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terminator zero exclusive first look takes the sci fi saga to tokyo
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Terminator Zero exclusive first look takes the sci-fi saga to Tokyo

When Mattson Tomlin, a writer on The Batman Part II and Project Power, sat down to pen Netflix’s Terminator anime series, he hit a hurdle he wasn’t expecting. It didn’t have anything to do with continuity, which feels like the obvious head scratcher, given all the time tampering across six movies. As Tomlin tells Entertainment Weekly, the show treats all the past films as canon. “We’re not going to pretend that the third movie didn’t happen. We’re not going to pretend that the sixth movie didn’t happen,” he says. No, the specific challenge related to the setting itself. The powers that be at Netflix, Skydance, and animation studio Production I.G wanted Terminator Zero to have some kind of Japanese component. Tomlin took it a step further and set the eight-episode anime in Japan. “I was aware that there aren’t really guns in Japan, and I don’t think I quite appreciated how real that was,” he says of his predicament. Perfect example: His first pass at the season 1 scripts featured a sequence where violence breaks out all over Tokyo, prompting citizens to pull out firearms. “My partners at Production I.G came back and said, ‘Hey, so…there are no guns [in Japan]. If we needed a gun, we don’t know where we would get it.’ It was just such a stunning moment for me, like, ‘Oh, wow, I am an American.’” That instance is a good indication of how Terminator Zero breaks from what audiences have come to expect from this franchise. It’s less busting into a neighbor’s car to grab the pistol that just so happens to be in the glove compartment, and more sword fights with a Terminator that has blades for arms. “There’s also a definite Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle kind of vibe in there,” Tomlin adds, referring to Robert De Niro’s iconic Martin Scorsese movie character. “If I was going to fight a Terminator and I don’t have guns, what are the weapons that I could concoct?” The biggest deviation with the anime, however, is the lack of the Connors, namely Sarah and John. Terminator Zero will ditch the core faces of the franchise thus far to focus on a set of wholly original characters. “I think that it’s time to go into new characters and not burden myself with another John and Sarah Connor saga. There’s been a run at that a couple of different times,” Tomlin says. “There are a lot of callbacks to the other films,” he adds. “Fans who really know the movies are going to be doing the Leo meme from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but it’s not going to be as direct as John Connor walks in, because John Connor does not walk in.” Sign up for Entertainment Weekly’s free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more. The show primarily takes place in Japan in the year 1997, on the cusp of Judgement Day, the pivotal moment when Skynet’s military A.I. network becomes self-aware leading to a decades-spanning war between an endless army of machines and the human survivors. There are still the familiar Terminator beats: A soldier from this hellish future is sent back in time to protect a scientist named Malcolm Lee, who is working to launch a competing A.I. system to Skynet. An unrelenting machine assassin in the guise of a human is hunting him, which also puts his three children in harm’s way. “I knew that I wanted to tell a time-travel story, and I knew I wanted to tell an almost Godfather-like multi-generational saga that would ultimately follow this family with these kids,” Tomlin says. “What I wanted to do, if we get to do multiple seasons, is to see these kids grow up and see who they become.” Tomlin was very much inspired by the first two Terminator movies: 1984’s The Terminator and 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Although a certain rifle-touting robot with a thick Austrian accent and a killer motorcycle jacket might not be popping up in the anime, he wanted to emulate the feeling of uncertainty to who’s good and who’s bad. Tomlin points to Micheal Biehn’s Kyle Reese in that first movie: “You don’t know what’s going on with that guy. You do not know that he is the hero.” In a similar way for Terminator Zero, he adds, “These are all original characters. We don’t know who anybody is. All of those answers are going to absolutely be revealed — and they’ll be revealed pretty quickly.” The inspiration comes through further in the tone of the series. Unlike later installments that have what Tomlin describes as “muscular sci-fi action,” he embraced the horror elements of director James Cameron’s movies. “There’s a completely valid version of the Terminator franchise where the Terminator is synonymous with Jason [Voorhees] and Freddy [Krueger], where he is this unrelenting serial killer,” he explains. “There’s a little bit of Friday the 13th in here. There’s a little bit of Michael Myers [from Halloween] in here.” Just no guns. All episodes of Terminator Zero drop Thursday, August 29, at 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT on Netflix.

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