Monday, August 10, 2009

Movie Monday: Terminator Salvation

Thanks for all the birthday wishes. I had a pretty good birthday, as such things go. There was brunch, a movie and frozen custard with friends, and I bought myself a new book (more on that tomorrow) and a new pair of ballet tights. I'll have to get the new leotard later, as the new dance store is huge and has a massive selection (the old store had maybe three adult leotards in the whole store), and the way leotards are, it's impossible to judge the sizes because you don't know how much they're supposed to stretch. I could have asked the store personnel for advice, but that day it seemed to be all teenage ballerina girls working there, and when you're my age (and especially on your birthday), the last thing you want is to ask teenage ballerinas to evaluate your size (that's if I could have pried them away from their conversations with each other to ask them). I may be relatively small, but I'm not ballerina small. I'll have to go back during a weekday when school starts and maybe there will be adult staff, or at least I'll have time to hit the fitting rooms and find something that works.

It was a pretty busy weekend, in general, and now I feel strangely exhausted. I'm currently trying to talk myself out of doing the errands I need to do. I could always deal with them tomorrow, right? I just kind of need a day when I don't have to go anywhere or do anything major. This is shaping up to be a "cave" day.

Because it was such a busy weekend, I didn't do a lot of movie viewing on TV. I caught part of Secondhand Lions on TBS, and that's one of those movies where if I stumble across it, I can't help but watch it. I think I may need it on DVD because it never fails to make me happy.

But I did see a movie at the theater, Terminator Salvation, and I would have to say that it was much better than I expected it to be, but not as good as it could have been. I know nothing about the behind-the-scenes creative process for the film, but I got a sense of some kind of tension between the story that wanted to be told and the story they felt like they ought to be telling. It may have been an internal struggle in one person, a struggle between two people with different creative visions, or a struggle between the moviemakers and the money people. At any rate, the real story seemed to me to focus on Marcus. He was the real hero of the film who went on the hero's journey, and that was the way the film seemed to keep trying to pull. But then it was also like some external force was telling them that this was a Terminator movie, so it was supposed to be about John Connor, and it would jerk back in that direction. There also seemed to be a sense that "Wait! We need a love interest!" so that was shoehorned in but not really developed.

But the Terminator saga isn't really about John Connor. It's about the idea of John Connor. His very existence was so energizing to the future humans that the machines wanted to eradicate his existence. He was such a compelling figure that young Kyle Reese was willing to go on what amounted to a suicide mission to protect his mother. The idea of this future heroic John Connor was a burden to young John Connor -- first in accepting that it was true at all (the second film) and then living up to that ideal even when circumstances changed and his roadmap for the future no longer worked (the third movie). We've already seen John go on his own heroic journeys as he faces up to who he is and decides what it is to be human and to be a man. We don't really need to see him go through that again.

But seeing Marcus go through it was fascinating, especially since he was going through part of it with Kyle Reese. That was the relationship that should have been at the heart of the movie -- the former death row inmate baffled by what the world has become being guided and shown what it is to really be a human being by this teenage kid who's tough enough to survive but still idealistic enough to believe it's worthwhile. I'll admit that I was leery of seeing a new version of Kyle Reese in what was essentially a prequel to the original film, especially after the TV series version made me cringe, but I think this portrayal worked because it captured the essence of what that character was. He was tough as nails and capable of being ruthless, but still young, idealistic and naive enough to fall in love with a woman in a photograph. I liked the interaction between Marcus and the kids, and I think the movie would have worked better if they'd carried that on a little longer and focused on it a little more instead of jumping back and forth with the John Connor story. The radio broadcasts could have been the presence of this mythical John Connor who was such an inspiration and encouragement. The John Connor parts of the story became paint-by-the-numbers action hero stuff. And if you're trying to get emotional engagement with people who've been fans of the whole saga, you don't need John Connor if you've got Kyle Reese.

Otherwise, there was lots of continuity callback porn for those of us who have more or less memorized at least the first movie, a great cast (there was a simultaneous blurt of "What?" from all three of us when Helena Bonham-Carter's name came up in the opening credits because that's awfully highbrow for a Terminator flick), and lots of nifty new Terminator creations. My favorite: terminator snakes that re-enact scenes from the Jaws films, great for keeping people from crossing rivers (hmm, a couple of those could solve all my swimming pool problems).

I think this one may be my second favorite of the series, behind the original film. I'm the weirdo who didn't really like the supposedly awesome second film (I own it on VHS because I got it as a gift, but I've never watched the tape. I don't think I've ever watched this movie since I saw it at the theater because it left me cold). I felt like it was more about the effects and Ahnold's star power, and I thought John Connor was an annoying little twit (which could influence my view of the John-centric storytelling). I suppose my rankings could have something to do with the fact that I'm a Kyle Reese loyalist, through and through, and I'm more prone to like a movie that features him, as long as the character feels right, and though Anton Yelchin doesn't really resemble Michael Biehn physically, the feel of the character was right.

Aha! I just read the trivia about the movie on IMDB, and apparently the early version of the script focused on just Marcus and Kyle, but they then had to beef up the role of John Connor when Christian Bale took the part. That explains a lot. And Alan Dean Foster wrote the novelization, so I may have to look for that and give it a read. I'd be curious to see Alan's take on the story. And the ending was totally changed after spoilers about it leaked (and that ending validates my theory about the theme of the series). Now I'm going to have to get the DVD when it comes out because it sounds like a lot of stuff they didn't use will be on it.

And now it seems I've managed to waste the morning, so I can justify waiting until tomorrow to run errands.

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