Aliens

From Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking 1979 horror classic spawned one of the most interesting and popular sequels of all time, helmed by a pre-king-of-the-world James Cameron.  His 1985 follow-up to ‘Alien’ would take moviegoers out of the horrific confinement of the Nastromo spaceship and into the futuristic mining colony set up on LV-426, the original site of the previous attack from the first film.

Sigourney Weaver returns as Ellen Ripley, 57 years following her escape from a ravenous acid-for-blood monster that wiped out her crew.  She awakens in a hospital where she is informed of the life she lost floating in space over a span of six decades. Her daughter died only a few years before Ripley’s lifeboat was discovered.  What to do now?  The government wants to suspend her pilot’s license and label her a crazy person for blowing up her crew’s starship from the first “Alien” film as no evidence of the creature could be found on Planet LV-426.  Ripley is then made aware that a human colony of over 60 families have been living on the planet with no report of any ‘hostile organism.’  Soon, however, the agency loses contact with LV-426, and through an odd contrivance in the plot, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) is enlisted to request Ripley’s presence as an advisor to an elite group of hardcore colonial marines.   Ripley decides to face her greatest nightmare and join the band of soldiers sent to investigate the planet.

James Cameron, coming off his moderate success of “The Terminator,” took a great leap in converting the heralded and respected 1979 horror film “Alien,” and spinning the continuing story of Ellen Ripley into a beefed-up grunt of an action picture.  The results are beyond impressive, even for its time roughly 25 years ago.  While Fox Studios and other filmmakers may have simply wanted to immitate what Ridley Scott’s film did, Cameron wanted to expand the horizon of Ripley’s chararacter. Of course he’s always been fascinated with the strength of female heroines (see Sarah Connor in ‘Terminator 2′ or Neytiri in ‘Avatar’).  This makes an ideal match for the Ellen Ripley character, played incredibly by Sigourney Weaver (in an Oscar-nominated performance), and the action-heroine she becomes.  In some ways, “Aliens” represents the pinnacle of scale and intensity of all of Cameron’s resume.  Sure, he has ‘T2′, ‘True Lies’, ‘Titanic’ and now ‘Avatar’ to his credit.  Those films each had at least $100 million thrown at them.  But with ‘Aliens,’ budgeted at $15 million dollars, the particular way the film is shot, to the believablilty of the animatronics used (still the best looking of any ‘Alien’ film to date), and to the film’s epic score by James Horner, you would predict the film (despite its grungy aesthetic) cost three times that amount.

While the man has seen enough praise in his life to become so self-impressed, the credit has to go to Cameron and his abilities to craft a film, at least in terms of scale.  Sure, his screenplays have raised eyebrows here and there for their simplicity, but critics seem to forget that he likes to make mainstream action pictures.  In many ways, while each of the man’s films go for broke every time and he continually tries to top every film he makes in terms of scale, he’s never out of his element.  There’s something to be said about a filmmaker who is passionate about ‘what can be done’ in movies as opposed to ‘what can be written.’  While Cameron may be simplistic in nature in terms of character and theme, his movies have mass appeal, and ‘Aliens’ is no exception.

The film is filled with a fully-designed and realized world of Planet LV-426.  From the marines’ attire and weapons, to the looming darkness and staleness of the mining colony, this movie definitely has grand set pieces and an unsettling atmosphere.  The creatures are barely seen until the final battle between Ripley and the Queen alien.  That’s the way it should be.  Every shot of these creatures impresses and scares.  There’s a great scene where the aliens first make their appearance.  The marines are searching for missing colonists and enter a piece of the infrastructure where the creatures have ‘redecorated.’  Soon enough the aliens start to come out of the walls and pick off each of the marines.  Why is this scene and others like it so effective?  Because we see just enough to keep us enthralled and in a state of wonder.  We are also enthralled by Stan Winston’s animatronic designs, puttetry and creature costumes.  With an actual physical entity in camera, the creatures have never looked better, and probably never will.  Future ‘Alien’ films would suffer from trashy CGI creations, especially the 1992 sequel ‘Alien3.’

