Sunday, January 13, 2008

Terminator: Is Owain Yeoman gonna have to choke a b---h?

Spoilers for the premiere of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" coming up just as soon as I change my name...

I gave most of my thoughts on the show in my column on Friday -- particularly my disappointment with Lena Headey and my enjoyment of Summer Glau -- but I'll hit a few specific points and then open up the floor to anybody who watched:
  • The show's producers didn't like "Terminator 3," so they found a way to erase its existence by having Sarah and John jump so far forward in time. There's still one detail from "T3" that will be important in tomorrow's second episode. On the other hand, Cameron's attempt to help the Connors destroy Skynet once and for all definitely goes against the "T3" philosophy that Skynet will always rise, no matter how many times they think they've prevented it.
  • Since "The Matrix" and "Buffy," the dominant action paradigm, especially on TV, has been towards martial arts choreography, so it was kind of refreshing to see some old-fashioned Terminator-style fighting involving two people smashing each other into walls. That said, the only action sequence that really got my pulse racing was the one at the bank, and for the most part the thrill was one of anticipation, not action itself.
  • I like how Terminators, no matter their size or shape, always conveniently find someone whose clothes will fit as soon as they arrive naked in a new timeline. What if there had only been two frat boys in that car? Or if it was three sorority girls? I doubt we'll see another time jump by our heroes -- this one was a convenience to both invalidate "T3" and bring the characters forward from the late '90s setting of "T2" while leaving the characters at roughly the same age -- but I hold out hope of one day seeing a Terminator show up wearing a billowing muumuu or a pair of hot pants that are too tight or something equally silly.
  • Though I found Headey largely wanting in the role, the moment where Sarah tried to blow her brains out was a nice reminder of just how hardcore she's supposed to be, even if the actress doesn't usually pull it off on her own.
  • The school shootout scene with Cromartie was filmed before the Virginia Tech massacre happened, but obviously well after Columbine and the like. At press tour in the summer, the producers promised they were aware it might be inappropriate and were going to change it, but any alterations were so minor that I wouldn't be able to tell you what they were without digging out my original pilot screener. Like I said in the review, Cromartie's "Class dismissed" didn't much work as a kiss-off line in the way it would have 15 or 20 years ago.
What did everybody else think?


J said...

That was watchable, though the action sequences were TV-quality action sequences. Thought tonight was a 2-hour premiere, so when the hour ended I was prepared to see more. Which was a good sign. Rather this than Family Guy.

I haven't seen T2 since it was in theaters, and never saw T3, so I'm obviously not invested in the mythology. And some of it was sillydumb (why spend all the time putting together the gun when it's just going to get zapped blah blah blah). I'm glad Glau landed a role in which she doesn't have to act. Neither Connor character grabbed me.

It would lose out against Chuck, for me, but it'll do for now.

Anonymous said...

Opening the series with a fakeout dream sequence? Ugh. And apparently Sarah Connor has been protesting Skynet by going on a hunger strike. Pass.

AndyW said...

You know, everybody keeps making the "Bionic Woman" comparisons because of Headey/Ryan. But think about it the other way: How much would Katee Sackoff have ROCKED as Sarah Connor? Leaving aside the age thing, naturally.

SJ said...

Oh wow Mad Men and John Hamm win! The Globes are really good at awarding new shows awards.

Yeah, 30 Rock should have won over Extras...but still. There's always next year.

Also really glad that Javier Bardem won (loved that movie).

SJ said...

^Sorry posted in the wrong discussion bad!

Anonymous said...

When was T2 set? Was it not set in 1991, the year of its release (with Public Enemy t-shirts and Guns N' Roses on the radio?) I thought Judgment Day was in 1997 but the events in T2 took place several years before hand.

Alan Sepinwall said...

When was T2 set? Was it not set in 1991, the year of its release (with Public Enemy t-shirts and Guns N' Roses on the radio?) I thought Judgment Day was in 1997 but the events in T2 took place several years before hand.

