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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

In between the long but relatively short time gap with Terminator 3 and Terminator 4 – 2003 to 2009 – the writer of The War of the Worlds (2005), Josh Friedman, ran a TV drama based on the franchise. Wouldn’t you know it, it wasn’t half bad, but it wasn’t totally good either. It had minor faults running throughout its one and a half seasons, but the major issue with T:SCC was that it was based off of a franchise not known for its story.

The very first Terminator was a small movie with a great premise and a great execution. The sequel, Terminator 2, expanded on the first in plot and theme but essentially repeated the first. Terminator 3 was just a watered-down copy of Terminator 2, so there was never really a story beyond “Terminator goes back in time and another Terminator stops him from Terminating either John or Sarah Connor.” That’s something that couldn’t even be maintained satisfactorily for three movies, so I couldn’t imagine how the creatives behind T:SCC would even go about making a lengthy series in terms of serialized narrative.

With that in mind, Friedman in crew did a damn good job. Terminator 3 kind of set the precedent for repeating The Terminator‘s story, thereby worshiping T2 and striking originality from the series forever, so it does seem improbable that the show would’ve ever stepped out of the strict boundaries set by Jonathan Mostow’s movie. They explored some interesting areas, but in terms of science-fiction television, it would never find peace between stand alone and complex episodes like The X-Files or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and didn’t find the popularity that sustained a contemporary like Battlestar Galactica for so long.

Ultimately the show would be cancelled by FOX, much to the surprise of every fan of Firefly and other shows with Summer Glau. Dollhouse would also be seemingly claimed by the Summer Glau curse around the same time, but one of the real reasons it was cancelled was the less-than-satisfactory ticket returns for Salvation, which was hugely expensive in its own right.

It’s a shame because Summer Glau had to move on to The Cape, which I heard was really, really bad. She’s a very talented actress, but I am eager to see if she isn’t just a one trick pony, no matter how well she does the ‘distant and possibly insane creepy seventeen year old.’ She did a great job with her character, and was one of my favorite Terminators. Out of the four, definitely top three.

Something interesting to note about Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is there is a scene where Summer Glau’s character, named Cameron, beats the hell out of a character named Ellison. She throws him around a room and perhaps in this way, a vengeance has finally been fulfilled…

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation is not a movie concerned with plot like Terminator 3 seemingly was, nor character like Terminator 2. Its focus was cycling through elements from the franchise; visual cues and requisite one-liners. Director McG was placed into an odd scenario, one that filmmakers probably strive for but pull a Gob and think they’ve made a huge mistake. Not only is this the Terminator 3 that Terminator fans were waiting for – one detailing the future war hinted at across the ‘original trilogy’ – but it’s a third sequel to, once again, a movie that never needed one. Instead of using the original movies as foundation, Salvation opts to play it safe, wherein if the movie didn’t exist, we wouldn’t notice.

By saying that I mean that it adds nothing to the series, never taking a dare and branching out into undiscovered country. That would afterall be outside the Terminator lexicon. Taking risks? Only in terms of finance (Salvation was like all other Terminator movies – super expensive, this one being around $200 million, according to On a narrative level, there is no moving forward. Nothing happens in this movie that we couldn’t have guessed, just as was the case in Rise of the Machines.

Terminator Salvation charts John Connor’s rise to the Leader of humanity, and we see it through alternatively his and another character’s eyes. The writers didn’t seem to agree on who to choose as the main character, but this isn’t a bad thing. Similarly, all of the things thus far mentioned about how TSal doesn’t say or do anything isn’t bad either.

I wouldn’t expect anything more, and we live in an age where most genre fare in film looks back on older genre films with longing eyes. Guys like Rodriguez, Tarantino, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, even Peter Jackson – these guys lead the genre front but have put out movies paying homage to other movies. Some of these have used their homage nature to say something new, as in the case of Shaun of the Dead or Death Proof, but they do tend to represent the positive side of modern geek-film, where the negative side is saturated with superhero adaptations.

