Terminator: Salivation

June 22, 2009

So my title is a cheap-shot. An across-the-bow, off-the-cuff, moment of puerile frivolity. I was at a loss trying to conjure a decent gag out of the name of the new Terminator flick and so I just pulled the above out of my ass. Confession aside, it’s not entirely inappropriate given that the latest installment could quite accurately be described as the cinematic equivalent of excessive drool.

A few days before setting out to watch Terminator Salvation at the cinema I had the distinct pleasure of catching the original, The Terminator, on Korean cable TV. I am still puzzling over whether this resulted in me being in the best or worst possible condition for watching the fourth installment in the franchise shortly thereafter.

I was freshly primed with the details of the Terminator mythos as I went into the new movie so all the in-jokes and references in its (Terminator Salvation‘s) script seemed glaringly obvious, groan-inducing examples of lazy writing. It isn’t clever, charming or remotely witty to have a character once again utter “I’ll be back” or “Come with me if you want to live”, it’s insulting to the audience. Insulting, that is, unless the target audience are drooling (salivating!*) morons who will guffaw approvingly at such tawdry entertainment so as to gleefully waggle their slick, wet chins around in the cinema and feel a curious twinge of numbed satisfaction at having “got” the joke.

A film full of Bale. A film that is baleful.

A film full of Bale. A film that is baleful.

It’s unnecessary to plunge further into the obvious deficiencies of this film. They have been extensively covered in all the piss-poor reviews out there. (Some examples here and here). Instead, I wanted to focus on what I consider to be Terminator Salvation‘s greatest failing, namely, the way in which it thoroughly pulled its punches with the setting. In the original Terminator, Kyle Reese tells Sarah Conner all about the dystopian nightmare future that both he and the titular cyborg assassin have come from. We are told that an advanced A.I. known as Skynet has embarked on an all-out, global war against humanity that began with worldwide nuclear strikes. Of the survivors who aren’t being hunted, killed or “terminated” by Skynet’s army of automatons, the remainders are placed in concentration camps.

Later in the film, we are given brief glimpses of this hellish world-to-be (or, at least the portion of it that used to be L.A.) and we are shown a ragged, desperate remnant of humanity living in subterranean bunkers with emaciated, filthy children hunting amongst industrial detritus trying to catch rats to eat. The future, in short, is utterly grim, brutal and shit in ways that we could scarcely imagine. Now, Terminator Salvation is the film in the Terminator franchise based firmly within this terrifying future, hitherto glimpsed only in flash-forward flashbacks. A full-length, big-budget realization of the tantalizing short sequences in the previous films. Basically, it should have looked like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis meets Night & Fog.

Terminator 2 gave us a pitch perfect scene of the iconic robot endoskeleton crushing a human skull under it’s metal foot. It was atrocity imagery from the 20th century’s darkest days boldly fused with sci-fi cinema, a landscape of skulls reminiscent of The Killing Fields. Terminator Salvation should have been replete with Holocaust imagery, automated bulldozers shoveling mounds of corpses, mega-abattoir factories, etc. That would have been terrifying, that would have fulfilled the glimpses of the nightmare introduced earlier in the franchise which is what we were lead to believe was the entire point of this fourth film. Instead, it comes up massively short. We get Christian Bale giving us a gritty-by-numbers turn (I’m a fan but it’s high time he puts in a performance as a flamboyant transvestite or a hapless goon in a comedy) and what looks like little more than a war against robots in a giant Californian scrap yard. In this movie, humanity are pushing a mild 6 or 7 on the desperation scale. Terminator Salvation is frustratingly, maddeningly not disturbing or scary.

I can only offer speculative reasons as to why.

The guy who gave the world The Terminator and its sequel-cum-remake, Terminator 2, is James Cameron. He’s off working on the mega-budget sci-fi flick Avatar, promising to push the boundaries of special effects with cutting edge technology and basically tear everyone’s fucking face off when he finally unleashes that beast. The somewhat demonic, “King Of The World”, makes incredible films (doesn’t matter what you think of Titanic, millions of people thought otherwise) but he wasn’t anywhere near the fourth Terminator. Instead, Terminator Salvation was brought to us by a film director that doesn’t even have a proper name. “McG” is the kind of hack I can imagine fights Brett Ratner for the privilege of stuffing various studio exec’s penises into his mouth. He cut his cum-splashed teeth making music videos and gave the world the two Charlie’s Angels movies purely as part of some infernal social experiment to drastically increase the net amount of dumb in the universe.

