Terminator Salvation | 2009
McG takes over the direction for this unremittingly bleak entry into the franchise which is set almost entirely in a, hopefully, alternative 2018 following the Judgment Day cataclysm.
Don’t be fooled by the presence of a decaying Hollywood sign, the ruined cities and blasted deserts are not California but New Mexico. The production was based at Albuquerque Studios, 5650 University Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, where it occupied all but one soundstage as well as sprawling out onto the surrounding Mesa Del Sol development.
Parallel storylines see John Connor (Christian Bale) discovering that Skynet is developing the powerful new terminator, the T-800, while the mysterious Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) – seemingly executed by lethal injection during the prologue – finds himself wandering in the desert, confused and without a memory.
The ruins of ‘Los Angeles’, where a teenage Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) gets to utter the signature line “Come with me if you want to live!” as he helps Marcus evade a T-600, is the abandoned former Santa Fe Railway Shops, a disused maintenance facility occupying 27 acres of land south of downtown in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque, bounded by Second Street, Hazeldine Avenue, Commercial Street and Pacific Avenue.
The 18 surviving buildings, built between 1915 and 1925, formed one of four major facilities constructed by the famous Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, which was then the largest employer in the city. Following the decline of steam trains, they’ve stood empty. Various plans have been proposed for the historic complex, but in the meantime, they’ve served as a backdrop for Transformers and The Avengers.
Marcus form an uneasy alliance with Kyle and his travelling companion Star (Jadagrace), who help him to survive the lethal machines which appear to be ‘harvesting’ humans.
They’re chased through the desert by one of Skynet’s flying Transporters, and everything goes a bit Transformers with the appearance of a Harvester – not part of a restaurant chain, but an 80-feet-tall, spider-like robot – which releases Moto-Terminators, slick, driverless chasing machines (based on Ducati motorbikes).
It’s on the Rio Grande Bridge at Taos that Kyle and Star are captured as Marcus tries perilous manoeuvres in the jeep to evade the mechanical predators.
You’ll probably recognise this bridge from previous appearances in films such as Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Twins, sci-fi spoof Paul, with Simon Pegg, and Wild Hogs.
With Kyle on board, the Transporter whizzes away along the Rio Grande Gorge to deliver its load of captives to the Skynet HQ “near San Francisco”.
Marcus now teams up with Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood) who persuades him of the need to rescue Kyle from Skynet for the survival of humanity.
The production received plenty of support – and hardware, too – from nearby Kirtland Air Force Base, 1451 Fourth Street, in southeast Albuquerque, including the use of an unused hangar, which was transformed into Connor’s HQ – the Resistance stronghold.
The Resistance is working on a powerful signal that has the ability to turn off the machines, and Connor naturally volunteers to test it.
The spectacular crash of Connor’s ’copter into the ‘Rio Grande’ and the Apocalypse Now-style napalming of a grove of trees were filmed on a 200-feet-long stretch of artificial river which was dug on the property adjacent to the Albuquerque Studios.
This 18-foot-deep tank housed a scissor lift that moved the helicopter up and down, while a mix of real and concrete trees along the fake ‘riverbank’ were rigged with gas lines to generate a controlled burn, with local firefighters standing by – just in case.
The paths of Marcus and Connor eventually coincide, though when Marcus steps on a landmine and survives, it turns out that he’s not quite what he seemed to be. Initially horrified, Marcus takes advantage of his newly-discovered cyborg status to infiltrate Skynet.
The ‘Skynet HQ’ itself, far from the gleaming modern block seen in Terminator 2, is the old Algodones Generating Station, a retired power plant west of I-25 at Algodones, about 20 miles north of Albuquerque. Times change, and the old gas fired plant is now surrounded by a Solar Facility consisting of 22 arrays, which are carefully not seen in the film.