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New 'Terminator' movie misses the point

May 28, 2009|By BOB GARVER / Special to The Herald-Mail

"Terminator: Salvation" is a Terminator movie made by people who misunderstand the appeal of Terminator movies. They are right to think that people are eager to enjoy a movie about a war between humans and killer robots. That is, provided the audience can identify with humans such as themselves. The humans in "Terminator: Salvation" don't have endearing personalities, which means people are going to be apathetic to their survival.

The film is the fourth installment of the "Terminator" franchise. The series revolves around a robot revolution that threatens to wipe out humanity. A human named John Connor is humanity's best chance for survival. The robots have sent evil Terminators (killer robots, usually made to look like humans) back in time to try and kill Connor at various points in his life. Humans have responded by sending humans and reprogrammed Terminators back in time to protect him.

At this point in the series, the robots have taken over most of humanity, but Connor and the rest of the human resistance are close to making a power play that will shut them down once and for all.

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The first two "Terminator" movies worked well because they took place in our world. The humans were like us, the settings were familiar, the dialogue was realistic. The twist was that the robots kept having to try to adapt and blend in (sometimes with hilarious results) in order to execute their missions inconspicuously. Of course, once their cover was blown, we got some killer action sequences.

There is a scene in the first "Terminator" movie where we get a glimpse of the world where "Terminator: Salvation" takes place. Humanity spends all its time hiding in dilapidated buildings. They take turns going out to search for supplies, often getting killed by patrolling robots. The world has become a bleak place. Human attitudes have become bleak along with it. We don't want to spend any more time here than we have to. "Terminator: Salvation" spends all its time here.

John Connor was once a fun-loving little scamp that we adored, but those days are long over. He's now played by Christian Bale, bringing his now-trademark grimness to the role. Even the movie itself doesn't think he's that interesting anymore, opting instead to focus on a character we've never seen before.

Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is a convicted murderer who was put to death in the 90s. He agreed to donate his body to "science," and is shocked to be revived early in the film. He thinks he's gotten a second chance at life, but comes to discover it's more like a life-with-an-asterisk. The asterisk could determine the future of the human race.

There are action sequences galore. Those robots, they're relentless. There are deadly motorcycles that drive themselves (cool until the humans discover that they can be neutralized just by tipping over), underwater beasts with scary tentacles, and land soldiers with bodies that resemble humans (the robots have inexplicably decided to put vulnerability points in their heads, which is exactly where a human would expect them to be).

We also get a brief appearance by the robots' "latest" model, which because of all the time jumping is also the "classic" model. You'll know him when you see him.

All the chasing, shooting, and blowing up is done in the name of saving a very dull version of humanity. Are we that interested in the characters' survival if we know that the rest of their lives are going to be spent fighting and hiding from robots? Don't fear the end of the world at the hands of evil robots. Fear that we'll get the depressing world of "Terminator: Salvation."

"Terminator: Salvation" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language. Its runtime is 130 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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