This was clearly a film that was decided must have a PG-13 (or 12 in the UK) rating, irrespective of what was in the script or what anyone wanted to put on the screen. It was therefore impossible for Terminator Salvation to be remotely hard-hitting. Instead, as with all big-budget action flicks these days, explosions and extensive CGI were deployed to provide the kind of formulaic thrills that are aimed at distracting the viewer from the overall Disneyfication of action cinema. Do you remember when action cinema used to be made with balls? I do, and I’m not even that old. By my reckoning, Total Recall was the last of the unashamedly gory, outrageous and gratuitous sci-fi action flicks. I give unto thee this prophecy, one day Paul Verhoeven will return to Hollywood and will wear the impaled, severed heads of Mcg, Stephen Sommers, Gore Verblinksi, Brett Ratner and perhaps even Michael Bay on his raging, tumescent, Dutch erection. There used to be a time when Hollywood made sci-fi action flicks like Aliens, Escape From New York, Predator, Robocop, Terminator, Total Recall. Nobody gave a flying fuck if kids couldn’t get into a cinema to see these films.

Ultimately, the first Terminator worked so well because it was a fairly small film. A limited budget meant a lack of scope and a leaner, meaner more taut film as a result. Terminator Salvation showed that; the more you flesh out and expand the Terminator mythos, the more obvious it becomes how inherently silly the whole story is. A lot of half-baked and vastly implausible time travel stuff, along with the unlikely notion that mankind could possibly fight against an ultra-advanced A.I. program that controls the entire military industrial complex (and that could invent shit like the T1000), starts unraveling the Terminator like a cheap woolly sweater.

So that’s it. You get two leading men (Bale and Sam Worthington) and a necessary breakneck pace to accommodate them. You get a lot of weak in-jokes, some cool robots, some dusty vistas and a digital cameo from 80s Arnie. You get the overall effect of a broken or unfulfilled promise. You get, not so much spat, as salivated* on.

(*I feel I was able to rescue my title from meaningless puerility to actually hitting a target or two with it, thus do I reap rewards from my rant.)



  1. Terminator is not only a sci-fi. I think the Terminator series is an anticipatory concept. One of these days, before the end of this century, some armies of the world will operate real war cyborgs and robots.

    Politically correct because no more human lives will be lost….

    For me The Terminator movie has been a revelation!

    I really liked the Terminator Salvation movie. Non-stop action! Yes, the story is not very elaborate but the action scenes were perfect for me! If you like special effects this movie is for you!

    You can visit the TERMINATOR MUSEUM here:


    Full of wallpapers, screenshots, action figures,soundtracks and movies.

  2. I edited your comments and excluded the embedded YouTube video.
    There’s only one man who gets to put videos on this blog and you, my man, ‘aint that man.

    Thanks for your comments all the same.

    I can’t dispute your view that future armies will employ increasing amounts of automated battlefield technology. After all, the U.S. already deploys remote controlled, unmanned, attack aircraft in the form of Predator Drones. I can’t say that there’s any clear sign that this will mean a reduction in human lives lost though. I’d put the smart money on rich, powerful countries sending their mechanoid armies in to stomp all over ragtag human combatants who carry Kalashnikovs and hide in caves.

    Hell, I admire your optimism, even though you seem to miss the central warning behind the Terminator. I mean, those films were pushing a recurrent sci-fi theme, the warning against human hubris producing out-of-control technology that usurps and threatens mankind itself. From Skynet to the A.I. of The Matrix and echoing back to HAL from 2001 and, further, to Frankenstein’s monster and the distant myth of Prometheus.
    Sure, it’s all fun and games until your shiny robot buddy turns around and says “actually, I think I’d prefer to punch your fucking meat-bowl head off and go my own way, thanks.”

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