Even fairly serious “Terminator” fans might not know about this oddity: There was a prequel movie to “Salvation” – sort of. “Terminator Salvation: The Machinima Series” (2009) is a six-episode web series with video-game animation that functions as a 75-minute movie. Thankfully, it’s not like watching someone play a video game. It’s driven by Resistance pilot Blair Williams (voiced by Moon Bloodgood) and hacker Laz Howard, a.k.a. Ghost (voiced by Cam Clarke), who can disrupt communications signals with a secret code.
OK, I suppose the action sequences are sort of like watching someone play a video game, or like watching animatics that previsualize the final special effects of a normal movie. But a refreshingly high percentage of the running time explores the interaction between Blair and Laz, who have different outlooks on the war, and who ultimately influence each other in positive ways.
In this 2016-set story (putting it two years before “Salvation”) directed by Tor Helmstein, Blair is a typical solider. Laz is a deeper thinker and not good at soldiering; he believes Skynet and the Resistance are the same thing. Intellectually, he’s not wrong: Both Skynet and the Resistance grew out of the U.S. military. But practically, they are now opposites: Skynet aims to kill all humans; the Resistance aims for human survival.
Writer Andy Shapiro uses somewhat of a cheat in that the two humans’ conflict rises out of obstinacy toward each other. Strictly speaking, they probably could’ve ironed out their differences with a mature chat, rather than letting things slowly play out. But Bloodgood and Howard do strong enough voice work that it feels like a genuine clash of personalities, and eventually mutual respect.
The story’s flow is decent except for one flashback where Blair recalls a previous flying mission. Since “The Machinima Series” otherwise takes place on the ground, this might’ve been a way to get some flight footage into the series.
“The Machinima Series” has an experimental feel to it, and there’s no doubt it would be better if it was “finished” with real actors and cinema-level CGI work. Still, the voice acting, sound effects and music are all in place, and a viewer grows accustomed to the video-game animation since the story and people are engaging enough. Fans of the “Salvation” franchise might find this series to be a surprising bonus story.
Blair Williams: This Resistance pilot gradually realizes there are more ways to win a fight than with traditional weaponry. Although she appears in “Salvation,” which takes place two years later, at this point she hasn’t yet met John Connor (and hasn’t even heard of him).
Laz “Ghost” Howard: This hacker and amateur radio broadcaster can disrupt Skynet communications – and, inadvertently, Resistance communications. Blair realizes he could be a great asset to the Resistance. He was 12 when Judgment Day occurred, and he harbors ill will toward the Resistance for “starting” the war.
T-600s: The standard endoskeleton troops.
Aerostats: These can both fly and walk. In their crablike walking function, they are like bulkier versions of the droidekas in the “Star Wars” prequels.
Hunter Killers: These flying drones take on our heroes at one point while they are on a high floor of a rundown office building.
MotoTerminators: Essentially autonomous motorcycles.
CONTINUITY AND CONTRADICTIONS
“The Machinima Series” takes place on the “Salvation” timeline in 2016, two years before the events of the film itself.
TIME TRAVEL AND TIMELINES
There is no time travel in this story; we’re in the early days of the Future War.