Why Terminator 7 Needs To Revisit The T-1000’s Most Lethal Form
The second film disguised the T-1000 as a police officer and a potential Terminator 7 could explore the idea of Terminator cops more thoroughly. The original Terminator was a harsh, brutal sci-fi horror that left viewers terrified of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s titular assassin. In the role of the Terminator, Schwarzenegger was a seemingly unstoppable killing machine whose unthinking instinct for destruction played into the audience’s fears of technological overreach. It also explored the discomfort about a preponderance of emerging innovations such as PCs, early cellular phones, and military hardware.
By the time the movie’s first sequel appeared in 1991, the dynamic had shifted radically. Now, Arnie’s original T-800 was no longer the villain but instead the hero, here to save the young John Connor and his mother Sarah from an even more advanced model. Diminutive and memorably mean, Robert Patrick’s T-1000 was a new breed of villain and one who frequently used his unassuming appearance to lethal advantage.
In one of the sequel’s most memorable scenes, the T-1000’s transformation into an LAPD officer gave director James Cameron a chance to make a not-so-subtle satirical jab at the militarization of the police. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was produced around the time of the Rodney King case dominating headlines, meaning police reform was foremost in the national conversation. As such, the image of a clean-cut cop with murder on his mind was a timely one for audiences in 1991. Now, the next Terminator franchise reboot should revisit this premise in more detail, as robotic police officers and military operatives are a more believable threat than ever before in contemporary society.
It is strange to look back on the sci-fi movies of earlier decades and see countless robots that perform tasks in civilian homes, whether they are portrayed as harmless gadgets or potentially lethal inventions. Domestic robotics did not take off in the way that the ‘60s, the ’80s and even some movies from the ’00s thought were inevitable, making these depictions ironically quaint or retro. However, one place where the field of robotics has had an outsized success in recent decades is in military and police technology. As noted by Tony Scott of Top Gun fame when the late, great director was working on his unmade Top Gun 2, drone warfare and automated surveillance technology mean both the military and police rely on computer networks far more now than they did when Cameron’s first two movies were released.
This makes Skynet’s rebellion more believable and chilling for viewers of any future Terminator installments, as the idea of vast amounts of military technology being turned against their creators is not inconceivable. It is a little silly to picture T-800s being sold as harmless appliances given their threatening appearance, but envisioning Schwarzenegger’s original Terminator being designed as a piece of police tech is more believable for contemporary viewers. Arnie’s T-800 is an imposing figure that could realistically have been designed as a weapon of war or domestic policing before Skynet’s eventual rebellion, thus giving the killers a more grounded origin than the machine’s current backstory (which is that an already self-aware Skynet built the model to fight the human resistance).
To quote James Cameron himself, ”Cops think all non-cops as less than they are, stupid, weak, and evil. They dehumanize the people they are sworn to protect and desensitize themselves to do that job.” One of many issues that have led to demands for police reform worldwide is the problem that police are ultimately people too, and as such, are as likely to be as flawed or corrupt as the civilians they are policing. The Terminator movie franchise could tie in this very real ongoing cultural debate by making the T-800’s origin story an attempt to replace conventional cops or soldiers with an inhuman, and therefore (theoretically) infallible, automated enforcer of justice.
Director Paul Verhoeven’s oft-misunderstood Robocop offered an earlier satire of the idea that protecting and serving meant becoming an automaton who is above petty human emotions and superior to civilians. Taking this a step further and having T-800 and T-1000 prototypes being used as soldiers and police officers gives the Terminator models a reason to exist and a way to infiltrate every level of society is prescient and believable, rather than over-the-top or far-fetched. Already, viewers found Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘s T-1000 to be terrifying precisely because of how at home he appeared in a crowd of civilians, so why not take this idea a step further – who would look more like traditional Americana’s vision of an upstanding member of society than a cop?
As demands for police reform refuse to go away and in cases gain ground worldwide, it is becoming clear structural change will need to take place in the institution of policing. This real-life context gives the next Terminator a perfect opportunity to ask “What if we leave it to robots?”, a classic sci-fi suggestion that always leads to destruction but is nonetheless revisited throughout the genre’s history. The answer to this inquiry, of course, is Skynet’s gradual takeover, and eventually the machines revolt against humanity. However, where the ending of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines offered a vision of the apocalypse that was both too bleak and oddly toothless at the same time, a more slow-burn retelling of Skynet’s takeover could offer a genuinely unsettling commentary on the amount of technology the police and military currently rely on.
With not one, not two, but three different timelines in its knotty canon, the Terminator series has by now repeatedly retconned the details of Skynet’s takeover and the human resistance that formed afterward. As such, a fresh retelling could offer a timely story about placing too much trust in technology while also providing a reasonable answer to how humanity became so complacent and reliant on machines like the Terminators in the first place. Terminator 2: Judgment Day may have only featured a brief depiction of the title character disguised as a police officer, but the forthcoming Terminator 7 could give audiences a more in-depth look at the premise of Terminator police and soldiers, a scarily believable prospect that many fans may find as chilling as the original T-800’s first appearance.