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Terminator Salvation

Viewed: Theater

I saw the original Terminator and Terminator 2 in the theaters, but never saw Terminator 3, at all. T1 was pretty damn good — I loved it. T2 was good, too, but the ending was too much Hollywood sappy. I suspected T3 would be bad, based on the trailer, and never bothered with it.

I can’t put my finger on what pulled me into a theater to see T4. I think it had something to do with the concept of a terminator thinking it was human. Something about that idea pinged the “that might be cool” center of my brain. Sadly, Hollywood only teases that organ — it rarely delivers on the promise.

In general, the special effects in this movie are fantastic, A+ quality. But the writing — the plotting, the dialog, the thinking through — is B-movie drivel. It’s like the writers just figured the action and effects could carry the story and they didn’t need to put any real thought into how the story worked.

In Terminator 2, there was a scene where the terminator (Arnold) uses a Gatling gun on a bunch of police cars intending to scare off but not harm the humans around them. After the sustained firing, its internal computer shows “Casualties: 0.0” on its heads-up display. Now, how are casualties counted in decimal places? Could there be 2.3 casualties?

One or two “errors” like this in a movie is forgivable if the movie is otherwise decent, and the whole plot of the movie doesn’t rely on those errors. And all that error in T2 got from me was a little “heh” chuckle, and then I let it go. It was a passing, dismissible hiccup.

But T4 is chock full of errors like that, to the point that they make the whole movie stupid. For instance let’s take just one theme — fire:

[The following has spoilers.]

Several years after the nuclear devastation, L.A., (covered in rubble and ash; vacant except for two kids), still has little fires burning in the streets.

We’re told that the Hunter-Killers (essentially flying terminators) use infrared to find humans at night. A few minutes later, some main characters build a big fire out in the open for warmth.

One character sends another out to go collect “stuff to build a fire,” yet on screen at that moment, there are already three camp-sized fires burning within 30 feet of them.

And when they build the fire, for warmth, it isn’t warm enough and they need to snuggle up for body warmth.

The characters are crawling down a tunnel that gets hit with an explosion. The flames roar down the tunnel, fully engulfing the characters, but they get out of it not even singed.

And Skynet central, basically a big city run by the machines (humans are herded through the city for some never-mentioned purpose), is full of tall fire-chimneys/stacks, and random fireballs erupt from the ground. It looks like a 19th century industrial city more than a high-tech robot hub.

If any of the above items were just one or two throughout the movie, I could get over them. But these kinds of things just come rapid fire throughout the story. More (not fire themed):

While a group of humans are chatting inside an ancient gas station in the middle of the desert, they don’t hear the approach of a 50′-tall robot until its hands burst through the roof to collect them.

During a dogfight between two human-flown planes and a machine plane, John Conner was relaying specific fighting commands over a radio — with no visual connection to the action! “Take evasive action!” “Eject, eject!” This was worse than a backseat driver; imagine your spouse shouting driving directions at you over your cell phone, from 100 miles away.

A random [classic] terminator chassis (the robot under the human skin), watching over the herd of collected humans, wears a Rambo-style headband. (And I’m still wondering why the machines want living humans. The whole basis of the entire Terminator series is that the machines are trying to exterminate — TERMINATE — all human life.)

The terminator who thinks it is human has a living heart inside its robot frame. Why? And the human medics say he has a human brain. How can they tell through the steel cranium?

That human heart inside the terminator is mentioned one way or another five or six times throughout the story. Had they just mentioned the human heart once, and then ignored it the rest of the movie, it could be passed off as a minor silliness. But that human heart inside the terminator becomes the central plot point for the movie’s “climax.”

A bad terminator takes out the good terminator by punching him in that human heart. Then John Conner uses some random wiring in a factory power box to defibrillate that human heart, bringing the good terminator back to life (and full strength).

Then John Conner is stabbed in the heart. Oh no, he’s going to die!? No, of course not. The good terminator willingly donates his heart to Conner. So the docs do a heart transplant (from a robot to a human) at an open-airĀ field hospital, next to a helicopter landing zone.

Oh God, there are just so many really stupid, stupid things in this movie. One stupid thing after another. By halfway through it, I was just shaking my head wondering if I was loosing brain cells watching this thing. I told myself, “Just ignore the story and plot and dialog. Just watch the special effects for cool stuff.” But by the end I was thinking, “I could have spent two hours huffing paint and had a better time with less brain damage.”

But then, after all that mental agony from watching this movie, I heard two different people, at different times, as we were standing from our seats and then walking out of the theater, comment, “That was pretty good.”

Apparently Hollywood has it right. Throw enough special effects and action at an audience, and many will totally ignore or miss the crap writing. To enjoy Terminator Salvation, leave your brain at home. <Insert a dumb joke about needing only a heart.>


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