TSal is sort of the same thing. It’s a good movie as made by a big ol’ Terminator fan. If you too are a Terminator fan, you’ll probably like this movie. If not, it’s a slightly-above average actioner set in a Mad Max post-apocalypse. No, we don’t get to see the big ‘cyborg’ wars with purple lasers; it’s a smaller conflict that’s less total war and more chase scenes. That’s perfectly serviceable, but I feel I have some bias towards this film that needs mention before proceeding:

I’m a big science-fiction fan, and two of my absolute favorite things the genre can offer are the following: robots, and when military and futuristic imagery are mixed. Space marines? I’ll never get tired of them. Space marines fighting robots? I got a semi. Even if John Connor’s Resistance soldiers aren’t technically in space, they’re still creeping around corridors like in Aliens and facing down the classic Endoskeletons. I really, really dug a lot of what was going on in the movie.

In this way, TSal was a return to form. The first two Terminator movies offered me striking and indelible images – the Endoskeleton rising from fire, liquid metal T-1000, Arnold with a laser-sighted pistol in Tech-Noir – and Terminator Salvation does just the same. I always think back to the scene in the SkyNet base where John and Kyle and kid are backing away from the Terminator while firing a grenade launcher – it won’t stop, guys. Really cool scene.

For people who don’t dig on robots and soldiers, or possibly prefer Transformers to get your robots n soldiers fix (barf), Terminator Salvation may come off as entirely too dispensable diversionary fare. It does come off as a movie that doesn’t really give a fuck – we don’t get to know any of these characters, with one exception, and there’s no sense of gravity to any battle sequence – whereas The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day had genuine characters. After all this time of waiting to see a full-grown John Connor, Kyle Reese and the good T-800 are still much more memorable heroes.

In addition, one of the curious things about Terminator Salvation was that it didn’t really have a villain, and one of the Terminator series’ claim-to-fames is great villains: the T-800 and the T-1000. But just like in Crank 2, I didn’t really notice the absence of a villain that was as great as in earlier movies. For other people though, this might be a hinderance. Even Terminator 3 tried to have a memorable villain, though she was pretty much totally farcical and kind of offensive.

The one unique element to compliment TSal with was Sam Worthington’s character. No, at the end of the movie nothing in the Terminator mythos has really changed, and for the first in a new trilogy there isn’t really any great plot-point to build off of, like the destruction of the Death Star for example, but we did get an interesting intro to the hero John Connor through Worthington’s character, Jake Sully. Or, Robot Guy, I guess.

It’s similar I guess to what they did in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and even though I haven’t played the game, I know exactly what was going on because it was such an infamous move – they replaced iconic hero Solid Snake with a… different, fellow… and he followed Snake around and saw him being cool from a third-party perspective. Interesting angle to take, but unfortunately the other character has to actually be cool. Robot Guy was actually much more interesting than John Connor, who was essentially Batman, but without the VOICE. Robot Guy on the other hand seemed to be something of a hamfisted attempt at Oshii/Shirow robot-guy-ian philosophy, “How could it not know what it is?” which is very phildickian.

Let me rephrase: sparknotes phildickian. It’s not a very deep exploration of Ghost in the Shell, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (though that was the novel McG made the crew read in preparation of the movie) themes, but at least it tried. Did Terminator 3 try – anything? No, but that’s no excuse for Salvation not being a truly good movie.

It’s a dumb action movie with cool images. The things that made the first two movies great were lost on Salvation, which was a fine but unecessary entry, speaking on a narrative level.

In Conclude

That’s the Terminator saga. Less of a saga than Star Wars or even Back to the Future, but it’s one of the most memorable moments in the annals of science-fiction movies. After 25 years we’ve had four feature length movies, one television series, one theme park attraction, countless spin-off video-games and novels, and an interesting but rocky future for whoever owns the rights to the franchise at the moment. Joss Whedon? No, we’re not that lucky.

Halycon had produced Terminator Salvation, and now they have their eyes set on an adaptation of Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said, by Philip K. Dick. Sounds good, but not for Terminator fans. My advice for those fans – do what I do, and just watch T2 again.