As mentioned earlier, despite entertaining characters from Cameron regulars Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein, it is Sigourney Weaver’s powerful performance as a tougher Ripley than seen in 1979 that carries the movie.  While most 80s films would feature a Schwarzenegger or Stallone taking on these monsters, a female character manages to oust her fellow male marine counterparts and take on several beasts, including a macho mano-a-mano dual with the Queen monster.  Luckily, Cameron lets Weaver be more than just a female Rambo.  His story gives her a drive to face these monsters and also protect a young colonist girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), reminiscent of her own deceased daughter.  Weaver manages to make a believable transition from distressed space pilot in ‘Alien’ to machine-gun-toting large-scale exterminator here.  Cameron would later use this kind of transition for his Sarah Connor character in ‘Terminator 2,’ and again with Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘True Lies.’

At the end of the day, ‘Aliens’ is quite simply one of the best sequels ever made.  It’s an impressive-looking movie featuring a powerful dramatic musical score, great visuals, hardcore action, intense thrills, a dash of humor, memorable characters, and genuine emotion.  Sequel or not, this one of my personal favorites.

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The Futurist (Book Review)

The FuturistJames Cameron has had one of the most storied careers in Hollywood:  from working-class Canadian roots to the creation of film icons like the T-800, and to the pinnacle of box office success with both Titanic and Avatar, Cameron has consistently captured the imaginations of audiences across the world with his stunningly-realized visions of the world.  Even though his directorial catalog includes less than a dozen movies, nearly every one of his films has pushed the limits of filmmaking as FX houses and creature studios have struggled to keep pace with Cameron’s wild imagination.  Always looking to the cutting edge of technology for his movies, Cameron has also infused his creations with visions of the future of humanity and allegorical tales of what we could become should certain paths continue to be taken.  It through this lens that Rebecca Keegan views the director in her book “The Futurist,” as she weaves an absolutely compelling personal biography with behind-the-scenes glimpses at each of Cameron’s films, including the underwater documentaries he directed following the release of Titanic.  A futurist is someone who, quite simply, speculates about the future.  And James Cameron, argues Keegan, fits the bill perfectly.  Having recently finished the book, and gone back to re-read various portions as well, I was impressed with how thoroughly Keegan documented so many aspects of the filmmaker’s life, from his personal life to his directoral persona, and left virtually no stone unturned in her quest to delve into the mind of a true futurist of our time.

Far from a gossip piece, though, The Futurist is simply an examination of Cameron’s life from the perspective of someone who wants to know just what it is that makes this man tick.  Keegan begins clear back with Cameron’s great-great-great-grandfather, the member of a prominent Scottish clan, and illustrates how his free-thinking spirit and alpha-male tendencies ultimately, generations later, helped shape the man who brought us such celluloid classics like Terminator and Titanic.

James Cameron

Cameron involves himself in every aspect of his films, from concept art to cinematography and even the editor's chair.

I appreciated this perspective, and even though some might find it a bit silly to go that far back in a man’s ancestry, it seemed wholly appropriate to provide a type of long-term context for understanding who Cameron is.  The first chapter is mostly focused on his childhood and early adult life,  and details the experiences with his four younger siblings and neighbors that built up his creative spirit and fiercely competitive tendencies.  Growing up in Canada provided ample opportunities to study nature and test personal limits, and living near a creek helped inspire some of the watery sequences in The Abyss.  Between Cameron’s boredom with school studies, enthusiasm for home movies, and adventurous outdoors spirit, it’s easy to see how these times helped shape one of Hollywood’s most ambitious directors.

For the rest of the book each chapter focuses on one of Cameron’s films, with the exception of Titanic, which pulls double duty.  Since there are only a handful of movies in his resume, the amount of information is not only manageable but fairly in-depth too.  But only to a point, as some chapters could have easily been lengthened and still been just as engaging.  Through interviews with Cameron as well as myriad individuals who have shaped and influence him over the years, including Kathryn Bigelow, Roger Corman, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, Jon Landau, and yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger and even Bill Paxton, Keegan paints a vivid portrait of a perfectionist who not only strives to continually push himself to the limits, but often everyone around him as well.  The chapter on the making of The Abyss was particularly insightful, as the behind-the-scenes drama in creating the harrowing underwater sequences were filled with far more tension and drama than the story that plays out on screen.  But such is the norm for Cameron and his crews–always going over budget, pushing the physical and technological limits of moviemaking, and producing world-class blockbusters in the process.

