Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Saving Terminator Salvation

Could they really manage to screw up this movie?

They could. And they did.

I wanted to love Terminator Salvation. And for the first 45 minutes or so, I almost did. Sure, the opening sequence with the death-row convict was a little slow and ponderous, but it was something new for a Terminator movie. Sure, the director was McG -- who apparently is so hot and happening that he doesn't even have time for a full last name, let alone a first one -- but the early-in-the-film raid on the Skynet research facility is one of the finest action sequences I've watched in years. And McG did things in single camera shots that were just pure movie-making. Throw in the Harvester raid at the ruined 7-11, and I was willing to forgive the man not only for both Charlie's Angels movies but even for that awful television show Fastlane.

Then it all just went to hell.

Bryce Dallas Howard, who practically carried The Village all by herself, is beyond wasted as Kate Connor. She gets to look worried. And concerned. And pregnant, which of course nobody in the film ever actually mentions. And that's about it.

Christian Bale, who has been so great as Batman, is like a placeholder as John Connor. He gets to look worried. And confused. He listen to tapes of his mother, and he make speeches to other survivors listening in on transistor radios that survived Judgment Day. And he gets beaten up. A lot. And that's about it.

And Skynet? Well, this version of Skynet operates with all the strategic sophistication of the AI during my last game of Space Empires 5, which gave me computer-controlled foes that built many epic, high-tech carriers yet, for some reason, never built any fighters to actually launch from those many epic, high-tech carriers. The Skynet in this movie is kind of like that. It creates several fiendish high-tech plots to throw against John Connor and the Resistance, yet somehow fails to listen in when John Connor and the Resistance discuss attack timing, offensive locations, and battle tactics on open radio channels that the rest of the Resistance hears on their transistor radios that survived Judgment Day.

I could go on (and on) about the many plot holes, and about the many events during the last half of the film that just make a reasonably intelligent person shake his head and mutter "Oh, please..." But the real flaw in this movie is that guy at the start of the clip embedded above.

That guy has better lines than John Connor.

He has better scenes than Jonn Connor.

He has a better story arc than John Connor.

Even worse, he's more interesting than John Connor.

He is, quite literally, the heart of this movie, but he is not John Connor. And when the movie is supposed to be about John Connor, yet you feel yourself getting angry each time the film shifts away from this guy so that it can focus on, say, John Connor, then you have one seriously flawed piece of film-making. Because not only did I care (a lot) about what happened to this guy, I found myself not really giving a damn (at all) about what might happen to John freakin' Connor. And in a movie about John freakin' Connor, you cannot let that happen. That's Movie Making 101.

Back in my own Hollywood days, I always regretted that my career never got moving in time for me to have a shot at rewriting Starship Troopers and The Postman. Now, I'll always regret that it ended before I had a shot at rewriting Terminator Salvation. Although I suspect too many writers, too many development notes, and too many executives and other assorted suits trying to "protect" the franchise had something to do with this disaster.

Or this half-disaster, because the first 45 minutes or so really are quite good. Which just makes everything that comes after seem even worse -- and that much sillier -- by comparison.

You'd think they could have at least thrown in an intentional laugh or two during that rather silly second half. Maybe like this...