Time/Place: 4:55 showing on Friday at Ocean Ranch 7
As I said in my Summer Preview, I didn’t expect much from Terminator Salvation, but I certainly hoped for it to amaze and entertain me – I wanted to love it. I grew up admiring the first two Terminator pictures, and finally being able to see the war that was constantly referenced and glimpsed in those movies was going to be great. To see what the main character, John Connor, had become and to see him lead the rebellion into war could have been very interesting. Terminator Salvation, however, was neither great nor interesting. I was ready to give this movie an ‘F’ and a basic poor review, but then yesterday I watched the first two movies again, and I realized giving a poor review just wasn’t enough – I needed to destroy it ;-).
First let’s talk about the movie on its own terms, which won’t be good, and then I’ll compare it to the original two, which will be even worse.
After the end credits began to roll for Terminator Salvation, I turned to my friend and said, “I never knew a Terminator movie could be boring.” Amidst all of the computer generated things blowing up and zipping around the screen, I was bored out of my mind. I kept waiting for the movie to start, but even more than halfway into the movie it still felt like a very long introduction before the real story began. The most glaring problem with Terminator Salvation, really, is that I didn’t care about anyone in it… which is what the point of telling a good story is. The audience needs to feel something for a character, one way or the other, for a story to be engaging, and every single face in Terminator Salvation could have been destroyed by machines and I wouldn’t have even blinked.
The performances were all decent, but the material was lame enough that even the best actors couldn’t make it walk. When I heard that Christian Bale was involved, I figured he wouldn’t join up with something now that was poor in story, but apparently even he has his price ;-). The story was very muddled, the plot was filled with inconsistencies and gaping holes, and to top it all off, quite often the dialogue sounded like something I would have come up with as a kid. All of this returns to the basic element of storytelling, though, of the necessity to have characters the audience cares about. Sure there are other issues that make Terminator Salvation a really bad and bland movie, but this is the heart of the matter. Speaking of which…
What makes The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day great movies is that they are filled to the brim with heart. They are not surface level action movies with cool action sequences, but they have a depth to them in exploring humanity. Especially in Terminator 2, the idea of what separates us from the machines is explored to the hilt. In Terminator Salvation even though one of the major plot points revolves around this idea, it’s never followed up on. All that the script affords this concept, beyond one speech Christian Bale’s John Connor gives that is decent, is a number of people TELLING us about what makes us human versus SHOWING us. Terminator 2 shows us the personal struggles that Sarah Connor is going through while she is attempting to deal with the emotional weight of knowing Judgment Day is coming to wipe out billions of lives on Earth. Terminator Salvation has Christian Bale yell a couple of times. Consider what the Connor family has been through:
-Sarah Connor is stalked by a machine sent from the future, intent on killing her before she can have a child. She is guarded and saved by a human soldier sent from the future, by Sarah’s son who will become the leader in the war against the machines. In the process, most everyone Sarah cares about is killed, including the man who came back to save her. At the end, Sarah is pregnant and alone, now fully aware of what is coming.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Obviously, Sarah is a little off-balance after her ordeals in the first movie. She became obsessed with training her son to be a leader, and in the process of attempting to destroy a computer factory she was captured and institutionalized. Her son, John Connor, now 10, is lost in life… being taken care of by foster parents while his mother is locked away. Two Terminators are sent back from the future, one to protect John, the other to kill him. After her escape, John bonds with his mom again, showing her what it is to be human after she had tried to forget. At the end, again, the protector must be destroyed, and John is forced to say goodbye to the only father-figure he’s ever known – even if it is a machine.
So, yeah… these are simplified plot points, but with everything that has happened to this family, John Connor should be one heck of a strong, emotional, perhaps even slightly crazy character by the time we see him in Terminator Salvation. There were only a couple of instances where I felt like I was seeing who John Connor should have been – one of which involves a Terminator clawing at his face as it is being frozen, and John is screaming at it like a madman. Of course, the existence of Terminator 3 tossed in a lot of crap that I could tell was used to buffer Terminator Salvation from the first two movies, but regardless… nothing after Terminator 2 has been good. For how much the makers of Terminator Salvation proclaim to be fans of the original two movies, it simply doesn’t follow the same canon.
The problem there, is that it doesn’t have to. By using the excuse that time-travel creates alternate versions of the future (though not TOO alternate, or the time-traveler would cease to exist), Terminator Salvation was free to create its own world and rules and timeline. Yes, the differences between the two futures of the original movies and Terminator Salvation is too extreme to rationalize with time-travel (laser weaponry and human extermination in the originals, versus regular bullets and human collection in the new one), but even beyond those types of continuity holes, my point is much larger than that. The issue isn’t trying to dissect whether or not the moviemakers could, but to instead ask “Why?” Why would someone who supposedly loves the original two movies, want to create a world and storyline that is so vastly different from (and, I feel, inferior to) the movies they are basing their new sequel on? Forget that the movie is bad for every reason, but why would someone want to make Terminator Salvation in a way that completely dishonors and ignores the amazing stories that came from the first two movies? I disliked this new movie simply because it was horrible, but I was disappointed in it largely because it chose to pretty much alter everything about the future world that had previously been established. James Cameron is a very talented artist, and the depth he put into his Terminator stories is something so fantastic and entertaining that I can’t comprehend why someone would want to ignore that in a sequel – except for the temptation of the almighty dollar ;-). It’s not a matter of just ignoring the details of the only two Terminator movies that count, it’s a matter of ignoring what made those movies amazing to begin with – the heart.
Terminator Salvation is filled with action and sequences that I might remember for another day (maybe), but unlike the first two movies, the action often does nothing to advance the story or characters – it’s simply there to look cool. If that’s all people want, they can save their time and money and look up “explosion” on YouTube. Every single thing about Terminator Salvation was not just poorly conceived, but also disappointing because of a lost opportunity.
Grade in comparison to originals: F and an expulsion 😉