Utopia vs. Dystopia: Post-Obama optimism destroys Christian Bale’s careerPosted: May 27, 2009
In the most recent entry in the much-beloved “Terminator” franchise, Christian Bale as John Connor echoes a line made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Austrian-born muscleman-turned-“actor” —despite my love of Schwarzie, I use this term as loosely as possible — playing a cyborg sent back to retroactively abort Connor before he can grow up to lead the human resistance to victory against the machines menacingly intoned three words, which made him a household name.
“I’ll be back.”
Despite his relative lack of range, Ah-nuld certainly had the muscle, deep voice, and the Germanic, chiseled features to sell the line and make it scary.
Bale, as Connor, still using his gravelly “Dark Knight” voice, does not sell the line, even for a cheap giggle.
One of the few bones thrown to casual fans, this line was ineffective at eliciting the laughs it was intended to draw out of a bored audience.
Less effective was the inclusion of a naked, silent, digitally-masked Ah-nuld stand-in, representing the first T-800 Model 101 Terminator, 11 years before it should have appeared according to the first movie.
If, as in the last post, we can blame the failure of Superman Returns on a pessimistic America — which I concur with the esteemed Mr. Michaels is a weak argument — can we blame the seeming lameness of Terminator: Salvation on an optimistic America?
Surely we have had enough of dire predictions of economic doom, the death-knell of traditional values [gay marriage would never have happened on G. Dub’s watch! Hmmph!], and the growing threat of rogue state’s burgeoning nuclear weapons programs [I’m looking straight at you, Kim Jong-Il] to last us another 20 years.
The good news factor, such as the real possibility that the economy may be rebounding, real health care reform [maybe], and the death knell of traditional values [yay, gay marriage! I was kidding before] and the election of the nation’s first black president have many people turning their eyes toward a positive future instead of a grim one.
Why, then, should our science fiction be any less positive?
I am as much a fan of a good scary story as anyone. And I also love dystopian futures as much as anyone.
I am a huge fan of the first two “Terminator” movies, “Aliens” is one of my all-time favorite science fiction movies, and I even love “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”
Why, then, could I not bring myself to become invested in “Salvation”?
I have been wrestling with this since I saw it yesterday, and have managed to come up with a few things, and none of them is the lack of James Cameron’s involvement.
First, Bale’s Connor is a major dick-head. Constantly yelling, he manages to make everything he says seem less important.
Second, the more interesting character, Marcus Wright, is a simple rehash of every other “robot with feelings” I have ever seen on screen. The added element of casting this overused sci-fi plot device as an ex-con’s second chance at a good life does nothing to breath life into the cliché.
“Hugh” from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “I, Borg” was a much more convincing cyborg who refused its machine nature to make the most human choice of all: self-sacrifice. That episode still works, even despite TNG’s budgetary constraints and the time elapsed since its initial airing. “Salvation” doesn’t work the first time you watch it, despite a huge budget, and impressive sets, props, CGI models and costuming, and big name actors.
Plus, Anton Yelchin as Cheko—uh, I mean Kyle Reese is another tough sell. He affects the gravelly voice, athleticism and stoic manner one might expect from a child-soldier and nuclear war survivor, but his teeth are much too white to believe he subsists on a diet of “two-day-old coyote.” His lovely pearlies practically burn a hole in the viewers retina when set against the gritty backdrops of this film.
Perhaps, then, the thing “Salvation” lacks most is hope. By the end of this film, the status quo of the future war isn’t markedly changed. While Skynet loses one robot factory, Connor specifically states that its “global network” is still going strong, despite the fact that we are told that the attack was meant to be against “Skynet central.”
In short, the “salvation” one would expect to be central to the movie as heavily implied by the title is absent.
Whereas, despite the fact that the other elements of the “Terminator” franchise — with the exception of “T3,” which is best forgotten — deal with a post-apocalyptic future, this future is never treated as inevitable. There is always the hope that it can be averted, and that if a machine can learn the value of human life, so might we all.
While, in the end, “Salvation” fails because it is not a very good movie, the fact that it is a story of fatalistic hopelessness certainly doesn’t help it in a post-Obama world.
If this weekend’s take, seen here: http://www.newsarama.com/film/090522-terminator-box-office.html, is any indicator, hopeful movies have a longer lifespan in the current market.