Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Terminator Salvation

Lowdown: Our nuclear holocaust survivors deal with the most human terminator yet.
Review:
The question on my mind before watching Episode 4 of the Terminator franchise was: Terminator Salvation or just saliva? After all, the first two Terminators were and still are amongst my favorite films ever, with T2 probably qualifying as the favorite. But since the first two a lot of sewage flawed down the river, including a pathetic T3 and a mediocre (though still entertaining) TV series. Or, to put it another way, can T4's director McG step into shoes of James Cameron's size?
Unlike its predecessors, T4 takes place after the apocalyptic nuclear war the other films promised. However, it takes place at a time before John Connor, the famous leader of the human resistance, rose to prominence and before he was about to win the war on the evil machines that destroyed our world. T4's aim is to tell us how Connor rose from a potential promise into the role of a Messiah like leader.
Connor, portrayed by Christian Bale, actually takes second place in T4 to the character played by Sam Worthington. Worthington plays a contemporary (that is, our age) murderer on death row that in an act of remorse decides to donate his body to science. He's executed using a lethal injection, and the next thing he knows he wakes up in a devastated Los Angeles and has to fight for his life as terminator robots try to shoot him down. To his help comes Kyle Reese, the character that portrayed John Connor's father in previous Terminator episodes, and thus starts a roller-coaster adventure as everyone fights for survival in a very harsh and unsympathetic world and as the various characters learn something about being human and about themselves.
There can be no doubt about it, T4 is pretty entertaining. Entertaining, but... It's a bit hard to point out what the "but" part is, but eventually it comes down to the regular sequel syndrome. T4 doesn't offer much originality where it counts; it tries too hard to place famous lines (e.g., "come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back") and it copies certain famous scenes way too faithfully (the ending's foundry fight is very similar to T2's). It also fails to make sense in many ways: For example, given the time lines, how do the evil machines know that Kyle Reese is about to have an important role in history?
What originality T4 does offer comes in the shape of new terminator robot types that don't really make sense. You have hydro terminators that roam under water but are pretty useless overall, and you have racing motorcycle shaped terminators in a world that is not exactly well paved and where off-road vehicles would be much more suitable than racing circuit bikes. Another sign of the sequel syndrome.
As mentioned, Worthington beats Bale in the acting department despite the significant difference in star reputation. It's not only that Worthington has the more interesting role, he is clearly the superior actor of the two: While Bale has this monotonous expression on his face to match his badly written script, Worthington really seems like he came to have a good day at the office. Also notable in the acting department is Michael Ironside, one of my favorite actors (V, Total Recall, Starship Troopers) portraying more of his usual stuff.
So, what do I think of it all? Is T4 a shame or a hit? I have to say I've enjoyed it overall, but I also have to say it's not a film to leave a mark on anyone the way T1 and T2 did. And given Connor is shown to have a son coming up, I suspect we will be discussing the same question many times again in the future. Me, I would have preferred to leave things off with T2.
Worst scene:
The ending is such a pathetic cliche I went searching for my barf bag. And then the narrator steps in to tell us that the difference between a machine and a human is that a human has a human heart and that no machine could have the human spirit. And I say, bullshit!
First of all, we are adding some 80 million net new human like machines each year. Their number is currently totalling at almost 7 billion. Second, if we limit ourselves to silicon based machines and pretend to ignore carbon based ones, then the argument that humans cannot be replicated on a chip only shows that our chip technology is yet to be able to deal with the task, not that this task is unachievable. T4's argument is similar to past arguments along the lines of angels pushing the planets in their orbit or god making flowers bloom; ignorance is not a valid argument.
And as for the virtues of the human heart, as someone who is likely to die of some sort of a heart failure - like many of my human compatriots - I wouldn't argue against reliable artificial hearts being developed.
In short, I much prefer T2's closing statements: "If a machine, a terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can, too". That's what it's all about: the value of human life.
Technical assessment: An excellent Blu-ray in all respects, especially the picture that supports the dreary look very well.
Overall:
A fun 3.5 out of 5 stars' watch that's not to be taken too seriously.

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