Friday, January 18, 2008

Terminator on TV

So Friday night I watched the pilot of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. (Beware any college-kids reading this.... eventually you, too, will not feel like going out on a cold and rainy Friday, staying in for a meal of tuna melts and apples).

Folks who've known The League for a while will know The League is a big, big fan of the first two Terminator movies (but not so much the third in the series). It falls squarely in with the high-budget sci-fi action flicks that were a huge part of The League's youth.

And, honestly, I kinda liked Terminator 2 more than Terminator. Tracking further back, when I was in middle school and high school I was a pretty-darn big fan of anything Arnie put out. There was a time when the only Arnie movie I hadn't seen was "Kindergarten Cop" (I'd watched a good chunk of "Hercules in New York" on basic cable). T2 had a bigger budget, more explosions, and the kick-ass performance of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Add in what were, at the time, unbelievable new CGI effects.

I was deeply skeptical of anyone taking the place of Linda Hamilton. In Terminator, Cameron had given us the glimpses of the female action hero that was not part of the usual American film scene. We'd get an occasional Princess Leia, but by and large, it was still up to the male lead to save the day. In T1, Hamilton still played the damsel in distress to Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese. In "Aliens", Cameron gave us Sigourney Weaver as the full-blown action heroine who might get some side-kicky type help from Michael Biehn, but who is fine on her own. This all paved the way for T2, in which we got a shotgun-toting, face-punching Linda Hamilton who only grudgingly accepts the help of the new Connor-friendly Terminator. This was all awesome, and I have graphs and charts to prove it.

Less awesome was T3, despite the inclusion of Claire Danes. The only thing to like in T3, really, was the obvious conclusion that SkyNet was not a single system, but a software system which had gone all self-aware and virus-y haywire.

The TV show's pilot (I've not yet watched the second episode) seemed to pick up after T2, rather than acknowledging T3 in any way. And that's okay. SPOILER ALET: Sarah Connor was supposed to be dead of leukemia before the start of T3. Something I never bought, although it provided a reasonable explanation of why they wouldn't bring Hamilton back while propelling John Connor forward as the protagonist in the franchise.

But,as the producers are aware, it's not John Connor who is the star of the Terminator franchise, its Sarah Connor. Terminator is not about the war of the future, its about trying to stop the war from ever happening.

Lena Headey takes the role of Sarah Connor, and, judging from the pilot, she will be able to fill the boots Linda cobbled herself back when I was in high school. Headey's toughness in teh role may not come as a surprise to those wh saw her in 300 as Queen Gorgo, but her role here is a bit more direct.

ChronSnob calls into question the age of Headey, but the show does state, flat out, that Connor is 33, the same age as Headey. However, with a 15 year-old son, I'm not sure how that manages the continuity of the first two movies. Certainly Hamilton was never supposed to be a teenager in T1?

Thomas Dekker's young John Connor never feels like the mouthy, semi-precocious brat that Edward Furlong seemed to portray in T2. Nor does he come off with the Andy Rooney-with-an-edge that Nick Stahl brought to T3. He seems like an overwhlemed kid, understanding of his situation but still trying to avoid his destiny.

The buzz will probably be around Summer Glau, who sci-fi dorks will remember as Rain from Firely and Serenity. Poised as a Lady Robot of Interest for both the fanbase and John Connor, Glau plays Cameron (yeah, they went there), a Terminator sent from the future with a bit more of a plan than "Save John Connor".

Pity Glau, for she is about to become the subject of many-a-nerds' rich make-believe love life.

What will surely drive sci-fi fans and lovers of logic insane is that the show seems precepted on the idea that the future is fluid. I am sure the time travel elements of the show will be handled with varying degress of logic and competence. But its hard to see how the future timeline of a war with robots can be erased unless someone with knowledge of that war is sent back to stop it. Which, of course, means that the eprson from the future would have no knowledge of the war and would have no need to travel back in time.

So you see where I'm going with this.

The actual feel of the pilot was very, very close to the first two movies (I actually kind of thought the third movie felt a bit like a made-for-TV movie), right down to the vividness of Sarah Connor's dream echoing portions of T2. The soundtrack uses elements of the T2 music to good effect, and that certainly helps to draw you back into the Terminator universe as well as a through-line regarding reconnecting with Dyson's family in what appeared to be the same house from T2.

Jamie's concern, and one I share, is that few series are able to come off of a good pilot and sustain the quality. A quick glance at IMDB, as well as some of Glau's dialog suggests that this will not be the Connor's + robot moving from town to town to solve crimes, a la The A-Team, but rather them digging in their heels for a fight. Which seems kind of... like not a good idea when an endless line of killer robots diguised as people is coming for you.

Only future episodes and time will tell.

I am a bit down knowing that Arnie will, most likely, never appear on the show. One would assume he's a bit busy, what with being Governor of California and all. But I think the Sarah Connor character is strong enough to hold her own, especially if given a decent supporting cast. But, still... that's 100% less Arnie than I usually like.

Check out both Jason's review and ChronSnob's mention of Jason's review.


Dug said...

Ok, I'll just go ahead and be the big nerd and point out that her character's name was River, not Rain.

The League said...

right you are, Doug. River Tam, I believe.

Well, she's doing a heck of a job on the show.