Virtually all aspects of Cameron’s life are laid bare, and presented almost as black-and-white as storyboard cutouts.  From his childhood, to his relationships with his parents, siblings, wives, and children, to his commanding presence on movie sets, to friendships with the most powerful individuals in Hollywood, we see into all facets of his complex persona.  Indeed, it is also testament to the character of Cameron that he gave Keegan such personal access to his own life and let the good be told along with the bad.  But instead of taking the cheap way out and crafting a tabloid exposè, Keegan describes the events that led to the creation of Cameron’s films, the failed romantic relationships that have led to three divorces, and the fierce loyalty exhibited by several of his longtime collaborators.  From his intimidating tenacity on set to his personal challenges like diving thousands of feet in tiny submersibles to explore shipwrecks, Cameron is never one to settle for second-best, and vigorously pursues any goal he sets his sights on.  Thankfully, Keegan clearly had a similar work ethic when compiling this book, and her gift for research is matched only by her ability to tell an engaging story.

James Cameron Academy Awards

The king of the world. Don't believe him? Just ask him--he'll tell you.

Cameron often looks to the future not only with respect to technological advances in moviemaking such as the groundbreaking visual effects in The Abyss which were further refined in Terminator 2, or the 3D camera system with which he filmed Avatar, but also with the portrayal of future scenarios in his movies.  The marine exo-suits in Aliens, the over-reliance on technology (which could lead to disastrous results) in the Terminator movies, the looming threat of nuclear warfare, and even an earth which has literally run out of natural resources in Avatar, are all very real-life scenarios that are playing out on the world stage today.  In one particularly interesting anecdote, Keegan offers a snippet from Cameron in his early days of moviemaking in which he predicted, with astounding accuracy, a future in which surveillance from government and private organizations would literally be everywhere–a scenario which is all too true today.  And it should also be noted that Cameron, in creating one of the first female action heroes, saw a future in which women were no longer second class citizens, even in areas typically dominated by men.

As a long-time fan of Cameron’s movies, particularly Terminator 2 and the oft-maligned True lies, I found The Futurist to be wonderfully insightful and thoroughly enjoyable.  At just under 300 pages, its only fault is its length–each chapter could be a book in its own right, and I often finished a chapter wishing for much more.  I try to only buy DVDs that have commentary tracks, as I find the thoughts of directors, actors, and film crews extraordinarily insightful, and The Futurist is a brilliant commentary track on the life of one of the great filmmakers of our time.  An outstanding read.

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Demolition Man

Demolition ManSome bad movies are guilty pleasures, and some are just bad.  Demolition Man, unfortunately, lands with a resounding thud squarely in the latter category.  Despite so many elements that could have worked in its favor, the movie ultimately falls apart due in no small part to a woefully convoluted, meandering script combined with some incredibly bad acting. Now, I enjoy me some brainless action movies, but sometimes I come across one that is just too awful to recommend to anyone.  And even though I had high hopes for Demolition Man to be, at the very least, enjoyable or fun if only for its value as mindless entertainment, it turned out to be so terrible that only a good Deathstalkering could save it.  Oh Mike, Crow, Tom Servo…where art thou when I need thee?

The opening fifteen minutes of the movie are a paint-by-numbers of action movie cliches, but True Lies this is not.  Demolition Man actually seems to take itself seriously, even as Sylvester Stallone, playing John *cough* Spartan, rappels from a helicopter into a building where insane evil mastermind Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is holed up with a couple dozen hostages.  And like a checklist, the action movie cliches begin to pile up like the bodies of evil henchmen:  Spartan the loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules, thinking Phoenix is bluffing about having hostages in the building, fights through hordes of expendable bad guys, meets and spars with Phoenix, accidentally starts the building on fire, and runs down a hallway while the whole place explodes around him.  Having taken Phoenix into custody, Spartan finds out that the hostages (why had Spartan kidnapped them?  What were his demands?  What was he trying to accomplish?  Such things matter not to director Marco Brambilla.) were in fact in the building and he now responsible for the death of over 30 innocent people.

John Spartan

John Spartan, the Demolition Man. Subtle this movie most certainly is not.

The only fitting punishment for Phoenix?  Freeze him!  That way he can be rehabilitated over the next 70 years by machines that say really nice things to frozen dudes for decades on end so they will mellow out and be able to re-enter society free from violent tendencies.  Conveniently, this is also the best way to deal with Spartan–the movie’s namesake–because, you know, his totally unorthodox methods of fighting crime get lots of stuff blowed up.  But gosh darn it, 30 years into Phoenix’s rehabilitation, something goes wrong and he is accidentally unfrozen!  He begins to wreak havock on Future Los Angeles, a place where violence has been virtually eliminated and the police, grown soft after not fighting crime for decades, have no idea how to deal with an Insane Criminal Mastermind.  The solution?  Thaw out John Spartan, of course!

