Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

Terminator: Salvation Pre-Watch Thoughts: Since I started watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (I really hope it doesn't get cancelled next year, but it probably will-This is a great show!!), I have been really addicted to all things Terminator...I'm just rewatching all of the movies. What I like about them is the many issues (man vs. machine, fate vs. destiny, time travel-predestination paradox, what it means to be a hero, what the effects of fighting in a war against an unbeatable enemy are) that are brought up. Also, killer robots that are almost unstoppable. The trailers look awesome, Christian Bale is John Connor, the effects look really really amazing, and it looks like it's going to tie in with the whole mythology while adding a lot. Totally a must-see for me.

Terminator: Salvation: Rating: 6.5/10
I would rate this better than Wolverine, though...I hadn’t really figured out my scale then.

Star Trek is a great example of how to relaunch/reboot a franchise. Terminator: Salvation is not. After just having rewatched Terminator 2, the new entry pales in comparison. It is slightly better than T3, though. There were many good ideas, but just as many missed opportunities or things that were handled poorly.

Much of this lies with the script. The plot is pounded into our brains so many times, and it gets really repetitive. John Connor is a bad-ass. This is not the future his mother warned him about. Terminators are powerful and evil. All of these things could be shown through the action, but no, we just have "Those are mototerminators, there’s no way to beat them" and "You can’t stop them" "I have to try" and "I’m a bad person" "you deserve a second chance" (paraphrased from memory, but not far off). Also, people do things, but they really don’t have any effect. Set pieces just exist to be set pieces ("Oh, that looks cool!!!").

By the way, I just want to rant about the title sequence for a second. Feel free to read ahead if you think this is spoilers. After the company logos, and the "A McG Film" type credits over a strange cgi background (doesn’t make much sense until later), we get something similar to the original Terminator main credits. But nowhere close. This kind of takes its inspiration from all the other movies that have credits over close-ups of iconic images (the original Batman, for example). BUT, the Terminator logo is not really that iconic or important to the franchise, and the way they did it just looks out of place. And nowhere to be found is the theme music, rather a forgettable summary of ideas by Danny Elfman (WTF??). Then our third credit sequence plays over a scene introducing Marcus Wright. Besides the dialogue being ridiculously cheesy, the titles take up almost as much room as the actors. It’s just big text in white and red that is
almost as big as the character’s heads. So you end up reading "Music by Danny Elfman" instead of concentrating on what is going on in the scene. It’s just a pointless, stupid way to do opening credits, and you have to sit through it three times. RANT OVER.

Another big flaw of the movie is its characters. About half of them don’t do anything important at all and could be removed completely without changing the plot (little kid, Resistance generals, John Connor’s wife, Connor’s second in command Barnes, a female pilot who is sort of a love interest). Even Kyle Reese doesn’t have to be in it, as he is just an excuse to give the other characters something to do (and he’s one of the central people in the Terminator mythology). I don’t see why Kate Brewster had to be pregnant (she was an awesome character in T3 and was supposed to be a general in the it so they can have a new protagonist for the sequels after these sequels??). Marcus Wright, the semi-main character, is well played, but there is nothing that makes the audience even remotely care about who he is or what happens to him. The actors aren’t terrible, it’s just they don’t have much to do and are really undeveloped.

This makes the rest of the movie drop significantly in quality, making the special effects look bad, even though they’re not. I mean, everything looks cool, but when you don’t care whether characters will survive or not, then the effects are just meaningless explosions. You are brought out of the moment because you are watching ACTORS being attacked by ROBOTS THAT AREN’T THERE. There was one scene where Connor was shooting at a Terminator, and I could almost envision the director saying "There’s a Terminator coming toward you, just shoot at it and we’ll add it in later." For a film dedicated to Stan Winston, who did the original practical Terminator effects in the other movies, this seems almost like an insult.

Many reviewers have been saying that Christian Bale did a bad job, but I actually think he was one of the stronger parts of the movie. Despite having oversimplified dialogue and a bad script, Bale handles all the physical action while still showing emotion. In case you’re wondering, the Batman voice isn’t really present at all. I can see how the character changed from a young, naive
boy to handling the responsibility of saving the human race, and Bale shows how Connor is both afraid of the future and ready to lead. For example, there’s one moment early on where Connor sees some information in a Skynet computer, and then realizes that this event will start the chain of events and time travel in the other movies. Anton Yelchin does a good job playing Kyle Reese, but he doesn’t really do that much in the end.

As for the other elements of the movie...I already commented on how forgettable the music was. The set design and stunts are really cool, and the ideas behind the ending fight sequence were solid and had some good, but foreseeable twists. I kept getting annoyed at how nobody was ever dirty, despite being in a war in a future full of rust and decay (you could tell they were actors). There were good action sequences, though many were revealed in the trailers. The ending was pretty stupid,’ll see what I mean.

I think the director/screenwriters were trying to emulate the original movies while still creating a plot of their own, but the new story isn’t that great and the nods to previous installments are obvious and feel like they were stolen and sewn into a different movie. However, they ignored most of what made the franchise what it is: ordinary people being confronted by monsters, time travel (with all its confusion), examination of relationships under terrible circumstances, the question of free will (there is no fate but what we make). Here’s to hoping that if a sequel is made, it can improve on this movie. If you want good Terminator, see Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles (the first season is out on DVD).

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