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We’re familiar with the old filmmaking trick of revealing the monster slowly, hiding it in the shadows as Ridley Scott did so famously in his 1979 sci-fi horror classic. I suppose that principle is what holds Event Horizon back so frustratingly, even though there is no ‘monster’–there isn’t much of anything. The problem with Paul WS Anderson’s horror outing pre-Resident Evil days is not within its premise necessarily, but the filmmakers’ treatment of it. There is nothing inherently wrong with the ‘hide the monster’ principle, as it worked so well in Alien, but the principle becomes an applicable principle to me when it descends into an irreversible part of film history, and filmmakers continue to carry on the tradition forever, so what we get is no monster at all until the third act. Ridley Scott would inadvertently spawn a legion of SciFi Channel Original Movies, which waste so much time with characters and plot and brief monster attacks scattered now and again, all leading up to a CG monster-filled third act, which to me says: this movie is an unforgivable but entertaining thirty minute film, stretched out into a 90 minute eye-gouge fest. Speaking of eye gouging…

It’s filmmakers who believe they understand how to work a proven formula, but are lost at the first sign of inadvertent complication, as in the case of Event Horizon, where they scramble with ideas and never really reach the sanctity of cohesion. The premise is summed up in three market buzz words: haunted house spaceship. Gothic horror in space, and remember folks, in space–no one can hear you scream (nudge nudge). From where I’m standing, which is typically outside the horror genre, haunted house movies should be about weird things going on, and the characters never really figuring out what’s happening, because it’s paranormal. Like in Paranormal Activity. It’s the classic case of characters not understanding the enemy threat, because they wouldn’t, and that makes it scary.

Unfortunately this movie exists in the hard realm of science-fiction. Trust me, this isn’t an endorsement of the stickler mindset of hard sci-fi, but for all SF stories, there is a requisite element of science. For those who don’t often traverse the speculative fiction genres, it might come as a surprise to find that science-fiction and fantasy actually mix very poorly. Star Wars is an anomaly. That’s what paranormal activity is, it operates on the principles of fantasy, and those simply don’t gel in a scifi setting, which implies more than ‘spaceship.’ Characters in this film, these scientists, can’t comprehend the hellish ongoings of the titular spaceship, the Event Horizon, so an explanation, except for a really shitty one at the end, is never given.

Though they try, and that’s the bulk of the movie’s action. Characters speculate and argue while being picked off one by one in different, usually pretty dumb, ways. What we have here is frustration born out of so obviously missed opportunities. The movie seems to struggle to figure itself out as the characters do, and we want it to get there, otherwise we’ve been investing somewhat in a pretty neat story idea for nothing. To have “Spaceship that’s gone to the end of the universe and back, who knows what it’s picked up” as a setup and reach no conclusion–or worse, the conclusion is somewhere between “this spaceship is actually a portal to hell,” and “this spaceship is alive, and hell,”–is incredibly jarring. You get to a point in watching the movie where you realize that the story’s actually done unfolding, and you’re disoriented, confused as to where you are.

What’s going on? You really missed it guys; the horror only comes out of guessing and imagining the setup’s payoff for so long; eventually the payoff has to come, and further horror exists in the payoff’s implications, or for its creation of further setups to Ten Little Indians death scenes. Because honestly, that’s what we came to see–an Alien ripoff. We have a crew in space, and they’re on a creepy spaceship. Instead of aliens, or demons, or biological military test experiments, we get something very intangible, something very close to ‘nothing.’ And Ichi the Killer, although Jason Isaacs hanging from hooks was actually kind a of neat effect.

Remember the good old days, buddy

So Event Horizon is broken as a horror movie, and long gone as a scifi movie. Does it entertain? Somewhat, but for incongruous reasons that aren’t even just ‘so bad it’s good.’ It’s another eclectic mix, which is a common thread I’ve found in the Paul WS canon. Take Resident Evil for example. Compared to its sequel, and I’d assume the rest of the sequel thrillogy, it’s practically the greatest movie ever made. But restrain yourself–it’s not. It’s a solid zombie movie with a few horror elements outside the shambling horde, like laser hallways and dogs, and one Licker, a mutant frog, if I remember correctly and icon of the games. It’s a pretty entertaining movie, but it’s not really a great film. I find that I enjoy it because of the laser hallway, the Licker, and Colin Salmon, but know that the story and art direction and everything is derivative, but not quite as slick as Doom. Good parts and bad parts, like a comedy movie that you laugh with and at, like 17 Again, if you’ve ever seen it. One or two surprisingly good jokes, but the rest is, you know, fucked.

Event Horizon has a great cast–Sam Neil, in one of his few roles, Laurence Fishburne right before The Matrix, Sean Pertwee from Dog Soldiers, and Jason Isaacs, from just about everything. There’s also the absurd stereotype black guy, who establishes himself very early on as the absurd stereotype, and never lets up–“I’m comin’ back, motherfuckers!” as the immortal line goes. Interestingly, this guy was played by Richard T. Jones, who you might remember as James Ellison, the best part of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. In this movie, he plays a much less serious, much higher-pitched voice character, who must have decided that Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element was, I don’t know, a good idea.

Thing is, I kind of liked Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element, and I kind of liked this guy, because Event Horizon is a big dumb movie, and he fits right in. In a perfect world he would not, and Event Horizon would be an effective sci-fi horror, of which there are so few, although kudos Hollywood for Pandorum just a few years ago, which bettered this film, in my opinion, and for Sunshine, which wasn’t a slasher movie, but had that kind of spirit.

Event Horizon is compromised, but it’s a hard one to write off as a complete failure because the art direction is great, and it is generally pretty creepy. The jump-scares are lame, but otherwise I don’t know why more movies don’t go with the whole ‘people with no eyes,’ thing, because it’s totally scary. In fact, I knew there were eye-related things in this movie, which is why for the longest time I never watched it. Unfortunately I was much more frightened by the idea of Event Horizon than the actual movie. I’d rather just play Dead Space, and honestly… game wasn’t that fun.

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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 Wikipedia.org). 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.

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