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.
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.
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.
- Really, just reciting what his mother had always told him second-hand from his father. [↩]
- They wisely left out “Hasta la vista, baby” showing sound judgment that not everything should be shoehorned in [↩]
- 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 … [↩]