Can TERMINATOR: GENISYS Save the TERMINATOR Franchise? (Answer: No, it’s too late.)

Full disclosure: I didn’t think there should have been a single sequel or spin-off in any media after the original, 1984 TERMINATOR film.  I enjoyed each of the films to varying degrees (they got more and more forgettable as they multiplied) and I never read any of the comics because I felt they violated the premise of the original film: that Skynet had sent one Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor. Comics were just starting to climb in price back then, and I figured, I could afford to see a Terminator sequel film every once in a while. However, keeping up with the comics, just in case they were good, would be too pricey.  So, I stuck with the live action stuff.  I’m glad I did, but even the best of the bunch left me a bit “meh.”

Yep, I’m going to say it: TERMINATOR 2, left me a little flat.  Sure, the liquid metal Terminator was cool, but the original film explained that only one killer robot was sent back, not two (or more).  Sure, I overlooked it just to enjoy the movie, but with all the awkward sentimentality mixed in, I kind of wish I hadn’t. I mean, the “bond” young John Connor and the “good” T-800 developed was hokey and cliché. 

“Asta la Vista”? Really?

The other films had some interesting ideas, but ultimately, they were just poor excuses for making some cash off of the TREMINATOR brand.  So, when I first heard about TERMINATOR: GENISYS, I quickly questioned the wisdom of the money-people behind it.  This just seemed like an almost shameful attempt to squeeze the last drops of cash out of this stone.

Then I saw the trailer.  


What the trailer did was show that the filmmakers had clearly gone beyond a basic excuse for a TERMINATOR film with their premise.  Beyond that, I really liked the idea of Sarah Connor being a bad-ass again.  I had enjoyed TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (but found it a little directionless with a vague series finale).  So, I knew the character of Sarah Connor could be a great lead for a story.  However, I also knew that the odds were against anyone coming up with a well-executed script for yet another murderous mandroid movie.

Still, I somehow had the feeling that T:G might be more good than bad. So, I caught a screening of it and was thoroughly shocked at how solid it was.  

It was as though the writers had taken the best elements of the previous sequels, distilled them down, and then worked them together into one really fun film.  Sure, there were aspects of the movie that were a little confusing if you weren’t able to keep up with all the time traveling going on, and there were plot elements that only made clear sense if you had seen the previously made sequels.  However, if those other sequels had never existed, this wouldn’t have been a big price to pay and we’d have one really great sequel to the original TERMINATOR.  On top of that, we’d have a big push from moviegoers for more great sequels.

So, this is it, this is how to save the TERMINATOR franchise:

Go back in time and stop the other sequels from being made.

That’s pretty much the only thing that will work at this point.  See, because the other sequels were progressively less memorable, TERMINATOR: GENISYS did really poorly in the box office.  As of this writing, T:G wasn’t able to pull down $70 million since it opened 14 days ago.  It couldn’t even reach a measly $43 million, by the end of it’s first weekend.

For perspective, JURASSIC WORLD, which really was just a really crappy excuse to milk more money out of a franchise (the third such crappy excuse), before the end of its first weekend, racked up $208 million.  As far as T:G is now into its run, JW had made over $400 million. 

TERMINATOR: GENISYS is a FLOP… undeservedly…

Put simply, no one trusted the film to be anything but another ill-conceived killer chrome-domed robot movie meant to squeeze more thin dimes out of a dying franchise.  

So, my solution is equally simple: we build a time machine, go back to 1991 and convince Jim Cameron to not make T2 and to make sure no other sequels get started… that is until Laeta Kalogridis & Patrick Lussier started writing their script for T:G.  

Oh, while we’re back in 1991, we should also convince Jim to not make TITANIC and AVATAR, too.

But I digress…

Time Machines aside, this is how I really would save the TERMINATOR franchise

My thought is to re-release it in theaters, rather than putting it out on DVD.  Get the stars of the film to do more PR so they can talk up how different and better it is compared to the other sequels.  Make a big deal about how Jim Cameron thought T:G should have been the original third film in his original TERMINATOR series.

