Terminator Salvation

I got the tip via Twit­ter the day pri­or to the film’s offi­cial release that my favorite local burg­er shop (Burg­ers ‘N Creme) was giv­ing away free tick­ets to an advance screen­ing of the movie (with a burg­er and fries bas­ket — some­thing I love for din­ner, any­way!). It was part of a fund rais­er for the Chil­dren’s Mir­a­cle Net­work and so atten­dees were also asked to make a small dona­tion before the movie (again, some­thing I was more than hap­py to do). Angela was cool with me going so long as I got Ains­ley put to bed ear­ly. Ange­la’s not real­ly a Ter­mi­na­tor fan, so she declined a tick­et with her meal and stayed home with the kids. I’ll spare every­one any fur­ther details on my sneak­ing out to the movies expe­ri­ence oth­er that to say that I learned that this sort of thing goes on all the time (the pre­view screen­ings that is; and like­ly hus­bands sneak­ing out to see them). I owe Angela a night out and if I could get her and advance tick­et to Har­ry Pot­ter & tHBP, I’d love to.

General Review

Don’t wor­ry; no spoil­ers here

Ever since I first read about this film in pro­duc­tion, I’ve had my reser­va­tions. The direc­tor — McG (not a real­ly big fan of pro­fes­sion­al­ly nick­named peo­ple, but what­ev­er) — was­n’t some­one whom I real­ly had much con­fi­dence in. My inter­est in the Ter­mi­na­tor films (and their cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance) kept me read­ing more over the past year. I even­tu­al­ly decid­ed that maybe McG does get what makes a film like this good (or, con­verse­ly, bad) and in the end I’d say he deserves cred­it for mak­ing a sol­id action sci­fi flick.

I know that there was a great deal of ani­mos­i­ty towards the film and film­mak­ers online. Fur­ther, it’s been get­ting some pret­ty bad reviews ever since and has­n’t been a huge sum­mer block­buster. Frankly, I’m not real­ly sure on what scale these state­ments are being made. The film stands on its own as (at least) a bet­ter-than-aver­age action movie. The plot, while not over­ly com­plex, is far from dull. The main char­ac­ters have a jour­ney with a pur­pose. The spe­cial effects (both visu­al and audio) are top-notch. Last­ly, it finds some­thing to add to the ongo­ing sto­ry in the Ter­mi­na­tor series. I’ll expand (of course), but I just want­ed to point out that this is, in my opin­ion, the kind of film we should want more of from Hol­ly­wood.

So, my rat­ing of four out of fiv­er stars that I tweet­ed the night I saw the film sticks. Prob­a­bly even more so in light of all the unde­served flack this film seems to have gen­er­at­ed.

This film is meant to serve as the first of a tril­o­gy telling how John Con­ner — who we last saw as a home­less, job­less bum at the end of the world as we know — some­how man­ages to live up to the des­tiny his moth­er told him he would have: leader of the human resis­tance. He starts rel­a­tive­ly small. He is well-known, if not uni­ver­sal­ly liked or respect­ed, due to his pre­science 1 He feels as though he is floun­der­ing and fails to con­nect his cur­rent life with that he’s been told he’d lead. Enter the cast of this film, who help to con­nect those dots. The most impor­tant — and I hope I’m not spoil­ing any­thing as it’s been a Ter­mi­na­tor fran­chise-sta­ple since the sec­ond film — is a new Ter­mi­na­tor ver­sion. This is done in what feels to be an orig­i­nal way while still rec­og­niz­ing the pre­vi­ous films.

Speak­ing of Ter­mi­na­tor fran­chise sta­ples, the entire con­cept and plot line of the films is a headache-induc­ing para­dox. So, and let’s just get this out of the way, to com­plain about minor plot holes in a Ter­mi­na­tor film real­ly is a waste of time. It does­n’t stop me from doing it (see below), but to com­plain that they ruin the film is a bit far-fetched. The largest plot holes of the sto­ry were opened long before one ever got rolling (thank you, James Cameron) and as long as the char­ac­ters keep the train rolling, I’m okay with it. We’re not try­ing to solve a mur­der case here; we’re just look­ing for some awe­some robot vs. human action.

Of course, this film is both a pre­quel and a sequel. It tells how John Con­ner becomes the per­son we know he must be (or, else, para­dox) while con­tin­u­ing the sto­ry of who he was in the pre­vi­ous cou­ple of films. And, as it con­nects these to points, it is some­what rail­road­ed onto a lin­ear and, at times, pre­dictable path. But even then, the film man­ages to do some­thing mag­i­cal. At the very end of the film, despite know­ing John Con­ner has to live (again, the oth­er films would cease to exist … and my head hurts again); I still felt myself for­get this fact for a few moments. The movie pulled me in enough to make me believe and that’s a cor­ner­stone for what makes a good movie.

Some Other Bits I Liked

The movie con­tains loads of great homages to the series in here; par­tic­u­lar­ly to the 1984 film. Lines like “Come with me if you want to live” and even “I’ll be back” are used to great (and even more impres­sive­ly — sub­tle) effect2. They’re aren’t deliv­ered in some sort of over-the-top fash­ion; but rather, they fall in with the plot and the dia­log. It’s the sort of thing that could have end­ed up just feel­ing sil­ly. Instead, the film mak­ers and actors went to trou­ble to make it work.

