Monday, 8 June 2009

A long-winded rant about Terminator: Salvation...

The first portion of this rant is spoiler-free, but about half-way through you'll find a notice warning of spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen it, you'll get fair warning of the spoilers which I've intentionally sectioned off away from the main, spoiler-free, rant, which follows immediately after this paragraph. I blogged a while back about the (at the time) new trailer (the one featuring "The Day The Whole World Went Away" by Nine Inch Nails), and how it sent me into a fanboy tailspin of confusion. You can read that post here: So, after everything - the abysmal T3, the first news of T4 (McG announced as director, the producers rambling on about how "awesome" their ad campaign was gonna be before they talked about the actual movie, and the discovery of the PG-13 rating), as well as the endless march of clips from the movie (I felt like I'd seen half of it already) - my basic, surmised opinion on T4 (or Terminator Salvation, if you really must) is "meh". Just as I'd predicted in the aforementioned post linked to above, that third trailer elevated my opinion of T4 from "franchise rape" to "decent at best" - and I stick by that. The movie, when all is said and done, is "meh". The main problem with the film, I feel, is the structure - this comes down to the script. There never seems to be a real flow throughout the movie. Characters are introduced, only to be relegated to bit-part status, or simply forgotten about for weirdly long periods of time before being foisted upon us again. The opening scene is god-awful, summarised by the truly dreadful line "so that's what death tastes like", and then all of a sudden we're thrown into the shit, Vietnam style - suddenly I'm enjoying myself and the pace has changed gear sharply - but I don't really know what's happening. I felt like I needed a moment to settle into 2018 before I joined them for a charge into enemy territory. Then throughout the rest of the movie I felt like I was at-sea, it felt like a bunch of ideas and moments loosely connected - it didn't feel tight, or especially well assembled, and it certainly wasn't up to the precise standard of James Cameron's franchise-founding T-films. Some of the ideas and moments were really enjoyable, others were groan-inducingly clunky, and towards the end of the second act I found myself suffering a yawning-fit. This reminds me - throughout the movie - even during action scenes (but mostly during "the character stuff"), there was an endless procession of the audience flocking in and out of the cinema for a piss. It got really annoying after a while; I've never seen so many bladder emergencies waltzing past the bottom of the screen before in my entire cinema-going life. Then we have the third act - which, without spoiling it to much, is essentially the third act of either T1 or T2 lifted out and plonked onto the end of T4 ... there are many moments in the third act which are visual references to the first two movies. It looks like T1 and T2, and it feels like them too. Characters-wise, let's see ... I don't understand anyone who has said that Anton Yelchin's Kyle Reese is anything like Michael Biehn's. I just sat there and I couldn't shake "Charlie Bartlett" or "that's the new Russian dude from Star Trek (which I've not seen yet)". I didn't recognise any Biehn in Yelchin's performance, so I've no idea what those who reckon there is, are thinking. It's not as bad as I was anticipating, but it doesn't set the world alight either. The invincible-mute kid with the preposterously large hair was annoyingly pointless throughout. The jet pilot chick who fancies a bit of Marcus Wright's robo-wang, is also pretty one dimensional. Common - a one-name rapper (*groan*) isn't as teeth-grindingly annoying as I thought he might be as Barnes (or whatever his name was), and indeed he's one of the better 'rap stars playing actor' appearances I've seen lately, but still - he did practically sod-all throughout except rock a beard and bark orders or be really loyal. Kate Connor is, again, a mostly pointless character. She just hangs around looking pregnant most of the time ... that or playing the role of "the only doctor available anywhere". Who else? Well, I enjoyed Michael Ironside (just because he's cool as shit, and he voices Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell videogame series), Christian Bale did a lot of grumbling, shouting and gawping but was never really challenged throughout, and Sam Worthington did a solid job as Marcus Wright ... in fact, Worthington displays the best acting in the entire movie, which is a bigger compliment than it might initially seem considering my "mostly pointless" run down of the main characters. As for the machines - I still think the "hydro-bots" are shit. Their name smacks of Transformers-rip-off, and indeed there's an incredibly similar