The ridiculous plot only gets worse from there on out, as the movie wanders from being a paper-thin exploration of how people can become so dependent on technology that we risk losing what makes us human to an all-out ‘splosion fest in various Future Locales.  In Future World, physical touch is considered taboo so people experience pleasure by wearing virtual-reality helmets.  Cursing is outlawed and individuals are fined “one credit” for each instance (an insufferable joke that overstays its welcome almost immediately).  But this James Cameron-esque attempt to add a bit of depth only results in a handful of awkward scenes that do not advance the plot and only serve to create an uneven pacing throughout the film.  Even the barest attempt at developing a relationship between Spartan and Lt. Lenina Huxley is forced and entirely unbelievable.

Simon Phoenix

Somebody forgot to tell Wesley Snipes that yellow hair and blue overalls are the opposite of intimidating.

And so what we have left is a film that is one poorly-staged shootout after another between the well-nigh invincible John Spartan and his nemesis Simon Phoenix, the stark-raving-mad evil genius computer hacker (not kidding) with Kung Fu skillz.  And even this silly premise might not be such a bad movie were it properly directed, but every fight or shootout is so poorly blocked and mindlessly executed that it looks as though you’re watching a ninth-grade home video project.  After a shootout in a museum, Spartan is chasing Phoenix across a clearing when his quarry jumps down an embankment…and Spartan just stops running.  It’s as though writer Peter Lenkov didn’t know how to end the scene, so he just, well, ended it. Even worse, the climax has Stallone swaying slowly back and forth on a giant mechanical arm in the freezing chamber while Snipes laughs like an Evil Maniac and unloads clip after clip while hitting everything in the room but Stallone.  It’s madness, I tell you.  Madness.

In short?  You know a movie is terrible when the best thing about it is a Rob Schneider cameo.  And Demolition Man is that movie.

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Avatar (Take-Two)

Avatar is not a movie.  It is an experience.  It is a thoroughly engrossing cinematic wonder, mighty and powerful to behold as it grips you with images and sights too incredible to believe, while simultaneously touching you with a tender story that is, at its most basic level, a simple tale of star-crossed love–the kind of tale which has been told for generations upon generations and is as old as time itself.  Avatar is a technological marvel, while thoroughly obliterating the barrier between technology and reality.  Avatar is a film unlike any I have ever seen.

Perhaps it’s the adrenaline talking here, as I left the theatre not more than a half hour ago, and am still trying to process just what it was that I saw.  Perhaps it’s my admiration for James Cameron.  Perhaps it’s my inner sci-fi fanboy being set loose once again–the same force that caused me to go see The Phantom Menace more than ten times in the theatre, just because it was Star Wars.  Or perhaps, perhaps, Avatar really is that good.

Before discussing the storyline, I have to first deal with the planet itself.  All the action of Avatar takes place on Pandora, a world far from here that is a mixture of ecologies unlike anything seen in film or art.  To call it a jungle would be like saying the Mona Lisa is just some painting.  Pandora is as rich and full of life as any locale here on earth, and is inhabited by animals, trees, and human-like beings so realistic there is literally nothing to distinguish them from any of the visual elements of the movie that actually are real.  This is computer-generated imagery the likes of which has not been seen.  Ever. If Weta Digital’s creation of a thoroughly realistic Gollum was a foot in the door, showing us what was possible with computer graphics, the world and creatures of Pandora take that door and blow it to kingdom come.

Jake Sully and Col. Miles Quatrich examine the village the Na'Vi call home.

After this, anything is possible.

To be clear:  every frame, every single frame, of what I saw onscreen last night displayed more life, depth, and richness than what I thought was possible in any given movie as a whole.  I don’t know how James Cameron thought of this world, but he serves up vistas so grand and stunning, supported by creatures so fair and delicate (the floating “seeds” that come down from one special tree are exquisite wisps of life that look so real you will try to reach out and touch them), that it feels as if you aren’t watching a movie, but living right alongside the Na’Vi as they explore the planet of Pandora.