I initially thought that as well, but when I asked the TV producers, they said that the original movie was set in 1984 (the year it came out), and since John was 12 or 13 when the second movie took place, it had to be set around '97.

Time travel makes my head hurt, but i think they did as painless a job as possible of bringing the characters into the present and explaining why T3 never happened.

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised that there was no type of introduction for anyone who's never seen the movies. Granted, most people have seen them by now and it's unlikely anyone would bother tuning in unless they were already a Terminator fan, but, even as someone who's seen the movies, I wouldn't have minded having a refresher.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm really surprised that there was no type of introduction for anyone who's never seen the movies.

You raise a good point. They addressed some of it with the FBI character interviewing Sarah's abandoned boyfriend, but for the most part, the pilot assumes a knowledge of the franchise and the events of the second movie in particular with the Miles Dyson stuff.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment about the fighting styles, Alan. I agree with your point, but on the other hand it means they didn't really take advantage of Summer Glau's style of fighting as River in Firefly, or really, the Serenity movie. I think it'd be pretty cool to see that again. was pretty mediocre. Most of it took place under the movies' shadow though, so I think we'll have more of an idea what the series will be like in a couple of episodes. I think a lot of it depends on how serialized it's willing to be.

Anonymous said...

"Terminator 2" was one of the best action movies ever, and I don't know that this show can do anything in 10 or 20 or 30 episodes that James Cameron didn't do in two hours. My main complaint with the premiere, though, is the way it has supposedly smart characters act stupid for plot reasons. Sarah must have known her fiance would put out a missing-persons report, but does nothing to prevent that from happening. They don't bother disguising themselves in the bank. They don't even get themselves out of the road when they appear there naked before drivers have plenty of time to gawk and take pictures. I guess this sort of thing isn't supposed to matter because everything is preordained somehow (as Hot Terminator points out when she says that Big Terminator "would have found you anyway"), but it's still annoying.

As for Headey, it's true that she's no Linda Hamilton, but she seems fine. She said in an interview that she didn't have the movie luxury of working out with a trainer for six months before filming. And in general, giant-muscled people tend to be better suited to the fine acting you see on, say, "American Gladiators." Or politics.

dark tyler said...

The thing is, "Terminator" was never supposed to have a universe. It really was an old-fashioned action movie, only with a sci-fi twist. But the sci-fi portion of the story was only set-up, there just to give a plot excuse for all the car chases and the huge dudes knocking each other out, and the explosions, and did I mention the knocking each other out thing? "Terminator"'s universe was never meant to be expanded on such a ridiculous level. It was really just an action movie, only with people who came from the future.

The only way to do this, would be by producing a bigger, louder and better action movie every week, and you just can't possibly do that. Summer Glau or not, this show is a conceptual mistake.

Anonymous said...

Mediocre at best.

My biggest peeves with the pilot:

If this is set post-T2, why did the cyborgs send an earlier Arnie model Terminator to off John Connor? What happened to the liquid metal model? Okay, the TV show has budget constraints...but at least come up with some explanation for this. Or invent a different, less FX-heavy newer model.

So the future resistance built a time machine and sent an engineer back in time to 1963, when he got a job designing a bank under construction while presumably shopping at Radio Shack to get the components to build both a time machine and a plasma gun. Uh-huh. The writers just crossed the line between clever and stupid. (I'm guessing a future feature of the show will be that scientific advances throughout history will be shown to be the handiwork of time travelers. Hmmm. Maybe Steve Jobs IS a cyborg sent from the future to enslave humanity....)

Finally, the dialogue. On the nose exposition, mixed in with jibberish. (Rewatch the end of the episode. The final voice over makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I hope they dubbed that after the strike began, because I'd hate to think anyone actually got paid for writing it.)

All in all, one big dud of a story with a few very nice explosions.

Anonymous said...

Really, what struck me is how unnecessary it all seemed. This is just going to be a lower budget, villain of the week version of T2 and T3 (and thanks, Alan, for pointing out the writers' intent in preempting the events of T3, as I was wondering how all of this would affect the events of that film).