After this movie’s poor performance, no one will think a good, new Terminator movie could ever exist.  At least not for another decade or two.  This is a huge shame since T:G is so good.

That awkward sentimental stuff between a young John Connor and a T-800?  GONE but replaced with genuine sentimentality built around the relationship that a now adult Sarah Connor has with a now 20 years-older T-800.  This relationship works so much better because it’s already in place.  There are no “boy and his robot” scenes that are pretty hideously clichéd by this point in western cinema.  Plus, how often do we see a daughter/father relationship in genre movies/TV?

What’s even better is that there are some great, emotionally funny moments that come out of their relationship.  This emotional humor isn’t just missing from the other sequels, but it’s also missing from most modern genre films.  Like Mythbuster, Adam Savage, says, what makes the original STAR WARS trilogy work so well is Han Solo always being around to provide commentary on what is happening in the movie.  Having some sort of humorous commentary makes everything resonate with the audience more–they see that a character on screen is thinking the same thing they are.  And T:G does this with some subtlety.    

While TERMINATOR 2 attempted this sort of emotional commentary, while accurate to what a typical kid might want to do with a robot, it was also very awkward.    The other sequels didn’t even bother with anything emotional, falling prey to, what I call, “This is Serious” Syndrome.    Too many films these days just line up action scene after action scene and never bother with emotions or humor.  It’s pretty depressing to see so many opportunities to make resonant films get lost in the explosions.

But I digress, again…

The liquid metal T-1000 character in T:G is distilled down to just a portion of the film and then, script-wise, receives an awesome structural upgrade that outdoes T2 by a mile.  This comes in the form of a bigger big-bad who takes over for the one-trick pony that is the T-1000.  What’s great is that it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s being crowbarred in. Nor does it feel like they dropped out the T-1000 and replaced him with a bigger-badder big-bad just for the sake of supplying a good climax.

The change to how Skynet comes into existence is handled differently, as well.  Instead of the third film’s lackluster reveal at its climax, the method by which Skynet comes to be is discovered in T:G much earlier in the film and one-ups the explanation from the third TERMINATOR film, making Skynet about a thousand times more threatening to each and every one of us.  

SALVATION was a very forgettable film for me.  So, I apologize for not being able to explain how T:G does it one better.  

Oh, wait.  T:G is memorable.  That’s how it succeeds over SALVATION.

What TERMINATOR: GENISYS does best is what more films need to do

TERMINATOR: GENISYS places Sarah Connor at the center of the story.  While the film doesn’t entirely pass the Bechdel test (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test), it does pass it for far more of the story than most genre films do. In fact, ultimately, it does a better job of passing it than the original TERMINATOR.  

Sarah is portrayed as a character who has been raised around the concept that she must eventually mate with a certain person to produce a child that will save humanity.  However, this film finds a way to give her options.  In this sense, it’s quite literally a pro-choice movie.  Kind of awesome, really.

Is TERMINATOR: GENISYS a perfect movie?

TERMINATOR: GENISYS is NOT a perfect movie.  I hated Hans Zimmer’s score.  OH WAIT, Hans Zimmer didn’t score this film.  It was Lorne Balfe.  Never heard of him before and I wonder if I’ll hear of him again.  This score felt very derivative–so much so that I kept expecting Batman to show up and help stop Skynet.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Balfe was told “MORE ZIMMEROCITY!” by the director or producers and, if he was, I don’t blame him for doing what he was told.  Regardless, I blame Alan Taylor, the director, because that music was distracting and it worked to make T:G feel more like any other action movie out there.  I really don’t understand why they didn’t hire Brad Fiedel.  His music was so wonderful and atmospheric and really is the glue that holds the first two films together.  Just a few bars of Fiedel’s music from the TERMINATOR movies he scores and I am enveloped in that story universe.

