Film Club: Summer Blockbusters
Terminator Salvation is the Latest Hollywood Blockbuster to Open
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Film Club segment on summer blockbusters Angels and Demons and Terminator Salvation.
It's not even June and the summer blockbuster season is already in full swing. And so far it's been mostly disappointing. Wolverine kicked off the summer season with a two-hour prologue to a film that never begins; Angels and Demons served up a nice tour of Italy; and Terminator Salvation (opening May 21 throughout San Diego) improves on T3 but since that was an embarrassment to the franchise that's faint praise. The only film so far to deliver is J.J, Abrams Star Trek. But I have to confess that I always had my doubts about Terminator Salvation, mainly because McG (the man behind the Charlie's Angels films -- was set to direct. A friend of mine suggested that McG is not a director but rather someone who shows up on the set and "acts" like a director, takes on the role of being a director. I think I have to agree. It's sad when the most interesting thing about a film is the audio that leaked out of star Christian Bale's meltdown (listen to a hilarious remix) on the set when a DP moved a light while he was performing. And even that reveals that McG was a non-entity on the set. I mean can you imagine Stanley Kubrick or Martin Scorsese letting one of their actors rant like that on the set? No. They would have control on their sets.
McG does reveal an affection for the franchise that's good in making a sequel but that affection may be based solely on the fact that he sees something that he could cash in on if it works. The idea for the film is good -- look back to the time when Skynet was trying to create the type of cyborg needed to infiltrate the human resistance. So once again we are revisiting the Terminator saga to see if Skynet can kill either John Connor (Christian Bale as the leader of the human resistance) or Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin in the role originated by Michael Biehn and playing the father-to-be of John Connor). This latest film does create a fascinating new character in Marcus Wright (hunky Sam Worthington). Wright we discover is a cyborg with not only human skin but a human heart as well, and that human heart seems to have given him a human soul to boot. Wright is a machine who thinks he's human and in that conundrum is the interesting story that the film essentially misses.
What McG does deliver is a big, noisy action film with parts lifted from other films. The giant robots look borrowed from Transformers; the underwater machines recall The Matrix; the car chases look ripped off from The Road Warrior... well you get the idea. And when it all comes to an end I had the feeling I was stuck in that Groundhog Day loop where we are forever doomed to keep revisiting this time frame for additional tweaks to the past and there the future. Please can't someone put a stop to this! I think I truly gave up on the film when Connor tries to administer CPR to the cyborg. Okay I get that he had a human heart but really?
Bale, still using his Batman voice, tries to pump Connor up with testosterone, while Yelchin tries unsuccessfully to make us believe he's going to grow up into Michael Biehn. I just don't see this kid becoming Kyle Reese. Actresses Bryce Dallas Howard and Moon Bloodgood are completely wasted in supporting roles. There is no female equivalent to Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor here. Only Sam Worthington creates what you could call a real character and he receives short shrift from the script.
One other note of praise is for the late effects wizard Stan Winston, who died before Terminator Salvation was released. His work on the robotic skeletons and cyborgs is great, and it's great fun to watch. It's too bad that this looks to be his final film and the film is not up to the standard of his work.
In the end, Terminator Salvation (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language) fails because it doesn't understand what made the first Terminator by James Cameron such a success. That first film was a gritty. low-budget gem -- lean and mean. Terminator Salvation is all pumped up on testosterone and a big budget and is so muscle bound it can't move with any agility. So save your money and go rent the first one instead. And in case you are wondering, Arnold makes a "virtual" appearance and in quite younger form.
Companion viewing: Terminator, T2 (but please skip T3), The Road Warrior, The Matrix