Bad Ideas: Schwarzenegger returning to ‘Terminator’ and Nolan on ‘Howard Hughes’

You know, sometimes even the best of intentions, commercially or critically, don’t matter.  Something might make sense on paper but not work when it is actually released, and in some cases, it would be merciful if someone just had the heart to pull the plug early.

Last week, Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that he had told his agents at CAA to start seriously considering film offers again, and there was much rejoicing by fanboys who don’t own calendars.  Evidently, people think Arnold’s going to just pick right up and start making the exact kind of movies he used to make, as evidenced by the story on Deadline today which indicates that Universal is starting to eye the “Terminator” rights again with the notion of Justin Lin directing.

Guys… that’s a bad idea.

First of all, I think enough money has been thrown at the “Terminator” franchise, and the audience just doesn’t seem to care.  They couldn’t get an audience to show up for “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” and they couldn’t get an audience to show up for “Terminator: Salvation,” and in the end, I don’t know anyone who still cares.  There’s no pressing narrative issue that anyone really needs addressed, and the only reasoning behind those rights still being sold or resold is that number-crunchers think there’s more juice to be squeezed from the orange.  I know, I know… they’ve got William Wisher tossing out ideas, and Wisher’s as close to Cameron as you’re going to get at this point, but it doesn’t change the fact that no one cares.

And adding Arnold to the mix doesn’t help.  There’s a reason they used CGI to bring 1984 Arnold in for his cameo in “Terminator: Salvation,” and that’s because the 1984 Arnold doesn’t exist anymore.  It doesn’t make any sense hiring a 60-something year old man to play a robot that shouldn’t age at all.  And if you’re just going to do a effect on the entire performance, a la young Jeff Bridges in “TRON: Legacy,” then why are you hiring Arnold?  It just doesn’t make sense.

The other bad idea that’s been in the press in the last week is a little trickier, and there’s historical precedent for why this one’s dangerous.  Christopher Nolan has wanted to make a movie about Howard Hughes for a while now, and reports have him hoping to return to the project after he finishes “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Please, Mr. Nolan… that’s a bad idea.

Great filmmakers have crashed on the rocks of the Howard Hughes story over the years.  Great writers, great directors, great actors… all of them lured by the appeal of the second half of the Hughes story.  After all, here’s a brilliant billionaire who went completely around the bend crazy, and who used his wealth to indulge that lunacy fully.  I understand the appeal.

But the Hughes story is expensive, no matter what, and if you’re doing the crazy years instead of the glamorous movie-star years, like “The Aviator,” then you’re not dealing in the most commercial of subjects.  Yes, I know… after he wraps up “The Dark Knight Rises,” Nolan will be able to call in any favor he wants from Warner Bros, especially since “Inception” turned out to be a monster hit instead of the personal indulgence that some people anticipated.  He has generated crazy revenue for the studio, and if he wants to make the Howard Hughes film, I’m sure he’ll be able to.

It’s dangerous, though, no matter how smart Nolan is.  As much as I understand the siren call, I can’t say I agree that there’s an actual movie in there.  Sure, it’ll give some actor a chance to go big, and with the relationship Nolan built with him on “Inception,” he might even be able to talk Di Caprio into playing the part.  But for audiences, the novelty will wear off quickly, and you’ll just end up with a $100 million film about a crazy guy who collects his own pee and hides in a Vegas penthouse surrounded by Mormons.

Nolan’s smart.  I’m sure he could come up with a screenplay that makes it all seem very dramatic and very surreal.  But there have been some very smart people who have also tried to pull this off, and they’ve eventually walked away defeated.  When the subject matter is as well-covered as this, it seems like a case of diminishing returns, no matter how good the filmmaker.

In the end, they’ll do whatever they want with the “Terminator” franchise, and I’m sure Christopher Nolan doesn’t need career advice from me.

But sometimes it helps when an outside voice says, “This is a bad idea,” and in these two cases, there is some definite writing on the wall.  We’ll see what happens, and I hope I turn out to be wrong.  But I suspect I won’t be.