Friday, May 22, 2009

Terminator: Salvation Sucks

I’m sorry to say this but Salvation blows. The best thing to do with this movie is cut out everything, splice together a few good ILM visual effects shots, and make a heavy metal music video out of it. Slap some Buckcherry behind that shit. But otherwise, oh God, does it suck. Salvation could outsuck the Happy Hooker on a New Year’s fire sale.

Maybe I’m being unfair. I don’t think so. If you make a movie called Terminator, it’s going to be judged by Terminator standards. Compared to the high wire act of J.J. Abrams brilliantly balancing legacy Trek with his own vision, Salvation is a desecration. The director, some guy named MSG, or MCG or whatever, says he tried to return to the days when big movies were emotional. Please tell me he’s not talking about T2. No. Go away! Salvation is not related to Terminator 2. Think of this as some billionaire brat’s amateur fan video on Youtube -- that’s the only way I can reconcile Salvation with the Franchise. Just pretend this is one of those better-left-forgotten, never-really-happened, alternate timeline type of thingies.

Salvation ends with some corny voiceover slop about the human spirit vs. machines. But this movie slogs like it was directed by a machine. And I don’t mean AI, I mean an 8-bit kiosk javascript. McG thinks if you just zoom in on a little black child, that humanizes the movie. The kid’s cute. Does he have a personality? A name? No, the kid doesn’t utter a line, probably because he can’t act. That’s called writing away from a character. But to McG, cute black kid = humanity. My Mac Pro can do that. Command Line Interface:

set var cute black kid to ‘human spirit‘

McG uses a child actor as a contrived emotional prop--a script widget--but he wants to lecture SkyNET?

Big and emotional, hmmmm. How did James Cameron get away with that sappy 'thumbs up' gesture at the end of T2? (Admit it, you teared up.) It worked because Cameron had already showed us John Connor as a kid making friends with the cyborg. "Wow, my own Terminator." McG thinks you get viewers invested in a character by having him drone on about being human and second chances.

Humor? Hello? Personality? Style? Attitude? Ahnold conveyed more humanity while playing a machine than Sam Worthington playing ‘The Human Spirit’ as dull human-metal alloy Marcus Wright. Stuff like the Terminator fixing his hair in the mirror--nothing cool like that in Salvation. “Fuck you, asshole.” Now that’s what it means to be human.

I'd skip Salvation this holiday weekend. Don't be disappointed on a holiday. Go see it one night when you got nothing better to do, it does have some good ILM Transformers outtakes.

Pingbacks: KHTS Radio in California agrees with me: "This film felt as hollow and lifeless as the machines that the resistance is fighting." And I agree with Evil Monito on MSG's clumsy attempts at homage: "awkwardly placed catch phrases from the previous Terminators that try to tug on the heartstrings of old Terminator fans but end up just coming off cliché." Eric Melin from scene-stealers agrees with me that Salvation is just mashup fodder. "If the movie was just fifteen minutes long ... way up."


How does SkyNET know Kyle Reese is John Connor’s father? John never even tells Kyle.

Christian Bale is in the movie. He's better at droning than Worthington. This John Connor totally buys into his own mythology -- the guy is major megalo! (Hence Bale, perfectly cast.) Let's say its a weakness in the Terminator concept: humanity's fate depends on one man. Everybody, Sarah Connor included, buys into SkyNET's theory that without John Connor, the human resistance dies. That's machine logic! Or maybe not logic at all. It's just hearsay. Nobody ever actually asks SkyNET. Maybe it's just payback for kicking SkyNET ass in the future.

That's not Ahhh-nold. They almost fooled me. I thought, Damn, 61 years old? Ya boy has been hitting them crunches. Nah, it's computer-generated.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Geek Heaven: Star Trek Hits The Sweet Spot

First, my non-spoiler review of Star Trek. I pay a very high compliment to the producers, cast and crew of Star Trek when I say this. They get it.

They get it. Ten minutes into the movie I was in tears of happiness. Chris Pine is so Captain Kirk. That was young Mr. Spock up on that screen. That was Uhura. That was Dr. McCoy. If you were worried the young actors won't live up to these classic, canonical, mythical roles, these family members for chrissakes, forget about it. They know who they are playing. They know what it means to us. They get it. They're excellent.

I don't think this particular cinematic trick -- recreating familiar characters in backstories from their youth -- has ever been done better, or even nearly as well. In other films it has come across as cheesy and contrived.

In Godfather II, for example, we see young Vito Corleone hooking up with his future caporegimes Tessio, Clemenza & Tom Hagan for the first time. The first time the Godfather ever says, "I'll make him an offer he won't refuse", it falls flat. Not even DeNiro could make it work. In the first Star Trek movie, each character was reintro'd with some familiar riff from the original TV show (e.g., McCoy bitching about his atoms being scattered in the transporter). That whole shtick works much better this time around. So I give Star Trek five stars for living up to the Star Trek legacy-- that's the most important thing, right?

And three stars for the story and action on its own terms. The big star battles are very cool. See it on IMAX if you can, there's massive action and it all looks great. I can't imagine seeing Star Trek through the eyes of a non-trekkie, but I'd bet its still a lot of fun.

That's four stars! Go see it!

Below the pix is my spoiler review.

The weakest part of Star Trek is this idiot villain Nero from the 25th century. I'm not a continuity whore, but this small-minded dope could never rise to command a Romulan vessel. The Romulans are aggressors, vicious and arrogant, but they've never been petty or completely lacking in honor. This aptly named moron blames Ambassador Spock for the destruction of Romulus in a supernova and decides to go back in time to commit galactic genocide in revenge. He's not even charismatic, half the time you can't tell Nero from his Romulan officers. Non-descript! Non-Romulan!