If one could level any criticisms at Avatar, it would be for the fairly lightweight story:  humans = bad, native peoples = good.  Humans want a precious mineral that resides underneath the Na’Vi’s main village, they must either convince them to leave or force them to leave.  Since the humans are mostly a military bunch, headed by a greedy corporate honcho and a trigger-happy Marine commander, and since this is also a James Cameron movie, it’s a foregone conclusion from the get-go that the two forces will end up battling each other rather than just talking their way out of the mess.  But rather than say the story is simplistic, I would describe it as simply uncomplicated.  No labyrinthine plotlines or story mechanisms are required here:  Cameron simply asks us to watch as he lets his world unfold before our eyes, to see marine Jake Sully fall in love with Neytiri, the Na’Vi who helps Sully’s avatar learn the ways of her people.

Sully's avatar experiences the floating seeds of Pandora.

Some movies are fun to see in a theatre because of the loud volume, big screen, and excitement of the crowd.  Avatar is a film that must be experienced in a theatre, especially one that has a 3D projector.  Cameron uses the third dimension to eliminate any last vestige of reserve that might exist in the viewer’s mind that this world is imaginary.  There are no cheap gimmicks here, or things flying at the viewer just for the sake of doing it in 3D.  No, the 3D element renders the movie completely, utterly immersive.  A believable depth of field surrounds the viewer, and everything from smoke and dust particles to missiles exploding and trees collapsing takes place in all three dimensions.  The best special effects, like the best seasoning on a meal, are the ones that are so good the viewer doesn’t even notice them or single them out as effects.  Cameron’s use of 3D is so elemental to Avatar that you forget it’s there, and become completely enveloped in the experience of it all.

Children enjoy fairy tales partly because they like to entertain the possibility that such fantastical worlds of dragons, fairy godmothers, and magical wizards could really exist.  Avatar is a fairy tale come to life, and James Cameron invites his viewers to return to their childhood imaginations and believe, for two and a half hours, that the world of Pandora really exists.  And when I stepped out of the theatre, I was almost convinced it was actually real.

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Avatar

‘King of the World’ James Cameron rises back from the depths of the sea after his “Titanic” success twelve years ago to deliver one of the most epic films of all time with “Avatar.”

Let’s get the main two questions out of the way: Is it a good movie?  Heck yes.  Is it a game-changing film that will transform movies forever? Well, possibly.  But can any film really do that?  On a technical level, movies can always advance special effects and what can be accomplished as far as the limits of imagination and reality go.  And to its credit, Cameron’s imagination graces every expensive frame of this movie to an unbelievably believable effect.

I’ve heard much complaining about the simplicity and cliche of his storyline.  I’m at a loss to understanding the reasoning of such complaints.  ‘Avatar’ presents a classic Pocahontas narrative.  In 2154, the American government dispatches a high-tech military unit to ransack the planet of Pandora in an effort to obtain a valuable mineral deposit.  The problem?  An indigenous race of humanoid Na’vi warriors (standing over twice the size of a human) refuse to relocate and give up the forests of their planet for human greed.  The plan?  American scientists are utilized to understand the Na’vi and negotiate a compromise.  After one of the scientists is killed in action, his twin marine brother, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation) arrives to replace him and operate a genetically-engineered and remote-controlled avatar of a Na’vi that will infiltrate their race.  The expected happens when Jake soon loses his militaristic ideals, becomes one with their race, and falls for his Na’vi counterpart, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek).

Call the plot cliche or predictable, but I found it to be the perfect setup for Cameron’s world.  Never once does the audience not know where the story is headed, but never once do they know what this incredible director will show us next.  The very world he creates rivals any other cinematic achievement in history to date.  Witnessing the incredible design of the creatures inhabiting Pandora generated serious awe for me, as they felt authentic and extremely realistic.  Even on the human side of things–all of the military equipment: the helicopters, weaponry, and human-operated tank-bots stand as incredible accomplishments in design.  Cameron has pronounced every detail of his endless visionary world.  And I haven’t even mention the 3D factor.

This is, above all things considered, the most profound and immersing use of 3D to date.  It really opens up Pandora and allows you to enter its universe.  I can’t stress enough the level of detail utilized in the film, and the 3D really eliminates all the barriers from receiving a truly monumental movie experience.  Whether or not the movie will play as well at home remains to be seen.  Even without the third-dimension factor, the visual effects still top anything Michael Bay threw at the screen this year.  The motion-capture used to create the Na’vi characters works tremendously well in capturing authentic expression and emotion.  You can actually see the faces of Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, and Zoe Saldana under the layers of computer-animation.  How this was all accomplished is way beyond me, but Cameron fails to let us down after all the hype surrounding the technology he furthered to create his vision.