The Terminator

Having not seen the film in probably five years, I have nothing to say about this one, despite considering it one of my absolute favorites…

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2 in relation to the original is almost like the relationship between the current Clerks movies, where Clerks 2 uses its deconstruction of the first, the undeniable fact of passing time, and as its very presence as a sequel, to highlight loftier themes where the original was unable to. By using the original movie as something of a foundation, it achieves something higher, but not without staying true to spirit. Terminator 2 expands on the cautionary themes of The Terminator by taking the concept a step further.

Essentially what James Cameron was saying with the 1984 film was that machines will bring about our destruction because they are our instruments – and we are super dicks. The prevailing theme in opposition to this premise is hope, which is dramatized here in a pregnant Sarah Connor, unTerminated at the end of the movie.

In Terminator 2, the positive outlook may seem less so in some ways – by the end of the movie we’re following a dark highway and it’s uncertain (certain in 2003, but left ambiguous in ’91 due to a cut ending*) whether the battle’s won. Yet, things are okay on a grander scale than in the first movie because it operates on a larger scope, dealing with humanity. The point of the sequel was to see the villainous, evil T-800 ‘cyborg’ learn about peace and the value of human life. As Sarah says, if a machine can learn such things, maybe we can too. This theme would be echoed later on, to less (in my opinion) success in the year 2009.

The film ends on a note of hope that’s equally as larger than the first movie’s as its budget is; the two seem proportionate, and Terminator 2 is a massive film, much larger than the first and even larger than Aliens and The Abyss, despite the latter being a shoot so difficult and dangerous as to nearly claim the life of our adventurous director. By this logic, Terminator 3 would seemingly be even larger…

*Before the revision post-test screening, Terminator 2 originally ended with a flashforward to a bright future where an older Sarah watches from a park bench the now grown John, a US Senator, playing with his daughter. It was reviled, but closed the book on SkyNet…

Man, I really missed science-fiction. The last few posts have been pretty Movie-centric in terms of the Movie/Science-fiction split on this website, so this should be a nice return to form. I guess the posts here do happen to reflect my movie-watching habits – lately I’ve been watching a lot of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – and I’ve seen some cool non-SF movies like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Mulholland Drive, it was nice to finally sit down with a movie about cops in the future.

It was also nice to see a movie I knew I was going to like – and liked! I assumed I would like End of Days, but it didn’t have the one liners or the action of other Schwarzenegger classics, but Minority Report certainly worked out. It’s a good movie.

It’s definitely a Spielberg thriller; elements of drama, elements of action, elements of genuine science fiction, but none of these are more pronounced than the others. Combined, it’s an entertaining film, but right in the center of Dick adaptations to the right of A Scanner Darkly and to the left of Paycheck. It’s a great premise, and throwing in this convulted murder mystery seemed to be the right way to go, but everything non-Philip K. Dick and not pertaining to the look and feel of the film was formulaic. The tortured backstory for Tom Cruise, the twists and turns, the one dimensional secondary cast – those didn’t add up to much in the movie’s favor.

In the original short story, “The Minority Report,” John Anderton is a middle-aged bald fat man, but in the film adaptation he’s Tom Cruise. That should begin to illustrate the level of adaptation we’re working with here: not quite as faithful as Linklater’s rather strict constructionist take, but then again not as overtly “Philip K. What?” as John Woo’s extremely embarassing outting, just another in his line of extremely embarassing American movies.

It is perhaps more Spielberg than Dick, but that is never a bad thing. Spielberg is ace at nearly everything when it comes to that little thing we call filmmaking, so Minority Report may not be one of his better science-fiction blockbusters, but this is really only due to of the weakness of the script.

A wonderful irony here is that the screenwriters didn’t take any risks. My guess is that they had only the gall for one risk, and that was adapting something by this author whose popularity was only beginning to show, and was kind of weird. The script isn’t wholly reflective of ‘weird,’ for example the PreCogs are just psychics rather than deformed and mentally challenged mutants, but this I believe actually works in the movie’s favor. In the end it’s really just bland dialogue that doesn’t allow the movie to get deep with either emotion or judicial philosophy and morals.