And didn't Sarah Conner die of leukemia? That's not something that can change by traveling into the future; she would have it in any timeline. What gives?

Really, the issue is: Why make a TV show out of Terminator after all of this time? Couldn't this time and energy be spent making something original? And I know that the hippest of us are supposed to dig Summer Glau (who, like Fillion, will apparently get a pass for whatever television garbage she does in the future because of her once, brief association with Whedon), but she just seemed awkward.

Oh, and Jim Treacher makes a good point, too. What is the point of opening the series - the pilot - with a dream sequence?

Anonymous said...

In T3, Sarah Conner is said to have died in 1997. This episode starts in 1999. So there is no plot trick to erase the events of T3. They're just pretending it didn't exist. Thank god.

Dave Jacob said...

Jim, T2 started with the dream sequence. It's very appropriate for T:SCC to start with the dream sequence. Sarah Connor is haunted by visions of apocalypse, which lead her, even if she's right, to be crazy. Or, rather, intense. Headly might not be sufficiently intense for the role, but you have to have that sense for her to not be totally unsympathetic.

Alan Sepinwall said...

So there is no plot trick to erase the events of T3. They're just pretending it didn't exist. Thank god.

No, something's going to come up in tonight's episode that will very strongly imply that T3 would have happened if Cameron hadn't brought Sarah and John ahead to 2007.

Anonymous said...

God, everyone so freaking negative on this site.

Is this show "Lost" or "The Shield"? No way. But it was a helluva fun hour, Summer Glau was damn sexy and fun as the new good gal fembot, and the show worked for me and many other people.

I am also fine with erasing the sequence of T3 events. Much better to follow off T2 - a far better film.

My 1 complaint was Lena Headey - for a weekly Television series, she needs to lighten up a little. Super pissed off works in 2 hr. movie. Not for 22 episodes a year.

Dave Jacob said...

But, zodin, if you take the crazy intense out of Sarah Connor, what do you have? Who is she if she's not that person? She hates being that person, knowing it's pushing her son away, but fears that if she lets up even a little, or even if she doesn't, that her son will die and thus will all of humanity. If you "humanize" her, then what? What's left?

Alan Sepinwall said...

My 1 complaint was Lena Headey - for a weekly Television series, she needs to lighten up a little. Super pissed off works in 2 hr. movie. Not for 22 episodes a year.

Among my problems with Headey is that she didn't seem pissed off enough.

And you can get light moments out of someone who's crazy intense. Some of the funniest gags in T2 play off of how extreme Sarah has become, both in the mental hospital and later when she does her monologue about the evil that men do and John tells her it's maybe not the right time for a feminist rant.

Unknown said...

I second the "ugh" for the dream sequence. Though I thought they signalled pretty clearly through the cutting and effects this was a dream, in 2008, you gotta do better with your opening.

I'm not sure about the shot someone above took at Glau (and Fillion, for his stint on "Desperate Housewives" I assume) for doing "televison garbage." Everyone's gotta pay the bills, and not every show runner will be a Joss Whedon level creative.

There's no reason why Sarah still can't have leukemia several years down the road. She's still the same person genetically, with the same makeup -- just in different time.

I have to say the actor playing John bugs me the most. Too pretty. At least Brad Renfro looked like a kid, and Nick Stahl (though I understand he's been invalidated) isn't exactly Tiger Beat). And remember the one shot we get of Future John Connor in the beginning of T2, he is not anybody's leading man. I understand that this is probably marketing driven, but would it have killed them to find someone who at least kind of fits the template of John Connor, and a kid with a few miles on him?

Anonymous said...

"Jim, T2 started with the dream sequence."

D'oh! Good point. I do remember liking that one, though...

Anonymous said...

In re: Buffyfighting

Alan cant believe you missed it-- that smashdown battlebots scene was *straight* out of Buffy: "Smashed", the ep where she and Spike finally get naked, first smashing each other through walls, and then through the floor, of an abandoned house.

Just about blow for blow, in fact I assumed the scene was intended as a straight up Whedon/ Turi Meyer homage.

