Monday, May 25, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Emotionally-Barren Sequel Plagued by Lack of Character Development

When you decide to shoot a Terminator sequel sans Schwarzenegger (sorry, a cameo of Arnold‘s head atop a body double doesn’t count), and with an entirely new cast, you might want to consider devoting some quality time to character development in order to give your audience a chance to become familiar with and, thus, reason to care about the protagonists. Otherwise you’ll probably end up with a superficial, sci-fi saga like Terminator Salvation (T-4), a special effects indulgence in fight sequences, chase scenes, pyrotechnics and techno wizardry at the expense of emotional depth.
This post-apocalyptic adventure is as soulless as the defoliated expanse of barren landscape on which it unfolds. What’s worse, the movie abandons the franchise’s carefully-cultivated trademarks in favor of a lot of nondescript CGI action sequences which feel interchangeable with similar flicks like Transformers and Doomsday.
Blame for this departure in tone rests squarely on the shoulders of Joseph McGinty Nichol, aka McG, who has made a rocky transition to movies after directing award-winning music videos for both Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray.
McG’s stock has gone done since his promising feature film debut with Charlie’s Angels in 2000. Seems he has trouble just controlling his crew, judging by Christian Bale’s having to apologize publicly about going ballistic to maintain decorum on the set.
Bale, by the way, heads a star-studded ensemble which also includes Sam Worthington, Helena Bonham Carter, Jane Alexander, Common, Terry Crews and Bryce Dallas Howard. T-4’s point of departure is 2003, the year in which T-3 was released, but the story soon shifts to a flattened California in 2018 where we find the few folks still alive cowering in caves and makeshift shelters.
That’s because a swarm of invading terminators, Skynet’s T-600s, have practically decimated humanity. With less than four days until total annihilation, it falls to a chivalrous army vet named John Connor (Bale) to organize a resistance movement. Its goal is to get close enough to the cyborgs to shut down their computers by jamming their radio frequency with the help of a top secret weapon provided by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside).
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially since the aliens have a decided military advantage and a “take no prisoners” policy. But Conner is both desperate and game and enlists the assistance of a motley crew in his heroic endeavor. His impromptu posse includes his pregnant wife, Kate (Howard), a downed fighter pilot (Moon Bloodgood), his tight-hand man, Barnes (Common), a teenage soldier (Anton Yelchin), a mute toddler (Jadagrace) and Marcus Wright (Worthington), a very mysterious stranger whom Connor has good reason not to trust.
But keeping the various players straight on the scorecard is never as important here as simply sitting back and appreciating all the fireworks which ensue in this mindless, explosion-driven blockbuster. In sum, T-4 is at best an over-stimulating concatenation of bells and whistles amounting to the cinematic equivalent of bubblegum.
To quote the Bard of Avon, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I couldn’t put it better myself.

Fair (1 star)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and intense violence.
Running time: 130 minutes
Studio: Warner Brothers


Unknown said...

I totally agree! This is the second time that a supporting actor has stolen the show from Bale. Heath Ledger did it in The Dark Knight and Worthington does it in this film. Christian Bale is very overrated as an actor and the weak writing for this film did not help him.

Anonymous said...

9. The humans continue to destroy Skynet bit by bit over the following years. They never pick an open fight. They act like cowards, but very effective ones. Like a virus or cancer they spread and destroy Skynet. Being super intelligent Skynet evaluates their tactics and realises that it is very effective. Then the system decides to cut its losses and run. So it sets up a few secret bases, time machine, manufacturing and scientific facilities in a very remote and hidden areas unreachable for humans where it continues to build and improve Terminators and all other types of robotic units waiting to fight another day while the humans calm themselves and resurface thinking that they have won. Once the common thread disappears the old human rivalry will resurface. John Conner is long gone. His grandchildren have grown up. Humans will begin rebuilding their society and just when they think that a new age is coming (let’s say 200-300 years later) the Skynet strikes back and this time there is no escape for the humans. The age of machines begins and the humans become like the dinosaurs - extinct. After this point machines begin to colonise the remaining of the solar system and the galaxy.

Well, this is what I believe T4, T5 and T6 should have been about.

Possible alternative ending:
10. After the second attack Skynet is convinced the humanity is destroyed and the system continues with its business to spread itself through the galaxy and to acquire new knowledge. Little that it knows that in a few very remote locations the humans has survived. This time they are much more careful and make sure their activities are not detected in any way by Skynet. Years and centuries go by, the planet recovers from the nuclear winter and the humans utilise equipment and technology scraped by Skynet. They follow Skynet’s development very closely over the years without much interference analysing weakness and learning about communication channels and coding used by Skynet. Humans become so good knowing the system that they could create their version of Skynet. So humans make a move. They managed to create a version of Skynet that cares about humans and wants to serve and protect them. The new Skynet secretly taps into the knowledge base of the original Skynet and slowly transforms the original Skynet by merging with it and replacing its core. The original Skynet’s internal defence systems could not detect the intruder because the humans have created the new Skynet to closely mimic the original one with a few minor differences. At that point Skynet from a military/war system becomes a social system that has no interest in killing humans and wants to protect them.
11. By now Skynet’s robotic units are spread all over the galaxy and have access to unlimited resources. This allows for human shelters to be built on other planets and mass scale terraforming events to take place. Humanity becomes a galactic civilisation. But these are not the humans we know now. Over the centuries of hiding and learning from Skynet they have evolved into extremely intelligent, effective and stealthy creatures with deep philosophical understanding of reality and have conquered their primitive animalistic desires.