To go back to the PreCog thing – I remember hearing one complaint about Inception, and at first I took it as a legitimate criticism, but quickly realized why the movie was the way it was. Essentially the moviegoer was hoping to see more dream stuff, as assumedly inside someone’s dream anything is possible, so why is it that the craziest thing to happen was the buildings folded over? We could’ve had robot unicorns eating the sun but instead we had some pretty cool gun fights – what gives?

That’s an issue that comes to production and art design. Christopher Nolan was going for a specific look as he did with the very Blade Runner-inspired Batman Begins and the period piece The Prestige. Inception was meant to be something of a neo-noir, and it was science-fiction but not embarassingly so. It had to have consistent art design, and therefore couldn’t have superfluous robot unicorns.

This is analogous somewhat to the world of Minority Report, which is one originally created by Philip K. Dick. The author made a habit of writing stories where time travel and space travel often co-exist, where off-world colonies hide ESPers and where androids see the future.

Because of the limited scope of the screen, filmmakers like Spielberg and like Nolan need to streamline. Some elements that some viewers may find distracting of what’s most important in the narrative (like deformed mutants) need to be altered, or adapted, to fit with the Minority Report look and feel. It’s a movie about cops in the future, and it works pretty well, looks really cool, moves forward most of the time.

In this case and in the case of Blade Runner, we actually benefitted by less Dick. Odd, but certainly not every filmmaker is capable of such a thing.

A look back on the various movies that recall why I like movies any. This week, it’s one of the most important films from my childhood, and easily Cameron’s best directorial outing…

The Dreckulative One Year Anniversary has come and gone, and it has left me thinking about why I had started the site, and why I continue to post on it. The mission statement is at the bottom of the page here, and says something to the effects of: I want to legitimize the genre of science-fiction in film for the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Alright that’s fair – sci-fi gets a bad rap, and maybe undeservedly – but why? Why do I want to do something like that when I could just as easily – or perhaps, as some might say, easierly – not do it?

Because science-fiction is something that is significant to me, and I could never, ever say that to anybody except for you and through this medium of text. Out loud, that might sound strange. On paper, or screen in this case, it could almost be misinterpreted as mild. As a kid, I grew up watching what I consider to be the classics of sci-fi cinema, and this is the reason why I envision my idealized personal film (if ever I was to make them) as a science-fiction one, and why seven or so of my top ten are science-fiction. The other angles of the speculative fiction triangle, fantasy and horror, never appealed to me. Fantasy always struck me as uninteresting, and when Harry Potter came out and I distilled an entire genre down to wizards and trolls, that went doubly so. Fantasy to me was something for kids only. Of course, I never once thought that science-fiction might be too.

And horror never interested me because simply put – I was a pussy. I was afraid of many things that happened in movies: aliens (which is odd*), ghosts (because if they’re real, then that’s the worst thing ever), demons, and dying. I guess the last one is kind of understandable.

So fantasy was for children. Science-fiction on the other hand, was my bread and butter when I was a young youth, and even now as a youth. Movies like Robocop, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and the two Terminator movies convinced me that robots and science were cool and meant violence, which I also liked a lot. It wasn’t until I saw Ghost in the Shell (1995) in mid-high school that I understood the literary potential the genre had on the screen, but you’ll have to wait until the Ghost in the Shell Franchise: An Appreciation post for that story.

Even to this day, probably my favorite moments in movies are the future war sequences in the first two Terminator movies – seeing the field of skulls driven over by giant tank robots, all the pink lasers going back and forth with extremely unthreatening sound effects, the grittiness and the darkness, the overall spectacle – it’s a blast of nostalgia every time I even think of them. These were the moments that crystallized my early love for the genre, and captured my imagination unlike any other movie would until Ghost in the Shell 2.