James Cameron may not be a storytelling genius, but the man knows what works, and he consistently tackles all of his projects with huge success and accomplishment.  ‘The Terminator,’ ‘Aliens’, ‘The Abyss,’ ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day,’ ‘True Lies’ and ‘Titanic’ (all among my favorite films) pushed the limits of filmmaking and what could be done with their budgets.  Luckily, Cameron doesn’t puke throwaway spectacle all over the screen.  He delivers something special and memorable with characters you care about and themes that are universal.  “Avatar” continues his streak as a filmmaking pioneer pushing the boundaries of technology to show audiences the limitless potential of the imagination.  This is certainly one of the best films of 2009, and one of the great movie-going experiences of all time.  Get up out of your chair, head to the multiplex, purchase a big tub of popcorn, and witness this incredible film in all its 3D glory.

-MJV & the Movies

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Terminator Salvation

As my uncle and I were walking out of the theatre after seeing T4, I turned to him and said “That was a good movie. Not necessarily a good Terminator movie, but still pretty good.”  A guy walking past heard this brief exchange, and he turned to me and asked what movie we were discussing.  “The new Terminator,” I told him.  He paused, thought for a minute, and replied “Yeah, I think I’ll just rent it when it comes out on video.”

Terminator Salvation

My anticipation level for T4 in the months leading up to its release was nearly palpable.  I had watched the trailers many times, read all the pre-release interviews, checked out any pics and clips I could get my hands on, and re-watched the original three.  But when Terminator Salvation finally came out, and was met with mixed reviews, I didn’t quite get it.  I know trailers are rarely representative of the final product, but after everything I had seen and read I didn’t see how McG could screw this up.  I mean, sure, he had directed Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, but given the richness of the Terminator universe, and the amount of talent at his disposal, surely he would not disappoint here.  Unfortunately, I did not get to see T4 for a while, but in the meantime my wife and I did get the opportunity to watch We Are Marshall, a competently directed by-the-numbers inspirational sports movie, and my hopes for T4 remained high despite the somewhat negative criticism that was being leveled against it.

To be clear, this is not a movie about terminators–not in the classic sense that we all know them by now.  The first three films have followed an entertaining but predictable premise:  A gets sent back in time to kill B.  C gets sent back in time to protect B.  C is not as powerful as A.  Cue battles, explosions, and ruminations on the human condition.  Terminator Salvation has no time travel, and the entire movie takes place in the future after the infamous, but always impending, Judgement Day of the first three.  It’s more like Mad Max than Terminator, and herein lies the crux of the matter:  as long as you aren’t expecting another retread of James Cameron’s original premise, this is a very enjoyable action movie.

The many explosive action set pieces lend an epic sense to T4 that was sorely missing in T3, and the deserted wastelands of the western coast really give a sense that this is a world without hope, consisting of scattered bands of humans struggling to survive.  In fact, we see that humanity is not entirely united in its fight against the machines, and some groups are content to stay underground and exist in fear.  I rather enjoyed this larger take on our futuristic counterparts, as it shows some depth to the Terminator universe that I had previously not considered.  Much of the movie is about Marcus Wright, rather than the famous John Connor, and this is where things in the script department start to get a little derailed.

For years we have been hearing about the great leader John Connor.  Even before he was onscreen we heard about him in the original Terminator.  In T2 he was a petulant upstart with a whole lot of potential for channeling his angst into world-saving charisma.  T3 showed a JC who was more like the whiny Anakin Skywalker of Episode II, but ended with the seeds of humanity’s savior finally beginning to take root.  In T4, our fabled hero is nowhere to be found for much of the movie.  Instead we are treated to another petulant upstart, a survivalist woman who thinks she is in a Resident Evil movie, and a young girl who cannot talk (can anyone say Newt?).  Connor does get to bust some robotic heads near the end, but this movie takes so many departures on its way to the climax (which, in essence, leaves everyone no better off than they were at the beginning, and very little has actually changed or happened) that it’s somewhat of a letdown.  Sam Worthington’s performance as Marcus Wright is outstanding, and I wholeheartedly welcome him into the Terminator timeline.  Kudos also to Chckov Anton Yelchin who does a pretty darn good job as Kyle Reese.

Still, it has to be said that Terminator Salvation is exhilarating, entertaining, and a whole lot of fun to watch.  Just know that it’s not quite the T4 we were all expecting.

On a side note, any time a post-apocalyptic movie has a cast with gleaming white teeth and lip gloss, the immersive quality is immediately reduced to near-zero (see also:  Matrix 2 and 3).

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