scene in Transformers featuring the tail of Scorpion flailing around on a table. The "moto terminators" aren't as bad as I was expecting, and don't look as production designed as they did in the sketches I saw in Total Film a few months ago. The chase scene where they were really shown off was also better than I thought it might be. The Harvester (aka "the Transforminator", as I like to call it), is still a gigantic, walking Transformers rip-off. Plus I still think Skynet - a soul-less, creatively-and-artistically-void machine - would bother using so many resources to build and power that great big thing just to hoover up a few people before hopping on board a big plane-thing like a cowboy on a horse (indeed). Much better (and more efficient) would it have been to send a squad-or-two of endoskeletons to capture people - Allies VS the Germans style - before marching any people in chains onto an awaiting transporter adapted from some pre-J-Day human-made vehicle. That's what I would have done, nevermind a bloody giant resource hog ... this said, the scene was relatively brief and wasn't as bad as I was expecting (but I had been expecting pure turd for months, so...) Effects and visuals wise - fantastic - but that's not especially difficult to pull off/make look awesome. Visuals are easy enough to pull off, it's a great script that's the evasive thing (and indeed where T4 stumbles most of all - goodness knows what a mess it must have been in before Chris Nolan's brother polished it up!) The post-apocalyptic world is realised pretty much ideally (if you get past the nerdrific "surely those tyres would be flat by now" technical stuff of course), and the CGI Terminators actually work pretty damn well (not like those horrid things seen marching around briefly post-J-Day in T3). Actually, some of the Terminators (and how they were covered by the camera and editing) were quite terrifying. They really seemed like a real foe. They felt fucking mean, fucking hard-as-nails, and looked seriously cool and seriously dangerous at the same time. The T-600s, T-700s (I didn't know they existed either) and the T-800s all looked seriously good ... although I still think it's idiotic that a post-poned, T2-ending-ignoring, J-Day can somehow make Skynet produce the technology for the T-800 infiltration units faster, instead of slower/on a delayed schedule of a similar time-scale. Speaking of coverage, some of the shots in the movie were pretty damn cool (such as the whole bit at the start where JC pilots a chopper). Finally - before I get into spoiler mode - where the fuck were the track-based ground HKs?! Seriously, they put those crappy T-1's from T3 in a couple of scenes, but they completely forgot to include ANY ground-based HKs!!! What-the-fuck?! You know what - THAT would have been the idea used for one of those (or an adapted one rather) for the Harvester scene. Yeah - have an alternate ground HK act as a Terminator troop transport that just roams the landscape looking for people - then it unleashes the 'troops', they round up the flesh-bags, then call in the air transport for a quick meat-bag evac. That would have made more sense ... so seriously, why the fuck were there no ground HKs?! While I'm on it - why didn't we get any marching armies or squads of Terminators?! You can do it with CGI now, so how come we didn't get many Terminators? At times I felt a bit short-changed on T-action, I have to admit ... but when we do get endoskeletons on screen, it's pretty much guaranteed coolness. Also finally - motherfuck the 12A/PG-13 rating ... I mean goddamn arse biscuits was that lame! ... Now - it's **SPOILER TIME** - if you haven't seen the movie, don't blame me if you ignore this warning and get a bunch of details spoiled for you. ... I'll do this spoiler-ridden part as a list for ease. * Why do all the Terminators/Skynet machinery sound the same? They all have that robo-fart growl going on, some louder than others. What's with that? Sometimes it's distracting and sounds a bit-too much like the filmmakers were trying to add emotion to the emotionless, and sometimes it works quite well (making the machines scarier, or in the case of earlier models, making them sound less technically advanced ... a bit rougher). * How the fuck does nobody in that gas station hear the harvester coming from miles away? All of a sudden - boom, there it is - but the thing is a massive, weighty, loud-as-all-hell beast. Not only would you have heard it from ages away, but you would have felt it coming from miles away. * References to T1 and T2 galore (even T4 thought T3 was bollocks) - some work, some don't ... "come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back" are bone-crushingly, eye-rollingly, ham-fistedly crow-barred in, and I don't like their inclusion. JC using "You Could Be Mine" (by Guns 'n' Roses, from T2) to lure a moto-terminator was cool. 1984-style CG-Arnie was surprisingly