LeeZy said...

One pet peeve for me...

Linda Hamilton can reload a shotgun with the use of one arm.

Lena Headey (due to the hunger strike) can not do this...

Anonymous said...

I really caught your drift about how weirdly flirtatious Sarah and John are. I was especially weirded out in the nude post-time travel scene. If both my mom and I were naked in the same proximity (holds back gag reflex), I would not be hovering right behind her like John was to Sarah while Summer Glau kick the shit out of the frat boys.

Another point: Why is it that when there's a strong female character she always comes across at least 4 frat boy types that are misogynistic and always saying really stupid stuff like "Oooh baby, yeah come here I'll show you what you can do"?

Lastly: I know this is really beside the point in the Terminator series but I can't help but be frustrated with the amount of time paradoxes they create with their time traveling. There are far too many instances of someone or something (Terminators) coming back into the past to ensure it's existence in the future. Such as: In the first movie, Cyberdyne comes across the Terminator after it being squished in the press thingy and they look at each other and get bright ideas. So it took Skynet to be created by humans and then send back a terminator so that humans can create Skynet. But if we didn't have Terminators in the first time line, how did we come up with Skynet?

I realize this is way too much thinking for an action series that uses sci-fi as a means to have action happen. But it still bothers the nerd in me.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the show. As far as when was T2 set, I am pretty sure that it is explicitly said or shown somewhere to be 1994 (i.e. the "near future", since the movie wa sreleased in 1991). I even remember at the time people complained that Furlong was too old given the setting.

On the other hand, there is a gap between the end of T2 and this story so I guess it works.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Another point: Why is it that when there's a strong female character she always comes across at least 4 frat boy types that are misogynistic and always saying really stupid stuff like "Oooh baby, yeah come here I'll show you what you can do"?

Because that way they deserve to get beaten up and have their clothes and car stolen. Same thing happens with the guys Arnie mugs in T1 and T2. I don't remember the lady who the Kristana Loken stripped in T3 doing anything to deserve it (other than wearing all red leather and driving a nice car), but then, Loken was supposed to be very, very bad.

Unknown said...

T2 does not start with a dream sequence. Sarah does a voice-over, and there may be a few shots that are also present in her dream sequence later in the film, but it quickly shifts to the future with John as the leader. She is not in any of the scenes. We first see her doing pull-ups in her cell.

The T2 timeline does not quite add up; the goofs are documented on IMDb. But Skynet is definitely supposed to become self-aware in August 1997, and Cyberdyne is clearly not ready yet. And John is supposed to be younger, 10 or 11, so the events of the movie are more likely to be around 1995.

T2 might still be the best action movie ever. What else is in its league?

I really wish I had seen it without knowing the "big twist" about Arnold, which everyone was so happy to blab about.

K J Gillenwater said...

Well, BigTed, I can answer one stupid moment...the scene when they appear in the traffic. Since there were no camera phones in 1999, Sarah wouldn't even know what one was. Just that she traveled through time and was in the middle of the freeway naked. I think I'd be a little confused & shaken up, too.

Only the girl terminator knew they were going in the bank looking like bank robbers. And by the time Sarah/John figured it out, it was too late and they were on camera.

I really like Headley. I thought she did a great job. I also like Summer Glau a whole lot. She does a good blank robot look. I'm also intrigued to find out how she is different and what model she is and who created her.

I liked the ending, too, with the fiance coming back into the picture. I wasn't expecting that.

Oh, and I really liked the bad terminator digging a weapon out of his leg. Super cool!

Anonymous said...

Kristen, I'm not sure I get your point about camera phones. People have been carrying plain ol' cameras around for a century.

K J Gillenwater said...

I don't remember regular camera photos being on the news nightly. Whereas camera phone/video shots are the new media for instant news stories. Why would she care if some random kid in a car got a shot of her naked on a regular 35mm camera? To her way of thinking, that photo wouldn't go anywhere besides under his bed.

Digital media means uploading to the internet, wide dissemination. She has no concept of this and, therefore, no thought about this kid in the car.