Why ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Didn’t Jump On The De-Aging Bandwagon

by Danielle Burgos
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Carl/T-100 in Terminator: Dark Fate
Paramount Pictures

Arnold Schwarzenegger is returning to the Terminator franchise yet again, but this time, he'll be back in a way we haven't yet seen in the sci-fi series: looking his actual age. After years of Terminator films using de-aging technology and body doubles to keep Schwarzenegger playing the unstoppable T-800, the Dark Fate trailer's biggest surprise was revealing a grizzled Arnie living in the woods. So why is Schwarzenegger's T-800 older in Dark Fate? The answer has apparently been there from the first Terminator.

Twenty-seven years after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator: Dark Fate stars Linda Hamilton, reprising her role as Sarah Connor, a fighter whose son was destined to lead the future human resistance against machines. Of course she looks older; that's how humans work. But to see the seemingly immortal T-800 age? How does that happen? James Cameron, director of the first two films and producer of Dark Fate, explained it pretty simply to Collider. "It’s all in the first film – sweat, bad breath, everything. He’s a cyborg. The 'org' part is organic," Cameron said. "He’s got to eat to support the organic part of his body. It might only be 30% of him by weight, but he definitely has human flesh. The science behind that is complete bullsh*t, but it’s a cool idea, right?"

He went on to point out a scene from the first Terminator, where an irate motel manager pounds on the T-800's door and asks, "Hey buddy, you got a dead cat in there or something?" The smell is human flesh rotting off the Terminator's metal endoskeleton; it stands to reason aging is just flesh decaying at a slower, controlled rate, so of course a Terminator could visibly age. What wouldn't change is the metal endoskeleton — if Schwarzenegger's character ripped off his human visage, we'd supposedly see the metal frame familiar from every Terminator movie.

In Terminator 2, the T-800 explains to young John Connor that it has a Neural Network Processor CPU, a learning computer that helps it better blend in and find its target, and that barring damage, its power cell runs for 120 years. Without getting too deep into the philosophy of it, if a T-800 programmed to emulate humans learned enough, it's not implausible it could develop what we call a conscience, and possibly even override its main programming directive. Without the wear and tear that come with brutally hunting down a victim, a T-800 could easily live a quiet existence until its battery life winds down. That seems to be the situation in Dark Fate, as we see an older T-800 open his door and answer to the name "Carl."

What mission it was on and why it quit, that remains to be seen, but one thing's certain: whatever the reason, we were going to see an Older Arnold no matter what. Dark Fate director Tim Miller told Men's Health in no uncertain terms, "I didn’t want to do a digital Arnold, that’s for f*ck sure. We’re [embracing] the reality of what it means to be a person of a certain age who is called upon to be heroic ... It’s different from Mr. Olympia [the bodybuilding title Arnold won seven times] — he was a god, but there’s something about him at this age. He has this regalness.”

Back in 2009, Cameron spoke to Wired about the audience buy-in when it comes to this character. "There's no way you wouldn't spot a Terminator in a crowd instantly if they all looked like Arnold," he said. It made no sense whatsoever. But the beauty of movies is that they don't have to be logical ... If there's a visceral, cinematic thing happening that the audience likes, they don't care if it goes against what's likely."

For an audience that grew up with the Terminator films, an aging T-800 might be something they want to believe as well.