Thursday, June 11, 2009

'Terminator' Misses Target... at First

Terminator Salvation movie posterI knew something was off from the start. The theme song from 1984’s The Terminator had been tweaked for the previous two sequels, but nothing like this. Terminator Salvation director, McG, and his composer obliterated it. The theme song was the sole reason I tuned in to the first episode of the TV show, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. It was also the sole reason I changed the channel after five minutes, because the song was not in the show.

The new installment to the Terminator series was disappointing. I can be nitpicky, like there was too little background music during the action scenes. But the dialogue was also very weak, and the acting fairly poor. For the second straight summer, Christian Bale was outdone by his costar. Sam Worthington—is he human or something else?—was the shining star of the film, receiving as many scenes as Bale, who played humanity’s savior, John Connor.

We first saw John Connor’s character in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day as a boy played by Edward Furlong, who would later star in American History X. I couldn’t move from my couch after seeing American History X; it’s the most powerful movie I’ve ever seen.

Nick Stahl was Connor in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. He and Furlong gave Connor’s character personality. They showed fear and humor, and we felt sympathetic toward them. Christian Bale didn’t do much of anything, except speak in the deep, dark voice we know as Batman. Whether it’s Bale or McG to blame, John Connor’s character, too, was destroyed.


I was a Schwarzenegger fan as a boy, watching movies like Twins and Kindergarten Cop. It wasn’t until my dad showed me The Terminator, widely considered an all-time classic, as a teenager that I saw what my dad saw: Arnold was indestructible. We loved Arnold even more than we loved mocking him—“Get to the chopper!” “Stop whining!”—and were disappointed when he chose to give up acting for politics. There are plenty of trash politicians. There’s only one Arnold.

Terminator 3 hit theaters during my second long hospital stint in Minnesota. I was subjected to the bed more than 23 hours each day. After a couple episodes of Saved by the Bell each morning, I watched the Food Network, though I couldn’t eat anything. I couldn’t even salivate over the prepared meals because my salivary glands had stopped working.

Rarely had I ever been so helpless, lifeless. My relatives came to visit. They stayed in my room briefly and then left, sensing I wanted nothing to do with them.

The NBA playoffs had ended. Basketball is what had kept me going the previous couple months. Now I had nothing, with one exception: every night there was a different Arnold movie on TV in preparation for the upcoming Terminator release. “Arnold is the best,” my dad and I always say. That summer he was more than that.

I am surely holding the new Terminator to a higher standard. It callously breaks from the core of the original, and that really bothers me. But it redeems itself with a great ending, one worthy of calling itself Terminator Salvation, and even has a brief Arnold cameo. That doesn’t make up for the film’s failures, but maybe it will make McG recognize how to do the next one the right way. I promise you this: Terminator will be back.