spot, however, so for the most part this model filled the role of battlefield soldier and assassin. They are similar in form and function to the T-800, but are massive, hulking beasts, standing eight feet tall with a gun mounted on one arm. Freaky.
Clip: The T-600 towers over human soldiers in this Salvation game trailer
This is the Terminator we all know and love. Brought to life by California Governor, former bodybuilder and noted thespian Arnold Schwarzenegger, the T-800 was initially referred to simply as “The Terminator”, with the numerical designation being given in later films.
The T-800 series is outfitted with a realistic organic flesh which mimics human muscle fiber and skin, thus making it a cyborg. It is equipped with the ability to breathe, sweat and even produce body odor. It actually displays blood upon being shot, furthering the disguise. They feel no pain, have no emotion and are impervious to standard 20th century firearms, though repeated shotgun blasts have been shown to slow them down.
The Terminator CPU does have the ability to learn, but for field use is generally set on “read-only” mode to keep them from thinking too much. In the second Terminator film, a reprogrammed T-800 is sent back in time by John Connor to protect his younger self. John flips the switch to “learning mode” and the Terminator becomes curious and begins to imitate humans and pick up stupid catch phrases. By the end of the film, it shows that it has learned the value of human life.
Awwwww… that’s so sweet.
Clip: Come wit me if you want to live...
Next up is the T-1000, a shape-shifting android assassin portrayed by Robert Patrick in the1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The T-1000 is a vastly more sophisticated version of the T-800, composed of a mimetic poly-metal alloy that enables it to mimic a variety of human shapes and forms, recover quickly from injury and morph its body into weapons. This makes the T-1000 the ultimate spy and infiltrator.
After the failure of the T-800 to eliminate Sarah Connor in 1984, a T-1000 is sent back to 1995 to kill a then 10-year old John Connor. The T-1000 targets John and his mulleted friend (played by Danny Cooksey of Diff’rent Strokes fame) at the mall and is stopped by the reprogrammed T-800.Terminator 2 won an Academy Award for Visual Effects. At the time the movie was released, nothing could touch it. The cutting edge effects used to create the T-1000 looked absolutely astonishing and they still hold up pretty well today. So how would the creators of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines top this awesome android of assassination? A tried-and-true method that has become an American institution: make it a hot chick.
Clip: The very finest work of the T-1000, assembled together for your viewing enjoyment...
The T-X, or “Termanatrix”, was introduced in 2003’s Terminator 3 and portrayed by Kristanna Loken. It’s something of a composite between the T-800 and T-1000 models, a solid endoskeleton with liquid metal alloy overtop. It can take the form of any humanoid it touches and carries an arsenal of futuristic weapons inside it while traveling through time. Its primary weapon is a directed energy weapon and it uses a little drill to inject remote control nanobots into other machines in order to control them. It can connect to the internet over phone lines and has advanced human identification systems including a retinal scanner and the ability to analyze blood samples. It’s also way stronger than previous Terminators.
And it’s smokin’hot.
CLIP: The T-850 and the T-X throw down...
There have been other Terminators featured in a variety of other media including the I-950 from the novel T2: Infiltrator, the T-1001 and the T-888 from the Sarah Connor Chronicles and the T-1000000, also from the T2 3-D ride at Universal Studios. Since the television series isn’t exactly set in the same continuity as the movies, we’ve left those Terminators out and the T-10000000 was just a big, spidery version of the T-1000. The less said about that, the better.
Clip: T-1001 takes out the garbage...