This week, we'll be re-thinking those plane tickets to...
Place: The planet Earth, post Judgment Day. And thanks to time travel, your own backyard!
People/Characters: The plucky young John Connor, the dour older John Connor, the naive young Sarah Connor, the buff and crazy older Sarah Connor, evil robots covered in human flesh, good robots covered in human flesh, robots designed for any and every purpose and/or action scene.
What Makes it Unique: A world dominated by a powerful supercomputer and its army of unstoppable Terminator robots, this future Earth is one of the most dangerous places in all of fiction to have a heartbeat. And don't think you're safe because it hasn't happened yet, because these robots be a time jumpin' all over the place!
Verdict: I would revisit it. Barely.
Reason: Yeah, I saw Terminator Salvation, too. Yeah, I wasn't particularly fond of it. I agree that it felt creatively bankrupt and looked like a dead end for one of the most iconic science fiction franchises of all time. Yep, I left the theater thinking that the Terminator series was pretty much dead in the water or stalled on an ice pond or on a plane with John Locke or whatever other metaphors for a bad situation you want to throw out.
But I've given this some thought. A great deal of nerdy, unhealthy thought. I may have even mentioned this before in another post, but it was probably buried in a piece about the Terminator rights being picked up by a hedge fund that no one read, so here we go again.
There is plenty of greatness to be mined out of this series if they go back to the roots; to what made this series so damn good in the first place.
Everyone knows that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the best in the series, right? Nope. That's incorrect. The real best film in the series is the first one; a raw, disturbing and kinetic action film that operates on a small scale but deals with massive implications. It doesn't get bogged down in the hypocritical philosophizing of Judgment Day, it doesn't reduce itself to a goofy action blockbuster like Rise of the Machines and it's entire budget couldn't pay for the catering on the overindulgent, self-important, overly bombastic Salvation. It's lean, it's mean, and most importantly, it's scary.
You see, that's what The Terminator does better than every other science fiction actioneer ever made. The concept of being pursued by an unstoppable robot and having your life torn away from you, of living in a world where you spend every day fighting machines the size of a skyscraper and every night gripped in nightmares, is frightening. But tons of CGI is not scary. Epic battles are not scary. Motorcycle robots that you can kill with relative ease in your truck chase are not scary.
Taking cover behind a corner, holding your breath, not moving, trying to overcome your urge to flee as you hear the thing that looks like a man, but isn't, getting closer. Emotionless, without pity, programmed only to take your life. That's scary. Kyle Reese makes it pretty clear to Sarah Connor just how much fear these machines strike into the heart of the resistance fighters. Bring that fear back to the series.
So you're worried that your $200 million robot action movie didn't make its money back? Then make a dirty, gritty and intense $20 million robot action movie with one or two people on the run through a ruined world with an unkillable, time traveling robot on their tails. The Terminator name will make your money back. And you'll have a better movie.
And you'll prove that the Terminator series has life in it yet.