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Summertime Rolls: Terminator Salvation (and what’s up with it being PG13?)

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Sitting in the theater, waiting for Terminator Salvation (or is it Terminator: Salvation, with the colon?  Or just T:S?) to begin, I could feel the reverberations of the bass coming from the other theaters.  Terminator was showing on three screens, so it was relatively safe to say that the throbbing bass I was feeling in my solar plexus was the metal-grinding explosions from earlier showings… metal-grinding explosions that I was about to experience for myself.

Well, never let it be said that Terminator Salvation is short on metal-grinding explosions.  As the Washington Post stated in its oh-so-excited newspaper blurb, it “delivers” action by the heaping spoonful.  But you know, for a movie that moved so fast, so furious, it never “delivered” anything that put that goofy grin you get when you are watching something “jaw-dropping” or “eye-popping” (Fandango).

Nope, my jaw never really dropped, nor did either of my eyes pop.  The special effects are top drawer, and the pacing is fairly relentless. Most of the actors in it do a fine job, although it’s about time for Christian Bale to stop growling at me. The guy is from Wales- when was the last time he was allowed to use his normal accent?  Empire of the Sun?  At this point, I’d even take him growling at me with an accent.

Speaking of accents, the other guy, Sam Worthington, needs some more work on his American drawl.  There is a scene when he hanging over a pit, being questioned by Bale’s John Connor.  I may be mistaken, but Worthington doesn’t even bother to hide his Aussie sprunch spray of an accent in this scene.  At all.  Didn’t we crucify Kevin Costner for his bad Robin Hood accent?  Have we gone soft as a country in terms of accent acceptance?

But he’s fine as the mysterious Marcus, the man(?) with the secret that has been in every single commercial for the movie.  But that’s about it- he’s fine.  Everyone is only fine, when they should be… what?  Well, more than fine, I guess.

 How did James Cameron make us care about the characters in the first two Terminator movies?  Actually, despite this being a sequel in the Terminator franchise, it has more in common with Cameron’s Aliens.  Like Terminator Salvation, Aliens is a dark slab of action that moves relentlessly fast.  Unlike Terminator Salvation, the audience somehow came to care about the Marines that ended up being the buffet line for the aliens. As much as I enjoy Common’s album “Be,” he just can’t really hang in this type of movie.  Think of Bill Paxton in Aliens and you’ll see how forgettable Common is in Terminator Salvation.

 Or how about the little black mute girl that hangs around with Teenage Kyle Reese?  I’m no huge fan of Newt in Aliens, but at least she was a catalyst for Ripley to discover her maternal side. Little Black Mute Girl doesn’t do shit.  Neither does Teenage Kyle Reese- he gets taken prisoner by the machines, despite being #1 on their hit list.  Why don’t they just kill him?  It is one of many questions that the movie doesn’t really answer. 

Another one being what I see as a huge missed opportunity.  The opening scrawl that brings the audience up-to-date describes John Connor as a leader that some believe is going to lead them to victory against the machines, but others feel is a “false prophet.”  This Jesus Christ imagery (hey, both of their initials are JC!) is an interesting idea, and one that could have lent to Connor’s character.  But it isn’t mentioned again- as far as I could tell, everyone was pretty much behind Connor’s ideology.  I don’t know- I’m just looking for something, anything, that could put me in the corner of these characters.

 The movie had a lot of potential, and there are some things that I liked about it.  Showing the different types of Terminators was really great- I loved the underwater eel Terminators, and I thought the giant one that had self-aware motorcycles in its shins was pretty badass, too.  It was great to see them work in G n’R’s “You Could Be Mine,” and they didn’t pussify the T-600’s as they did to the Predators in Alien vs. Predator.  I liked watching those metal bastards keep coming, as they did in the other Terminator movies.

The return of Arnold?  Sort of a non-issue, as his Arnold skin is burned off too quickly for it to really register. I guess it was sort of cool.  Again, when he shows up, you could feel the audience sit up in their seats, ready for something huge and iconic.  But even that scene pretty much fizzles.

When I said all the performances were fine?  I was wrong- there is an actress in this named Moon Bloodgood,and I’ll tell you, Moon Bloodgood is awful.  Her character does stupid things constantly, and Moon Bloodgood doesn’t help things by trying to act tuff.  Remember David Caruso trying to act tuff in… well, anything he’s in?  And you can totally tell that you could probably take David Caruso in a fight and that for all his posturing, he’s coming off a little ridiculous?  Well, Moon Bloodgood is no David Caruso.

And what’s up with that name?  It’s like the game where you find out your Porn star name by taking your dog’s name and the street you grow up on.  Only with her, you take a celestial body, a precious bodily fluid and an adjective.  Moon Bloodgood.  I think I would be Saturn Spoogedandy.

Say what you want about Terminator 3, but it actually felt like a Terminator movie. It was about Free Will versus Pre-determinism.  It was about Destiny.  It was about something.  Yeah, it was a bit too jokey (I hate the gay biker bar scene, along with any catch-phrases that were thrown in to make the Terminator cuddly), but it had by far the darkest ending of any of these movies.

Terminator Salvation feels like a Terminator movie the way Beverly Hills Cop 3 feels like a Beverly Hills Cop movie. That may be unfair, since BHC3 is unwatchable.  Terminator Salvation is extravagantly mediocre.  I saw it yesterday, and I am having trouble even remembering anything specific about it.  Not a good sign in terms of remaining on our pop-culture memories, right?

 A lot of what is being written about this movie addresses how the PG-13 rating doesn’t hurt it.  That today’s PG-13 would be an R rating ten years ago.  But you know what?  This movie should have been rated R.  And it would have made a difference.  Remember the first Terminator, when Arnold storms the police station and picks off police officers one by one?  That scene was so effective because it was visceral and immediate; he was right there in the room with them, staring them in the face, killing them. It made the concept of a machine that couldn’t reasoned with truly terrifying.  It made the deaths personal.

The same is true in T2, when the T-1000 launched his metal hand-sword through a guy’s face (and the carton of milk he was holding).  These scenes are R-rated scenes, and they go a long way toward making those movies what they were. The deaths in Terminator Salvation are of the impersonal variety- lots of people in vehicles dying when the vehicle is blown up from afar.

Ask yourself this:  Are any of the following movies improved by the change from an R rating to PG-13?

Die Hard 1-3:  R rated.  Live Free of Die Hard:  PG-13.

Mad Max/Road Warrior:  R rated.  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome:  PG-13.

Alien 1-4 & Predator 1-2:  R Rated.  Alien vs. Predator:  PG-13.

National Lampoon’s Vacation:  R rated.  The rest of them were PG-13, and finally just PG.

Robocop 1-2:  R rated.  Robocop 3:  PG-13.

Police Academy:  R rated.  The rest of them were PG-13 or PG rated.

Conan the Barbarian:  R rated.  Conan the Destroyer:  PG rated.

There are arguments that could be made for European Vacation (which had more bare boobies than the original), Christmas Vacation, or even Police Academy 2:  Their First Assignment.  But are these movies better than the originals?  And did their quality increase by neutering them for a PG-13 rating?  Nope.

So let’s give thanks for the few series that have maintained their R-ratings throughout the run of their series.  Thank you, Lethal Weapon.  Thank you, Beverly Hills Cop.  And thank you, American Pie.  For as shitty as some of your sequels were, you will always have the dignity for sticking to your R rated guns.

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