Now to the good stuff. Star Trek hits the sweet spot with the ultra-Shatnerian re-enactment of the Kobyashi Maru 'no-win' training simulation. If you're hardcore like I am, this scene goes down like ectasy. We all know the story from The Wrath Of Khan, where Kirk lays out his command philosophy, and the death of Spock. Kobyashi Maru goes deep--I mean really deep--into Trek mythology. I'm biased, I'm a trekkie. I'd give Chris Pine an Oscar for one of the funniest, most delicious, and arguably most vital scenes ever in sc-fi.

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. It doesn't get any deeper in our pop culture than this--is there a deeper, more illuminating bond? There's a little continuity glitch: we never knew before that Mr. Spock programmed the Kobyashi simulation at Starfleet Academy. In Khan, Spock says he never took the training test, and seems only remotely familiar with it. That's okay. The writers tweak continuity to give us one helluva philosophical smackdown between Kirk and Spock over the deep meaning of Kobyashi Maru.

The idea here is Spock and Kirk butt heads as Academy pups but learn to respect each other. Eh. I always thought they were a match made in heaven, Spock at complete peace following Kirk's lead. In the original TV series, Spock's command abilities were suspect. In The Tholian Web, Spock in command needs help from Mr. Scott because he doesn't want to use the phasers. In All Our Yesterdays, Spock feebly submits to some twit ambassador citing Starfleet regulations. And in The Galileo 7, Spock's shuttle crew comes close to mutiny.

In this film, Spock does predictably poorly in command. It's not likely Captain Pike would leave young Spock in charge during a major crisis. But it does lead to another dramatic smackdown when Kirk has to wrest command away from Spock. So I guess a little glitch is worth it.

Actually, I don't think the writers did 'Captain' Spock justice. Spock's command shortcomings mainly had to do with his moral discomfort with killing and his difficulty relating to his illogical human officers. But Spock never lacked for boldness. This is the same Vulcan who came up with the crazy idea to 'go back in time, find humpback whales, bring them forward in time, drop them off, and hope they tell the alien probe what to do with itself.' Spock would never go, 'hey, our number one wimp priority is to re-establish communication with Starfleet' while this nut Nero is targeting Earth with Red Matter. So that's one bit of the story that could have been truer.

The Spock-Uhura as lovers thing, whoa! Double-whoa! Only a real dope would complain about continuity here. I say go for it. Get some, Mr. Spock.

Star Trek & The Machines

I watched some of the Animatrix last night on Joost. If you don't know, Animatrix is a collection of 9 hot shit animated shorts produced by the Wachowskis to expand The Matrix canon, kind of an 'Expanded Matrix Universe.' I watched 'The Second Renaissance' which tells how we ended up as a species of coppertops in the first place. The animation is hot shit, as it is with all nine Animatrix shorts--but the story was surprisingly, let's say, familiar: man makes machine, machine turns against man, machine enslaves man, man rebels against machine.

We're obsessed with this idea of computers/machines/technology taking us over: Terminator, Matrix, I, Robot. Artificial Intelligence, War Games, Vader, The Borg. Computers either enslaving us, wiping us out as a species or at the very least, dehumanizing us is obviously the biggest cliche in science fiction. What's at the root of this species-wide obsession?

Is it the Genesis archetype that we build machines in our own image? The Frankenstein archetype of man aspiring to godhead by creating life? The thermonuclear fear that we create the means of our own destruction? It's definitely something Jungian. I'm going to dig into it.

However, this does distingush Star Trek from most other science fiction myths -- fear of computers is not a major Star Trek theme.

A primal fear of technology runs through our modern mythical culture, yet there's no fear of technology anywhere in our consumer culture. In fact, I'm getting very used to tech devices waiting on me hand AND foot. I, Robot isn't that far off and I'm not complaining. Resistance isn't just futile, it's non-existent. Are we ignoring the warnings of our collective unconscious? Seems that way.

Anyway, I'm seeing Star Trek tonight in IMAX 3D. How psyched am I? Very psyched.

Check out The Animatrix:

<a href="">The Animatrix:The Second Renaissance Part I</a>

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Franchise

Hi! Welcome! This is my new science fiction blog Skynet High, dedicated to my favorite sci-fi franchises, Terminator and Star Trek. With Terminator: Salvation and Star Trek coming up next month, I have lots to blog about. And with Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles on an undeserved deathwatch ... well I'll be damned.

If Sarah Connor Chronicles is canceled by FOX--boo!--then it will be up to franchise fans to continue the Sarah Connor Chronicles off-Terminator canon. I've got my own fanfic notions on the mysteries of Cameron, just what Sarah Connor is up to out in Los Angeles right this very moment, and young John Connor's destiny in the alternate timeline.

I will be very pissed if the Star Trek movie lays a bomb--but we'll wait and see. The 'Academy Pups' theme never played very well in TNG* IMHO, for the simple reason that gifted persons who grow up to be Starfleet captains pass through a phase of acute sphincteritis when they are young -- Major Asshole Syndrome is a natural phase in a starship captain's emotional development. Remember Shinzon of Remus in Nemesis? Did you just want to slap him? Well, that's what Jean-Luc Picard was like at StarFleet Academy. And if the mature James Tiberius Kirk, tempered by time, suffered nonetheless from delusions of godhood, can you imagine the size of his ego as a young cadet?

Even so, I'm still excited about Star Trek. I'll see it on Day One. And between now and Judgment Day (May 18th Fox announces renewals), I'd advise FOX to take its cue from 43 years of Star Trek: The Franchise will never die. Terminator Forever!