Monday, July 6, 2015

Of fireworks and killer cyborgs...

Hello, everyone...'Hope you had a glorious fourth.  I always love watching the fireworks display over the Charles on the Cambridge Esplanade.

This fourth, leading up to the real fireworks over the Boston skyline, I spent the early afternoon watching some Hollywood action movie fireworks:  the latest "re-boot" of the sci-fi classic "Terminator."  The aging ex-California governor is back in his signature role as an aging terminator who travels back in time to battle his younger self.  (Time travel fiction's great, isn't it?  Every writer's dream:  You can re-write your own backstory and have a ball doing it.  Agatha Christie would have had a field day with that sort of thing, I bet.)

This version re-runs classic moments from the first two Terminator films, so we see a young Schwartzengger striding naked from the site of his lightning-wracked arrival from the future, and we see the shape-shifting liquid silver machine assassin.  This one's either a load of fun or a pain in the neck to fans of the franchise.  I guess some would complain that it's a slap-dash cut and paste, like cutting and scotch-taping Michellangelo and DaVinci.  Others might call it a creative collage that pays homage to a classic.

There are new elements, too.  Time loops within time loops have created an alternative version of history (necessary, of course, since the franchise began in the cold war, circa 1984,and their dark vision of the future didn't come true.)  In this version, a tougher, gutsier Sarah Connor teams up with craggy Arnold and newly arrived Kyle Reese.  In the original, we had a sci-fi retake on the classic theme of hero-saves-girl.  Kyle Reese, the tough, battle-hardened time-traveling warrior from the future rescues Sarah Connor, the wide-eyed ditsy waitress who couldn't believe she's destined to be the mom of the savior of humanity.  They fall in love, he dies saving her life, and in the end, the temporal twist is that Reese turns out to be the father of her unborn son, John Connor, savior of the world.  In this alternative timeline, Sarah's the street-wise savior who gets to utter the now-immortal line:  "Come with me if you want to live," and Kyle is the one who doesn't know the score and needs saving.  It seems the human survivors in the still farther future have responded to subsequent attempts by the evil computer Skynet to kill Sarah Connor when she was a child by sending the reprogrammed Terminator to that time period to protect her.  So, Arnold the terminator raises young Sarah, so she's ready for war by the time Kyle arrives, and old Arnold helps Sarah make scrap metal out of new Arnold when he arrives.  Then, they take on the shape-shifter, then they build their own time machine and jump a generation into the a headache yet?

There's also a nifty new villain.  I won't reveal his identity, but the irony's a nice touch, and the twists and turns do help make the story engaging.  There are also of course, the trademark car chases, explosions and large vehicles doing flip-flops on the  highway.  There's a free-fall scene over the Golden Gate Bridge that's breath-taking.  The action movie is a visual art form of sorts, and the producers do go the extra mile to use the "canvass" of the film creatively and beautifully.

There are other aspects of the film that seem satirical and corn-ball, and there are times when the plot seems to drag out too long.  In the final analysis, it never really goes beyond the PG-13 level; no deep existential thoughts of how machine intelligence achieves sentience or why it wants to destroy humanity.  The machine intelligence is evil, period.  Yet, strangely (and, conveniently) the protective, reprogrammed terminator has developed human-like feelings of paternal affection for Sarah, looming over Kyle like the disapproving father-in-law.  The love affair between Kyle and Sarah never happens, so the franchise seems to be moving back a grade level or two, and angling for a happy ending.  Sarah has to decide whether or not to tell Kyle that he's destined to be John Connor's dad, and more to the point, whether to let Kyle...well, you know.  (Looked to me as though he'd be lucky to get to first base with her.)

Fun as it was at times, you have to ask if a film like this is worth doing.  Homage or desecration?  Kind of like repainting the Mona Lisa with a cell phone in her hand.  Or, working Mona into a collage that juxtaposes past with present to provide artistic perspective?  It's a new take on a classic idea.  The looping of time is used artistically, though the human drama is left lacking.  It's a fun outing for the family, as it straddles the decades, sometimes with a straight face, sometimes without.

It had its good points to be sure, but like the latest "Jurassic World" film, enjoyable though it was, it raises the inevitable question:  At what point do we let the blockbuster franchises at last rest in peace and move forward with original ideas?   Ah, well.

I'll be back.

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