Indeed the first two Terminator movies effected that adoration of science-fiction, and it didn’t hurt that they were such good films, it even got across to an idiot kid they were good. I remember not liking 2001, Blade Runner, Princess Mononoke, even the original Ghost in the Shell, because I was either too young or too stupid. No joke.

The Terminator is an incredible film, a perfectly paced chase movie with great imagery (the middle future flashback with the Terminator infiltrator shooting the mini-gun and all you see is his silhouette and two red eyes is pretty cool) and a memorable ending sequence assisted by robotic stop-motion. Michael Biehn, like Sam Neil, was to me the essential film hero, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was and always will be my favorite star. He’s got it all – the presence, the one-liners, the ability to dual wield a machine-gun and a shotgun – and the supporting cast was also good, especially Lance Henrikson, a fan favorite for his role as Bishop in Cameron’s next movie.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day was all this and more. It was a relentless machine-gun hail of set pieces that seemed to be in some fierce competition with each other to be the absolute best. A mindless action movie can be a great movie if the action is good enough. Think Punisher War Zone. An action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think Die Hard, a thoughtful action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think First Blood. A sci-fi action movie that’s mindless can also be great – Doomsday – now let’s take the best of these categories: Terminator 2 is a thoughtful sci-fi action movie with action that is good enough, making it a triply great movie.

Dr. Silberman makes a reappearance as the snarky psychologist or whatever he is, and he’s the first antagonist Sarah Connor must deal with. Ultimately he is overshadowed by the T-1000, one of the coolest special effects and villains to hit the big screen. How could the outdated T-850 from the original film overcome this new threat? Well, plot armor… But also, with the help of both Sarah Connor and young John Connor, a character who’s never been as good as he was in the original T2. The grand sense of adventure in this movie moves the plot along with ease as these characters meet up and conflict, and we learn that the T-1000 isn’t just dangerous because he can be the floor – or you – but because he kills everybody he meets, and the Arnold Terminator is more human than meets the eye. Maybe not more human than human, but he’s only learning. He was designed to kill, and he’s just been told not to. Intriguing…

Maybe not high science-fiction, but it doesn’t need to be. It still makes for one hell of a movie. And the T-1000 is one hell of a villain. Not my favorite, though I do like Robert Patrick. I would throw the T-1000 in direct comparison to another robot villain I’ve been thinking about for awhile now after having seen Star Wars Episode III again recently, and reminding myself just how much I actually liked it – General Grievous. Visually, Grievous is one of the coolest designs for a character ever. But he was written as a coward, and that disappointed me heavily. He was not a threat, he was not imposing – when Obi Wan was going for the showdown halfway through the film, the outcome was a given fact, and there was no dramatic weight behind the spectacle of the fight. T-1000 on the other hand is somebody who you almost don’t want the characters to have to deal with, because you know that he’s capable of so much.

And he does do a lot to poor old Arnold, who loses a limb in his wordless fight with the other robot. They’re programmed against each other, and like computers, they don’t exchange pithy dialogue or play pranks like in T3. The duel at the end of the movie is also superior to the one that ends T3 – the effects are better, the choreography is better – and the environment it takes place in offers a very atmospheric and explosive setting for these two to duke it out in.

This was back when James Cameron was making movies to make good movies. With the release of Avatar, he seems to be making movies to make good money-making movies. Avatar wins the popular vote on financial terms, but it’s as smart as something that is not smart. Terminator 2 is smart, not necessarily intelligent, and succeeds – and exceeds – at everything it attempts. This is truly science-fiction filmmaking at its best.

*For a long time I was terribly frightened of aliens, and especially the aliens from the Alien franchise. I thought that if those things were real, then we were really fucked, and I had never ever seen a single alien movie. I’m sure that would’ve done me in – seeing what these aliens actually did to people. I just didn’t like how they looked, they were freaky. Then one day a switch flipped and I thought these things were so aesthetically pleasing perhaps they were worth a second look. To this day I’ve always considered the Alien franchise the best science-fiction has ever produced.

As though the genre produces movies


Death Threats

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