There are many copies. And they have a plan. Skynet is a pret­ty smart cook­ie. It has near lim­it­less CPU cycles as it has basi­cal­ly tak­en over every net­worked com­put­er in 2003 (Judg­ment Day)3. So, this film gives us the sol­id impres­sion that SkyNet spends a great deal of this time cook­ing up new ways to destroy human­i­ty. It nev­er sleeps. It nev­er eats. It just. Keeps. Com­ing. Sound famil­iar? That’s right. The relent­less onslaught that was por­trayed by AS, et al. so well 25 years ago is shown to be inher­it­ed from a giant net­worked com­put­er whose very exis­tence is pret­ty much just that same trait. And with that much time, it’s Cyber­dine divi­sion just keeps crank­ing out new mod­els to try again. Like some sort of evil, soul-less Wiley Coy­ote.

The sound in this film is awe­some. Imag­ine the sounds gen­er­at­ed by an 80’s arcade machine (like Don­key Kong, for instance). Now imag­ine that being blast­ed at 180 dB from a 60 foot tall mech (aka — giant, scary robot) with a mag­ma can­non. I know that it is just a low-fre­quen­cy, clipped sine wave tone. But, the thing is it sounds ter­ri­fy­ing and real­ly works. The same gen­er­al sound is used to great effect by many of the ter­mi­na­tors oth­er machines in the film.

Warn­ing: Here be spoil­ers!

Arnold is back — and I mean that as in “that body-builder turned actor from the 80’s”. Using a CG face of him from the 80’s was the right thing to do. Why would a machine age? Oth­er­wise, we’d be won­der­ing why a machine sud­den­ly looks a quar­ter cen­tu­ry old­er a decade before he is sent back to the past.

Some Bits I Didn’t LIke

Yep, still some spoil­ers here.

One huge issue that near­ly had me shout­ing out loud is when John Con­nor (Bale) cap­tures and re-wires a Moto-ter­mi­na­tor to ride across the desert to SkyNet. Could some­one please explain to me why such a machine would have han­dle­bars for him to dri­ve it? I’ve tried to ratio­nal­ize it to myself (SkyNet copies more than it inno­vates and since exist­ing motor­cy­cles had han­dle­bars …) but it just does­n’t work. If you’re a com­put­er pro­gram who has any sort of effi­cien­cy con­cerns, you’re not going to waste effort to add han­dle­bars on a moto-ter­mi­na­tor in the same sense you would­n’t waste time mak­ing repro­duc­tive organs on a T‑600.

Why does the main­frame ter­mi­nal screen which is mak­ing the great reveal to Mar­cus change faces the way it does? There is a flick­er of a ter­mi­na­tor-like skull as the faces change. The ter­mi­na­tors are in the soft­ware, they are machines that go about doing its bid­ding. This felt a lit­tle sil­ly to me; like a heavy-hand­ed attempt to remind you of the con­nec­tion between the two.

I’ve read some reviews pan­ning Chris­t­ian Bale’s per­for­mance as flat. I thought the inse­cu­ri­ty of John Con­nor try­ing to live up to the prophe­cy of John Con­nor came across well. Fur­ther, not to say that Sam Wor­thing­ton (Mar­cus) does­n’t put on a great per­for­mance, but his rever­sion to an Aus­tralian accent was a bit dis­tract­ing to me. I’m not entire­ly sure why he could­n’t have just used his native accent through­out the film (its not as though no one in all of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia has a for­eign accent; nor did a thick Aus­tri­an accent deter Arnold in pre­vi­ous films). I think in pref­er­ence of a sound, con­sis­tent per­for­mance, I’d have asked the actor to have done so. There real­ly seems to be noth­ing about the role that pre­cludes it.

Summary

So, for those of you who longed to see more of that dark, des­o­late future world we glimpsed back in 1984 as kids where met­al-skele­toned robots walked beside tanks lit by the spot­lights of machine air­craft, this is a must-see. If you enjoy a sol­id, if lin­ear, action movie then this is going to be your movie. I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that if you only watch one film this sum­mer where giant robots attempt attach humans to take over our plan­et (and, yes, we actu­al­ly have some choice in that regard), then Ter­mi­na­tor: Sal­va­tion is going to be a lit­tle more ful­fill­ing.

  1. Real­ly, just recit­ing what his moth­er had always told him sec­ond-hand from his father. []
  2. They wise­ly left out “Has­ta la vista, baby” show­ing sound judg­ment that not every­thing should be shoe­horned in []
  3. Which would­n’t have been near­ly as smart as if it had wait­ed until about now, what with our mul­ti-core proces­sors and wide­spread broad­band. But, I digress … []

One thought on “Terminator Salvation”

  1. As usu­al, good review. In response to your com­ment about neg­a­tive reviews and it being an above aver­age movie, I am pret­ty sure now a days peo­ple relate a movie with a C rat­ing as being bad. In real­i­ty, it is just an aver­age movie. I had the same issue with Wolver­ine. I felt it was decent movie, but peo­ple kept talk­ing about how bad the reviews were. How­ev­er, it got, based on Enter­tain­ment Week­ly’s rat­ing sys­tem, a C aver­age. So, it is what you expect, a decent movie, but noth­ing great. How­ev­er, in no way, was it bad. I am just not sure why C sud­den­ly means bad in terms of movies.

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