My Favourite Movies: The Terminator Series
OK, I’m kind of cheating here but as I watched all four films back-to-back recently it seemed reasonable to review them all at the same time too.
For those of you who have just returned from another planet or woken from a particularly deep slumber the Terminator movies (and the rather missed TV spin-off The Sarah Connor Chronicles) follows a story arc as follows: At some point in the near future – the date changes because of actions in the present – a military computer system called Skynet becomes self-aware and tries to destroy mankind by launching its missiles against Russia forcing them to retaliate against western targets. The survivors – who call the event Judgement Day – then face a new threat, machines bent on their destruction. At the point of human extinction a hero arose – John Connor – who leads the human resistance and destroys Skynet….. or does he? In its dying moments Skynet manages to send a Terminator, a killer cyborg with living tissue over a metal endoskeleton, to kill his mother Sarah before John is even born. The resistance sends a soldier, Kyle Reese, back in time to protect her which forms the first movie in the series The Terminator made in 1984 with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator (in admittedly a seminal role for him), Linda Hamilton as Sarah and Michael Biehn as Kyle. I reviewed this movie here back in September 2008 so I won’t repeat myself much, except to say that, apart from some dodgy SFX (which I guess were OK for the time) it was a pretty good and in many ways unique movie. I liked the killer robots from the future idea very much and thought that Arnie played his part very well indeed (I was a huge Arnie fan back then). Hamilton was OK in the role of Sarah but I guess she was meant to be largely out of her depth – I mean who wouldn’t be if some crazy person came up to you saying that you have been targeted for termination but a killer robot! By far my favourite character in the movie was Kyle played by the superb Michael Biehn who stole, in my opinion, every scene he was in. My favourite bits, as in all of the movies, where the scenes played in the future.
We had to wait until 1991 for the cunningly titles sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day. In it the young John Conner (Ed Furlong in his first ever film) lives with foster parents while Sarah (this time played superbly and in iconic fashion by Linda Hamilton) languishes in the
. John does not believe
in his mothers ravings about killer robots until one tries to kill him in the
Mall (Jason Patrick) and another saves him just in time (Arnold Schwarzenegger
again but this time as a ‘good’ Terminator). What follows is basically a chase
movie as the liquid metal Terminator T-1000 (Patrick) tries to kill the Connors
and Arnie tries to save them. There are some very exciting chases and a lovely
set piece at Cyberdyne Systems where Sarah and John try to put an end to the
whole Skynet issue by blowing everything up. As you might expect the SFX is
much improved although the liquid metal Terminator FX left something to be
desired from time to time. Although probably the best movie in the series it
did have some things in it that I really didn’t like. I hated the
sentimentality between Arnie and John – the whole ‘Why do you cry’ business and
most especially the puke inducing thumbs-up scene in the foundry at the end.
Totally nauseating. Pescadero Mental Hospital
In the 2003 movie Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines we learnt the Judgement Day is inevitable despite the destruction of Cyberdyne when a T-X Terminator (played very ably by the beautiful Kristanna Loken) starts killing John Conner’s lieutenants before finding Kate Brewster (impressively played by Claire Daines) who has just stumbled upon John Conner at her veterinary practice. Just in the nick of time another T-101 (Arnie again) shows up and slows the T-X down long enough for John and Kate to escape. We are then back in chase territory which, quite honestly, gets a bit silly from time to time (complete with unnecessary and annoying sound effects). In the few pauses we learn that Sarah has died of cancer – but not before she outlived the original date of Judgement Day – and that the date has merely been postponed by the Conner’s efforts in T2. The focus of which was wrongly placed on Cyberdyne when it should have been on Kate’s dad who is the head of the military research facility that is responsible for Skynet and the early Terminator machines. Racing to get to her father and avert Judgement Day (again) they arrive just too late and Skynet goes ‘live’. It’s at this point that we find out that Skynet is a ‘virus’ which has taken control of the worlds computer systems – which kind of makes the idea of smashing the machine complexes in the future kind of moot if Skynet could in effect infect any and every computer on the planet and come right back at you from anywhere, but hey, I didn’t write the fucking thing! Overall this was a pretty good movie despite it basically being a rehash of T2 with a few tweaks. At least it moved the story on to the point where the missiles flew and Judgement Day happened. Again we had nice set-pieces with the end scenes of robots moving through the research facility killing the scientists and engineers being particularly effective.
Since 1984 I had wanted them to make a film wholly based in the future after Judgement Day. In 2009 I finally got my wish with Terminator: Salvation starring Christian Bale as John Connor. I just loved the opening where the human forces, protected by A-10 anti-tank attack planes, landed in helicopters to blow up a Skynet facility. I really liked it when the skid of one helicopter landed on a damaged Terminator and Conner steps out and shoots it repeatedly in the head. Awesome! After that it got a little patchier (inevitably considering how much I had been looking forward to this movie for 25 years). By far the best thing in the film, at least for me, was the role played by Sam Worthington. We see Marcus Wright on death row being readied for execution and then, years later, emerging from the very same place that John Conner had been trying to destroy. How did he get there and why doesn’t he know about Skynet, Judgement Day and the war with the machines? Of course things are explained during the course of the movie (and quite well considering). We are also introduced to the ‘love interest’ in the form of A-10 pilot Blair Williams (played by the very eye-catching Moon Bloodgood) who takes a shine to Marcus and his ‘strong heart’. Although I still rank this as one of my favourite movies I have to say that overall I was a little disappointed with it. Conceptually it was OK. It had, as we have come to expect, very good set-piece action sequences and robotic inventiveness. I wasn’t overly impressed with Bale as Conner who, in Christian Bale fashion, looked moody and shouted a lot. I was very impressed with Sam Worthington who stole every scene he was in. I would have liked more stand-up fighting between humans and machines and I would, eventually, like to see John Connor sending Kyle Reese back to 1984 to complete the circle (or cycle) but, as Salvation didn’t do so well at the box office we’ll never see it. Oh, and I really didn’t like the ending.