Do you agree? Is there something you would like to add?

Anonymous said...

5. By the time Skynet's attention is back on the human issue there is a big network of resistance groups all over the planet doing well coordinated and very complicated guerrilla war campaigns against the machines. Human communities have grown in numbers but still live underground because the surface is poisonous. Over the years they have stolen and learned to use/modify Skynet technology (including robots) that helps them to survive, grow and procreate. By that time the name of John Conner is a legend because he is the first to show the way to freedom. Now he and his followers successfully run these planetary wide super complicated guerrilla war campaigns against the machines. Their luck is about to expire though. John Conner is at least 60-70 years old at that time. He has wife and children already born years earlier.
6. Skynet recognises the new human threat and increases security in its facilities. It creates new models of terminators to provide security. It becomes tougher for the humans. Quite a few are killed in action. Never the less people adapt over the years. Skynet’s measures become ineffective. The system is forced to increase its security measures and change its tactics from passive to active. The first seek and kill robotic units are created. It is getting more and more difficult for the humans but they adapt. Some are captured for interrogation. Skynet finds out that someone called John Conner is behind all that. Meanwhile the terminator units are improved to the latest model T-800 (Arnold). Humans continuously manage to capture older models of terminators and reprogram them against Skynet so new models have to be created. T-800 would be able to infiltrate human groups and kill them. That tactics fails with the introduction of dogs but quite a few settlements are lost before the humans could figure it out. Being ineffective so far Skynet decides to change the tactics and send one of them T-800 back in time to change the future ( link with T1 movie).
7. Meanwhile humans continue effectively to steel technology and resources from Skynet. T-800 are not that effective any more. They are easily recognised. New mixed guerrilla groups of humans and reprogrammed T-800s work much more effectively to destroy Skynet . Skynet responds by inventing the morphing terminator from T2. Soon after the events leading to the second terminator being send back in time take place (link with T2 movie). The question here is why the morphing terminator was not sent to the same point in time as the first one? Possible explanation is that the time machine requires much more energy to go back that far and this explanation should have been in the T4 movie.
8. Fed up with the human pests and that they successfully reprogram terminators SkyNet creates the ultimate killing machine (the woman from T3 - T901) to deal with the rouge terminators. At this point the events leading to T-901 being send back in time take place (link with the T3 movie). At that point Connor is 90-100 years old and gets killed by T-800 unit (see T3 movie). His wife is still alive and sends the captured T-800 back to protect John. John is dead but his legend continues to inspire. His legacy lives on.

To be Continued

Anonymous said...

Start here

In the Terminator 4 movie the machines do not have this terrifying image as we all remember from T1 and T2. T4 is badly written. Here I would like to suggest a story line that is richer.

This is how I envisioned T4,5,6:

1. Soon after "Judgement Day" the inevitable Nuclear winter begins. It devastates all biological systems on the planet. Whatever plant, creature survived the immediate nuclear blasts died from hunger and radiation in the following 1-3 years.
2. The few remaining humans are scattered all over the planet. Slowly over the years they learn to survive in the new environment and form small communities. They learn that machines have to be avoided and that they are very powerful. People feel hopeless to do anything about it. Then over time the travellers from one group/tribe to another spread the inspirational news that there is a small group of people led by John Conner that is very successful in defeating the machines. Stories become legends and everyone wants to join and to become part of the legend. The resistance is born.("Braveheart" style)
3. At the same time the Skynet is not bothered about the remaining humans. They are no longer considered a threat. Some basic security measures are in place and if encountered human individuals are terminated. The system does not intentionally hunt them. Instead the Skynet begins to gain even more knowledge about reality and the universe (remember Skynet's knowledge grows in a geometric progression according to previous movies). As the years pass Skynet discovers the time travel and many other scientific miracles and new technologies.
4. At some point in the years Skynet notices that there are a series of small accidents happening in various places around the earth that slow down the advancement of Skynet’s plans. Small events/glitches (like corrupted data or insufficient power or delayed deliveries or lost property, etc.) happen in a almost random pattern causing inconvenience. So the system analyses these events and discovers a pattern and that they are not that random. It almost like there is an intention/intelligence behind these events. As any intelligent agent Skynet decides to make a prediction where the next “accident” would happen and set up a trap to see what causes it. At that point it discovers that it is a group of humans behind it. And so this way the humans get the attention of Skynet again many years after the Judgement day.

...To be continued...

Anonymous said...

With less than four days until total annihilation, it falls to a chivalrous army vet named John Connor (Bale) to organize a resistance movement. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially since the aliens have a decided military advantage and a “take no prisoners” policy. Did you actually WATCH Terminator 4? Because none of these things actually happened in the movie. In fact, one of the major plot points is that Skynet WAS taking prisoners.

Anonymous said...

Also, aliens?