In 1984, a world rendered apocalyptic as the result of machines fighting back against the people who created them had enough metaphoric foresight to do what good can do—capture your imagination and make you think.
In 2009, it's really not enough to just throw a bunch of killing machines into the ether and rely on the inherently profound notion that machines can think, but they can't feel like we do (not that there's actual evidence of believable human emotion in the movie), to provoke much of anything—other than boredom and irritation.
Even though the bulk of Terminator Salvation's action takes place in 2018, there is no acknowledgment by the filmmakers that this futuristic hellhole is just nine years away. Even an army of homicidal ipod shuffles would have at least given a nod to how much technology actually has taken over our lives since the Terminator franchise began. Lacking that, Salvation needed to bring what the Matrix brought when it explored a similar (I mean identical) trope: better gadgets. Matrix technology, like that of these movies' optimistic cousin Star Trek, is at least fun to think about. Keanu Reeves puts on some ridiculous head piece and is suddenly able to master kung-fu! Capt. Picard says "Earl Gray" toward a console and the tea appears! Wolf Blitzer is talking to a hologram of wil.i.am!
In Salvation, technology, despite being the supposed thematic bedrock of the franchise, doesn't even try. How will Skynet (maybe that name sounded scary 20 years ago; right now it sounds like the name of an airline) be undone? Um, a weird sound undoes it, you know, pitched at some weird frequency. The early version of the Terminator? Half man, half machine... It doesn't know it's a machine. Or follow orders. Whatever. Um, yeah, we gave it a human heart...because that makes sense. Because then when John Connor needs a new heart, we can just pop that half machine/half human's heart out, right there in the middle of the desert and do a little switcheroo. Man, medicine has come a long way in less than 10 years. You don't even need equipment anymore to do open heart surgery. And the Resistance? It resists in a submarine. The only interesting technological accomplishment was the shininess of Moon Bloodgood's hair in the middle of an apocolypse in the desert; the movie was shot in New Mexico—no one here has hair that shiny. (As a side note, when a real person named Moon Bloodgood plays a futuristic character named Blair Williams, it might be time to reset the entire series in the Renaissance era).
The other main facet of the Terminator series has been its reliance on Rule # 78 of the Space/Time Continuum. * It's sort of a "you break it/you buy it" philosophy when it comes to how time works. The series began with The Terminator (the movie misses Arnold Schwarzenegger so bad it uses real technology to cameo Schwarzenegger kind of naked and really young...please don't let anyone ever do that with our governor) going back in time to kill Sarah Connor so that she can't give birth to John Connor, who will one day defeat the machines). In Salvation, the machines are after Kyle Reese, (Anton Yelchin) Connor's father, who is just a teenager in 2018, to try to keep him from going back in time and knocking up John Connor's mother. ("I think I'm getting confused," my boyfriend said as we left the theater; my advice: "don't try to make it make sense.")
This new twist on the machines' determination to keep John Connor (Christian Bale, who grows ever less charming) from being born by going after his teenage father before he becomes his father, opens up the door, of course, for endless variations for future Terminators. Here's just a couple I've come up with:
1. Terminator: Supreme Justice
A Terminator goes back in time and becomes a US Supreme Court judge who gets to rule on Roe v. Wade. But instead of allowing women to have abortions, Terminator Supreme Court Judge requires all women, including Sarah Connor, to have them, thus eliminating the machines' future nemesis.
2. Terminator: Oral Fixation
When John Connor is just a child, he gets an absessed tooth and is saved from dying from infection by a kind Resistance Fighter Dentist. The machines take the dentist out, thus ensuring Connor's death.
3. Terminator: Helena Bonham Carter
Carter is given a role in yet another Terminator movie. The humans decide that perhaps people really should be extinguished off the face of the earth.
*I have no idea what rule of the Space/Time continuum this is. My geekdom has its limitations.
crossposted at Julia Goldberg's blog