The familiar guh-guh-guh guhguh music filled the air at this afternoon’s Terminator Salvationpanel, where a giant T-600 loomed over stage right, its red eyesboring a hole through everyone in Hall H, as McG and most of the principalcast members took time out from shooting the movie in New Mexico tostop by and share. (Christian Bale, pictured, was M.I.A., doing Dark Knight press in Japan, but McG left him a message — that of 6,500 people screaming — on his voice mail.)

And it was McG’s show, to be sure, the Charlie’s Angels director running the panel like a car salesman — or, perhaps, the manic preacher of Terminator gospel.But it was the footage we were there to see, and footage we got: atrailer-esque clip that revealed this re-imagining of the John Connormyth is part silvery washed-out Children of Men cinematography, part Mad Maxroad-warring, and a lot of skull-crushing robot action. AntonYelchin — as a young, Oliver Twist-styled Kyle Reese — gets to deliver theall-important “Come with me if you want to live” to Bale; SamWorthington appears to hold his own as new Terminator Marcus Wright.They’ve not yet finished the visual effects, so what we saw was alltactile — crashing trucks, Soviet-style Terminator tanks, silver fingersreaching out to scratch Bale’s sweaty face…

But hey, what’s up with the Terminatorfranchise, people? We’ve had two James Cameron movies, a third thattwisted the story up in knots, a TV show that’s got John Connordripping around like Morrissey’s younger brother… what more is thereto say? Turns out McG thinks there’s plenty, and he’s promised not tobastardize it. After consulting with the three pillars of Terminatorlore — James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the late StanWinston — he’s giving us a look at the year 2018, in the post-apocalypticfuture after Judgment Day. (Please do not make me tell you the currentdate of Judgment Day. At the moment, I think the TV show has it set in2011, so just mark your calendars there, okay?) In the world of Salvation,Skynet is still rising in power, the T-800 has yet to exist, and theclunky T-600 models are fallible — and therefore fun to fight. They’veinvented exciting new evil machines with names like Harvesters andHydrobots, and they studied Chernobyl to get the nuclear-winterlandscape right. And don’t believe everything you hear about theplot — McG says the studio’s happily releasing misinformation.

Salvation’s multiethnic cast — including Bryce Dallas Howard asJohn’s wife, Kate; Moon Bloodgood as a resistance pilot; and rapperCommon as John’s right hand man — is chock full of acting chops, but theyalso serve the movie’s new message. While “no fate but what we make” isstill in effect, McG is bound and determined to make a point about theway differences don’t matter in the future, just the ability to cometogether to survive. “If the world would get its head out of its ass,”he said, “we wouldn’t have to wait for a nuclear holocaust to get tothat point.” Despite that warm and fuzzy ethos, there will be probablyvery little hugging and/or growing in the new film. As Worthington putit, this thing’s “not for pansies.”

Oh, one last thing: Asked if Schwarzenegger would be back, McG wascuriously vague. “The T-800 model is indeed a part of the mythology of Terminator,” he said, with a glint in his eye. He fielded questions from audience members dressed as T:2-eraLinda Hamilton and Robert Patrick (the latter brilliantly holding up apicture of Edward Furlong and asking, “Excuse me, have any of you seenthis boy?”), and invited a guy named Tim up on stage because he’d askedhis question in a decent Govuhnator accent. Then he hollered at theroom to freak the flip out if they wanted to see the trailer again,which they did. Guh-guh-guh guhguh.

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