Friday, February 1, 2008

Terminator

The State of the Union Address left a programming hole on the West Coast, which Fox filled with a re-run of the pilot of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I'd seen it already, but hey, it's still fan boy time.

Okay, here's where I realized they had me. Near the beginning, when John Connor is starting his new high school, Cameron Phillips (yeah, and the FBI agent is name Ellison), the "helpful Terminator" sent back by John Connor in the future, is masquerading as a regular high school student, and engages John in some light conversation, just a pretty girl trying to make the new kid feel welcome. And I'm thinking, hey, she's doing a pretty good job of pretending to be just a normal pretty girl.

When they get you thinking that behaving normally is acting, you're have entered the Twilight Zone.

Of course, the main reason for that is Summer Glau, a most righteous battle babe. Formerly, in Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity she played River Tam, a genius girl who'd undergone "treatments" that made her psychic, drove her more than slightly insane, and left her with various triggers that could turn her into a lethal battle babe. So Glau is in danger of being type-cast, but realize that for an actress, being type-cast as a battle babe is actually a career extender. Glau can be playing tough sci-fi or cop roles for the next two or three decades if she so desires.

Glau also does most of her own martial arts stunts, by report, for the simple reason that she can. Indeed, she's far better at it than most, because she has dance training. There's a reason why they call it "martial arts choreography." The point where I went "whoa" in Serenity is in the she-beats-up-everyone-in-the-bar scene, where she kicks someone who has grabbed her from behind in the back of the head.

All of this presents a considerable problem for Lena Headey, who plays Sarah Connor. Even apart from all the damn milf jokes that are going to be running around, it's awfully easy for Glau to steal the spotlight, in a way that is reflected in the plot dynamics of the story they're following. Connor is, in every way, a tough, capable, hypercompetent human being. But she's still only human and she's fighting machines, plus, her main ally in this is also a machine, one that is stronger, faster, you name it. How can Sarah compete?

Moreover, the Terminator story lines just drip Oedipal conflict, and by the way, just how big a bastard is the future John Connor? In the first film, he sends his own father back in time to his certain death, something that must happen for John to be born in the first place, actually. His only real father figure that we've seen has been a killing machine (who also dies—kills himself, actually—while John watches). They seem to be trying to ring in another ersatz father figure in Charlie Dixon, but anyone can tell you that this can't turn out well. If he's really lucky, he'll get out alive.

So, okay, tough mother whose son is the only hope of the world. Check. Robot babe even tougher than the mother. Robot babe has been sent back from the future by the future son, so mother can't just get rid of her; besides, how? Robot babe is far too tough and smart for that.

Also, they're trying to destroy a new technology (Skynet) before it gets off the ground. This is Ted Kaczynski territory, so "every hand is against them." Also, they've already changed time—twice, and John's own origin is a damn time travel paradox, so the plot is bound to get as twisted as the mother-son relationship, or the son-babebot relationship, or just about any other thing that comes down the pike.

I do have one final riff that I'd like to see, but I'm sure it never will happen. In my version, Skynet was actually trying to prevent a nuclear war, and failed. Which drove it insane, so now it's trying to destroy humanity before humanity can destroy itself. Sure, it's a paradox, but hell, in this series, what isn't?

2 comments:

black dog barking said...

There's a reason why they call it "martial arts choreography."

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, and the Kill Bills were clever ruses to get people like me to watch dance. Worked too. Keep 'em coming.

You're right. The Terminator back / future story has swallowed it's tail a couple of times -- so why not stick a Mobius twist in the plot line that switches everyone's motives?

Here's another: the future humans send back a politician that, due to a flaw in the psychedelic chemicals that enable time travel, ends up sounding vaguely like Lawrence Welk when he speaks. Still he gets elected governor of California and proceeds to spend the state into financial oblivion so Skynet never gets funded. Okay, no one would believe that.

James Killus said...

California funds Skynet? That explains a lot.