Alan Taylor admits he doesn't know to change the outgoing message on his cellphone. And yet, he's the man behind what promises to be one of the summer's special-effects-driven spectaculars, a blockbuster-in-waiting with a history, a legacy, a mythology and a fan base ready to pounce on anything it detects as heresy, blasphemy and other-than-orthodoxy.
Thankfully, the almighty has gazed upon Taylor's film, and called it good.
In this case, the almighty is James Cameron, creator of the franchise that Taylor has now inherited: "Terminator Genisys," which opens July 1 with Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was written by Latea Kalogridis ("Shutter Island") and Patrick Lussier ("Drive Angry") and directed by Taylor, whose credits include "Game of Thrones" and "Thor: The Dark World."
THE ORIGINAL AUTEUR
Cameron, who created the "Terminator" franchise back in 1984 (with producer Gale Anne Hurd) and directed the first and second installments, weighed in a few weeks ago about Taylor's film, calling it "respectful" and more.
"I feel like the franchise has been reinvigorated," Cameron said, "like this is a renaissance."
Taylor, laughing a little, admitted he was relieved.
"I'd heard he'd seen it quite a while ago and liked it," the director said, "so I'd been thinking, 'It would be nice if you'd say that out loud.' So I was deeply grateful when he did.
"Imagine if he'd say, 'You know what? It stinks!' That would have been tough . . . ."
Fan interest in the newest installment of the futuristic fantasy is so intense the filmmakers can't help but feel the pressure to be both faithful and fresh. So that's what they tried to be: In "Terminator Genisys," John Connor (Jason Clarke), the savior of mankind in the war against the machines -- the man whose birth was supposed to be prevented by the original Terminator T-800 (Schwarzenegger) when it was sent into the past -- has himself become a cyborg (this is not a spoiler -- it's in the trailer!).
A STRONG HEROINE
John's friend Kyle Reese (Courtney), meanwhile, who also happens to be Connor's father (don't ask), is sent back to save John's mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), expecting what Taylor called "a damsel in distress -- who turns out to be anything but."
For Jason Clarke, the Australian actor who has been impressing audiences here at least since "Rabbit-Proof Fence" (2002) and more indelibly, perhaps, in 2012's "Zero Dark Thirty" (he played Jessica Chastain's sidekick), "Terminator Genisys" was something new and huge.
"It's always the same for you as an actor," he said, "Ultimately you want to be believable in what you do, and truthful. But this was a huge film."
Of his character, Clarke said, "He's always been portrayed as the savior of humanity. And from the trailer, you see that John becomes a Terminator -- how and why we don't know yet, or how the collision course he's on, with his mother and father and Arnold's character, is going to work out."
Of the franchise, he said, "There are two great films and a couple of ordinary films. You want to contribute to a third great film."
It's a little odd for the makers of a film in a franchise to throw other movies in that franchise under the bus. But even Cameron said, "In my mind, I think of ['TG'] as the third film. . . ." Apparently, 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" and 2009's "Terminator Salvation" have been dropped by the collective "Terminator" world.
"The fan scrutiny was huge on this movie," Taylor said, "because the fan base is in a particular place: They love the first two films, and, while a lot of them like the third and fourth, a lot feel burned by those movies. So there's a free-floating distrust about what's going to come next. We've gotten a rough ride from the fan base online." Hence his gratitude for Cameron's kind words.
LOVING THE FRANCHISE
Ultimately, Taylor said, "when people see 'Terminator Genisys,' they'll see a movie made by people who love the movies they love, who've tried to explore further into that world."
The John Connor metamorphosis, he said, was true to the essential mythology of the previous stories.
"The bad guy of one movie turns into the hero of the next movie," he said, citing, for instance, Schwarzenegger's transformation from villain to hero between "T1" and "T2."
"It's thematically grounded," he said. "The movies are all about how much humans control their fate, how much can we rewrite our destiny, and how characters radically change to highlight those questions. Doing it with John Connor was the extreme logical step for that. Jason always brings darkness to good guys, so here he's bringing a lot of charm to playing a dubious 'messiah.' Which is a very complicated thing to be."
The 'Terminator' franchise: Ahnuld and more
When Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "I'll be back" he wasn't kidding.
THE TERMINATOR (1984) In the not-so-distant future, the artificial intelligence system Skynet has declared war on humanity, but a rebellion led by John Connor is thwarting its plan. So a Terminator T-800 -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming off a pair of "Conan" movies for which he was also perfectly cast -- is sent into the past to kill Connor's mother-to-be, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). John in turn sends soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) back in time to save his mother. Hilarity ensues.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) Directed, like its predecessor, by James Cameron, "T2JD" features Edward Furlong as John Connor, whose birth took place despite the efforts of Skynet, which is now trying to kill him as a child. Why the more advanced T-1000 (Robert Patrick) couldn't go further back and try to kill Mom again remains a mystery. The movie that gave us Ahnuld saying, "Hasta la vista, baby."
TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003) Far more confusing and directed by Jonathan Mostow, "Rise of the Machines" stars Nick Stahl as Connor, alongside Schwarzenegger and Claire Danes and it involves a lot of time travel and people being killed.
TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009) This is probably the one that put "Terminator" fans over the edge: Directed by McG, it stars Christian Bale as John Connor, and Sam Worthington ("Avatar"). Skynet has destroyed much of the world in a nuclear holocaust. Explaining the rest would take longer than the movie, but it is noteworthy that a computer-generated likeness of Schwarzenegger -- rather than the man himself -- appeared on the T-800 played by Roland Kickinger.
TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015) John Connor, now played by Jason Clarke, sends his lieutenant Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to save his mother (Emilia Clarke) yet again, she having been raised and protected by a Terminator played by Schwarzenegger -- whose younger self is being recreated as another, apparently evil Terminator. Directed by Alan Taylor.