“Terminator: Salvation” (2009)

Salvage and salvation are two fundamentally different things.

I instinctively avoid sequels, remake or prequels to my favorite childhood movies. Terminator:Salvation showed symptoms of a painful, grating experience at the theater. The key symptoms are such:

  • That this movie was directed by McG, the man to whom we owe 2 very much unneeded Charlie’s Angels movies.
  • The movie has a script riddled with holes. All inflicted by a nigh-omnipotent plot device/curse known as time-travelling.
  • The movie has a trailer that tells the story from start to finish without leaving you very little to be surprised with.
  • An apparent lack of  exercise in logic and common sense.

Terminator and Terminator 2 are some of my favorite American films I’ve grown up with because of one major thing: Arnold as a robot skeleton killing things in brutish fashions with a dollop of elegance. T3 was painfully low-key not because of reasons related to subtlety or control; it was just an utter disappointment. Both are still among my favorite dvds to watch. With that much said, let’s get to Terminator: Salvation or more conveniently referred to as T4.

You're a robot and the trailer told me so.

T4 receives the advantage of being a pole vaulter whose obstacle is a baby crib. Technically, all it had to do for me was be better than T3. Its’ real, unfortunate circumstance is the very fact that I thoroughly enjoyed T2 as a sequel and that’s the very standard it’ll be set against.

The visual itself is enjoyable, the special effects are what you’re paying that ticket for. The movie itself is shot well. The past few movies have been dominated by a black-leather, ash-covered, laser-red highlighted, steel-blue accents. It’s lucky that it’s a Terminator movie, hence it’s rightfully appropriate for it to be so at a lot of times/scenes. The special effects, though excessive, is enjoyable both in design and in motion. The inner child in me found joy in a logical mishap of cold, precise machines choosing inefficient routes to kill a few men. The famous T-800 contributes a lot to this by choosing to not have gatling guns or guns of any sort and fights our heroes with its bare fists. Last time I checked, a gatling gun fired at point blank is highly effective against soft tissue, ligaments and bones. You do have to admit seeing a skeletal robot punching and throwing the shit out of a normal human is much more riveting than a gun fight.

The intriguing evolution of efficient machines

Here is why it’s hard to take the plot seriously, which usually leads to meticulously digesting the film’s plot or established premise. The film shows giant robots that are infinitely more effective at subduing/killing humans than the T-600 or T-800 series. While I won’t exactly watch a Terminator movie without The Terminator models themselves, the movie doesn’t stay consistent with things it establishes. Especially in how the machines operate. It gets a little hard to believe that a 10-storey tall robot can sneak up on a bunch of humans in the middle of an empty field… repeatedly.

I would pay good money to see Aliens ride these HR Giger-ish bikes.

The awesome looking bike-drones establish themselves as dangerous, highly agile machines that can differentiate in 1 glance whether the target is human, an obstacle to react to or an object not worth pursuing. They even have two cool-looking little machine guns/prongs to prop themselves up from an unfavorable position. In what felt like a joke, John Connor literally baited one in its next appearance with a Guns ‘N Roses track. Not only did it fail to detect the rope, it ran into it and laid still on the ground. What’s even funnier is the fact that all that’s needed for John Connor to subdue it is a keyboard and a USB flash drive as it lays still on the ground with all the strength of a mischievous chihuahua. If it was that easy to override these things with a rope and a simple program that can be uploaded to a USB, I wonder why a legion of boy scouts or a nasty e-mail won’t at least alleviate the war between humans and machines a little. Other examples include having a giant robot that are invincible to humans deployed as mere harvesters. That’s a lot like riding a tank to go pick up groceries. Arguably, the T-1000 did set a very high bar after all.

Giant robots tend to mark the end of a fight for those who can't pilot one.

