Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Terminator War

For my birthday we went out and saw the matinee show of Terminator Salvation (aka Terminator 4.) Its an interesting if maybe flawed film.

The good points. Its a war movie, and that's really what I wanted from this movie. I've been waiting since the teases Cameron gave us in the original Terminator. The movie absolutely sells the post-apocalyptic blasted and machine dominated landscape I at least always imagined from the brief, dark flashes we were shown.

This was Stan Winston's last movie and its a fine send-off for the master of full-size mechanical effects. The film mixes full size props, model work and CG so successfully that I was rarely aware of what technique was in use when.

Unfortunately, the movie is also deeply flawed. John Connor is supposed to be our hero , but in this movie he is practically a supporting character. Although we see his competance and command ability we never really get to know him, and as such, find it difficult to really care about him.

The plot also has a few "dumb" moments. I don't want to give any spoilers, but suffice it to say for a group wearing rags in a world where anti-biotics are rare and valuable, their medivac capabilites when called upon are truely amazing.

They also felt a need to work BOTH tag-lines from previous terminator movies in. The first one is acceptable, but the second when it comes up feels really forced and obvious. It was also Arnold's tag line, and in Christian Bale's mouth it sounds pretty silly.

Another silliness is that at one point John Connor rides a machine that has no business being human-rideable at all. It isnt even particularly important to the story and IMO should have been left on the editing room floor.

On the SkyNet end, there are also some oddities in technology. Without spoiling anything its hard to go into more details, but after you see the movie just consider what it turns out SkyNet has constructed in the context of where it supposedly is in the advancement of terminator technology. To my mind they don't exactly line up.

All in all I'm not disappointed in this film. It did what I wanted, which was really introduce the machine-war in a gripping and visually stunning manner. It also hints at what may be the machine's fatal flaw. It's never stated, but I would argue that the machines' have a problem-- they are built to purpose. In many cases in this film machines under the control of SkyNet *could* have killed Connor. But thats not what those particular machines were built to do. Machines don't go "off mission". They do exactly and only what they are designed and programmed to do. I can see that as eventually being the flaw that brings SkyNet down. But if that was the intent, the script could have made that clearer.

All in all, this was an intersting and enjoyable film, but it really could have used a good science fiction screen writer to tighten it up and remove the "goofy parts."

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