I was also disappointed that they seemed to be thinking that the filmmakers would definitely be able to make a series of films to complete the story.  I think that was shortsighted and that they should have made the film stand alone, like the original TERMINATOR does.

I also wish there was more downtime for the characters.  To be fair, there was more downtime for them in this film than most genre films, but I still have no sense of how much time was actually represented on screen.  Even if we see a single shot of the characters sleeping, the audience gets to take a breath and relax, too.  As I mentioned earlier, most modern genre films just want to keep throwing everything at their characters (and the audience) until the credits roll.  This gets pretty damn tiresome.  Like GRAVITY where one friend of mine said she left the theater with a backache.  

Is the TERMINATOR franchise really terminated?

I suspect it is.  It’s possible that GENISYS could do really well on DVD/Blu-Ray,  iTunes, Netflix, Amazon or other online outlets, which could lead to someone with money thinking “hey, maybe there IS some money left in this thing!”  Or, maybe, there could be a grassroots, fan-based campaign to help raise awareness of how good the film is and how it deserves a sequel.  

But I doubt either will happen.  Especially when there are so many other scifi franchises waiting to be re-duxed and re-exploited.  I hope I am wrong, of course.  I’d love to see a sequel to the only TERMINATOR sequel that matters to me.

Could we really build a time machine to go back and stop the other sequels from being made?  Probably not, but you have to admit, it would be better if we did.

Saving AMERICAN HUSTLE

So, “AMERICAN HUSTLE” got nominated for some Oscars, right? The acting in it was superb, right? Loads of people saw it, right?

So, what’s to “save”?

The whole damn movie, that’s what.

You may have enjoyed it for the acting. Or the great period costumes. Or Amy Adams’ precariously placed breasts. But one thing I did not enjoy was the pacing. Wow. I started zoning out once the relationship between Adams’ and Bale’s characters was established. I never really zoned back in after that. Well, that’s not entirely true. I made myself pay attention once the story seemed to be reaching the climax.

The thing is, the climax is pretty anticlimactic. In fact, I have to struggle just to remember what it is. I guess it was the part where we discover how Bale’s character turns the tables. That whole scene has such a calmness to it, that it felt weak to me.

Imagine the briefing scene in the original “STAR WARS” film where they’re learning about the exhaust port of the Death Star. Only instead of cutting to the trench battle scene, they cut to a scene where Luke enters a room and calmly explains to Princess Leia that the Death Star has already been destroyed–they left a huge bomb there before rescuing her and detonated it when she was using the rebel base’s bathroom.

I don’t know, maybe 8 seasons of the British caper/comedy “HUSTLE” have biased me, but if you’re going to tell a story about con artists, you need to make it a bit more flashy than just presenting these lying bastards for what they are. I mean, I’ve seen “AMERICAN HUSTLE” described as a “madcap” film.

Uh, no.

However, if the film had been shot and cut like an episode of the BBC’s “HUSTLE” THEN we’d be talking. Then I wouldn’t be so bored watching these somewhat horrible people make their way through their scam.

That’s the big difference between “AMERICAN HUSTLE” and “HUSTLE.” We like the grifters in the latter–they’re actually good people who have discovered that their natural talent lies in conning people. They live by the code “You can’t con an honest man.”

Sadly, “AMERICAN HUSTLE” is made up of characters who have no such code, are somewhat morally reprehensible and really aren’t terribly likeable. So, for two hours we’re forced to follow them move through their con even though we (or at least *I*) don’t really want any of them to succeed. I know the film is based on real events, but that’s why it’s got to be cut and shot in a way that’s much more interesting than just ripping off the pacing, cinematography and editing style of “GOODFELLAS.”

Is “AMERICAN HUSTLE” entertaining? Sure. I guess so, but you have to admit, it would be better if it were done my way. (Just watch an episode of “HUSTLE” and tell me I’m wrong.)