With those in mind, these robots look absolutely awesome! Michael Bay’s Transformers may have helped remind recent American mainstream filmmakers to employ giant robots. What’s gladly not shared between the two is a subtle but good attention to construction. These robots look a lot more believable than Michael Bay’s renditions which had parts looking like a collage made up of random  parts (though convincingly rendered). I entered the key words: “michael bay transformers a pile of junk” and I found fellow internet strangers who share my opinion on the look. Here’s the picture comparison provided by the site.

megatron-and-harvestorKeeping in mind of what I’ve said/ranted about, the designs for the machines were terrific. They’re my favorite machineries from recent major American blockbuster sci-fis. They’re actually memorable and functional in their own terms. I’d just prefer if they have been employed in more apt fashion or situation. Admirably the movie had highly enjoyable action sequences and scares. Adrenaline was my beverage of choice during these sequences. For those questioning as to why I think they weren’t utilized to their full extent, my answer is that they might have needed to stick to their final plot progression thus these robots all have to give way to one of the most iconic designs in Hollywood in order to keep things sacred for T and T2 (curse of being a prequel). The focus is obviously still on the time-traveling origin of John Connor. To those unfamiliar with the plot: John Connor is the future messiah of the humans, instrumental to the victory against the machines. John Connor’s  father happens to be a soldier he sent back in time to impregnate his mother. I’m not even sure of how that is plausible.

Say what?

That’s the equivalent of an embryo sending back a sample of very specific, single strand of sperm in time to conjoin a particular egg cell at the right time and ovulation cycle so that it can win wars on behalf of the world in its own time. The last person to complete a similar stunt was Jesus Christ.

Still, I love Terminator and T2 to death for how fun this anomaly of logic is. The problem (at least, for me) is when this becomes a plot focus that’s continually examined and extrapolated upon for years and years through subsequent sequels, it has the potential to dry up and lose itself some suspension of belief.

Terminator Salvation

Thankfully, part of McG’s solution to this is to cram in as much action-packed fights with sets and props supervised by the late Stan Winston and his studios. I’m a huge fan of Stan Winston and believe that his studio has done invaluable contributions to concept design during their run with James Cameron. Thankfully McG’s respectful of this and it might be the reason why a lot of these sequences are so fun to watch. A lot of the robots were physically real and CG was utilized as a makeup is by a pretty woman, instead as a complete replacement of the woman itself.

The film’s problems mainly lie in the fact that it had a certain disposition to fulfilling traditionally exciting sequences while trying to put a new spin on the time-traveling aspect of the plot. It contributed to more convolution of the effects time-travel has had on this franchise enough to make me question the plot at times. If you’re walking into a 2009 Terminator sequel/prequel expecting to get a concise, strong plot with thoughtful dialogue, the mileage definitely will vary. This franchise is obviously no Blade Runner or Ghost in The Shell.

It’s very strength lies in the fact that these robots stay true to the look established by the flashback sequences in T and T2. That alone makes it leagues above AvP movies, X-Men movie spinoffs or Transformers The Movie for me, the fact that the director and the team had enough respect to source material to update it without inserting excessive ego into the look. If you’re a fan of the visuals of the early films, this movie will not disappoint. McG is a lot more enjoyable as a popcorn director than Michael Bay. The camera work in this movie allowed you to follow what’s going on in the screen and actually highlighted the controlled detailing of the non-human characters. It seemed like this is another movie that good art direction has managed to salvage from being a complete bore.

Good day, people.

My choice of words may have led you to conclude that I’m conflicted about this movie. Here’s my affirmation for you: I’m not. This movie is a joke and was an entertaining one for me.

I walked into this movie expecting to see good visual effects, giant robots, cool sequences and my favorite skeleton robot fist-fighting. Admittedly, at cost to its depth, this movie delivered on that end (not more).

If I had the option, I’ll turn the language track to something I don’t understand, opt to not have any subtitles and just watch what’s going on in the screen.

T2, still so good, after all these years.

Posted Thursday, May 21st, 2009 under Film.

4 comments

  1. Why are movies so bad?

  2. check my last post for a good movie! i cant say this movie was entirely horrible. it’s got a stupid story but the cg effects were actually impressive and for once, it’s got good designs.

  3. the best part of Terminator Salvation had to be the visual effect (big surprise), the detail was pretty amazing

  4. Wow. That movie was really wierd. Its surprising how just a couple of people with guns can pretty much destroy the “strong hold” of robots

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