good fun. It looked 95% convincing (better than I'd hoped), and didn't out-stay its welcome. Linda Hamilton's voice overs (in the form of those cassette tapes) mostly sounded phoned-in. It was a nice enough touch, but yeah ... phoned in pretty much. The entire third act is pretty much that of T1 and/or T2 ... it's an odd mix of fond familiarity, and T4 mission-statement-bothering re-treading. * The scene where Blair Williams (the jet pilot chick) teases the audience (and Marcus) a bit with her rained-on, tight-vest-bound boobies is neither here-nor-there. Then the following scene where a bunch of grubby individuals gather around her (i.e. threat of rape) just feels totally unnecessary. The movie is bleak enough without the cliched, obligatory "good looking chick has to be threatened with gang-rape so we can have another fight", which is exactly what they do - Marcus Wright kicks some arse and we're left wondering "really, was the threat of gang-rape really, truly, honestly necessary in this script?" * The whole voice over at the end about "there's no fate but what we make" - yeah, exactly - as in the ending of T2 where they STOPPED Judgment Day from happening, for fuck sake! T3 was based upon ignoring T2's end entirely and just shrugging it off "well actually there IS fate and you can't do shit about it", the same theory that brought about T4 ... and then T4 tries to have its cake and eat it too - proclaiming that there is no fate but what we make ... well if that's the case T3 and T4 should have never happened! There's no money but what we rinse out of a franchise, more like. * The music - didn't care for it mostly - average filler at best, and it didn't sound enough like a Terminator movie. I miss Brad Fiedel's scores so badly - especially during the opening credits where you only get the famous beats at the very end of the titles ... the titles aren't much cop either, it doesn't feel right, it doesn't feel Terminator ... it feels like Die Hard v.5 or something... * The dude who tries to climb over the fence at Skynet, but gets rinsed by a minigun-toting T-600 ... yeah, where the fuck is the blood? Oh wait, it's a fucking PG-13/12A ... it's just stupid. You hear bullets, but you see not a single drop of blood - it's just daft. * When the moto-terminators exited from the harvester's shins I just groaned - too complex, too fiddly - they're machines, they 'think' along the lines of the path of least resistance, as well as the path of most efficiency. These shin-shot moto-terminators feel far too much like a production designer smacked their head on a toilet bowl and thought they'd had a 'flux capacitor' moment...when, in fact, they hadn't. * If you know there could be hydro-bots in the water, why the fuck do you hover your chopper directly above the water?! * Helena Bonham-Skynet sucked - it should be speaking like one of those computer voice things where teenagers type swear words into a dialogue box and the computer bleepy-bloops the words out. HB-S had emotion - which is entirely wrong - it's supposed to be a computer, a machine - it should be a cold stare, bland voice, and a dead-eyed lack of any emotion. Cold, hard facts is all it should dispense. * JC restarting Wright's heart with electricity just felt silly, and why wouldn't the T-800 crush the heart and be done with it entirely? We don't really know what it did either, because it's a PG-13! * The bit where the T-800 gets covered in molten steel, hardens, gives JC the iconic scar, and then busts free again was pretty damn cool. * The opening 2018-set charge into the desert-based part of Skynet was quite good ... it felt like a war movie. That's as many points I can think of right now, and I've rambled on long enough. ... Okay, **SPOILERS FINISHED**. ... So yeah - all-in-all, it's "meh". Some parts work really well, some bits are really cool, while other parts are just bad, and other parts aren't at all convincing, thrilling, interesting or whatever. The script's lack of structure is the biggest problem, and the film feels royally neutered by the 12A rating. I was only occasionally gripped by the action - which at least provided me with adequate distraction - but I never really got sucked into the flick, unlike I did with say, Rambo, or The Dark Knight last year, or Drag Me To Hell last week. Do I need a T5? Nope. I think it's best to leave it here if you're going to go back to the present day again (which is weird, considering the filmmakers kept going on about "well we've been in the present day for three movies now, so it was time for the future") - it'd be daft to ditch a whole new world for the one we already know all over again, quite frankly. Am I ever going to get my army of marching endoskeletons? Am I ever going to get that first bit of T2 stretched out to feature-length awesomeness? Probably not ... and perhaps it's best that way.

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