Can Terminator be Saved?

The video below addresses the fundamental problem with the Terminator franchise.

The Terminator franchise has four major tropes.

One, time travel.

Two, killer android hunting Namehere Connor

Three, trying to prevent a robot apocalypse.

Four, and nothing else.

And those tropes are it’s major problem. Everyone is expecting them and no one is surprised by any of the variants that are presented with them at this point.

The first movie was a brilliant and not too expensive horror movie with a causality loop stapled on to the end as a fairly effective surprise ending. The Terminator was a product of science so advanced that no man portable weapon that existed in 1984 could bring it down. Sure a tank round could probably do it but standard firearms were just going to poke holes in it’s unneeded skin. Thus a lopsided power dynamic was created, turning the Terminator into a thing of horror you could run from but not defeat (or at least not without a heavy industrial hydraulic press). Sarah being pregnant at the end by the time traveler Kyle was both a clever touch and an intriguing paradox. The film was a complete story without any real hook for a continuation and Cameron clearly wasn’t interested in making one.

What isn’t generally remembered is that The Terminator was one of the first movies saved by home video. I’m not certain it ever made the producers much money but it did put everyone connected with it on the map. Cameron might never have made the sequel except for the catastrophic failure of The Abyss. After that film augered in, he needed to re-establish himself as a guy that can make major bank. And a Terminator sequel looked like a nice slow, easy pitch across plate

The first film strongly indicated that predestination was unavoidable in the Terminator-verse. Everything was going to happen in the order that it had already happened. The second film raised possibility that Judgement Day could be prevented and so, predestination was now an optional extra. That was reversed yet again in Terminator 3 but by then no one cared.

One time traveling assassin-bot and his human opponent was A-Okay. Finding out at the start of the next movie that Skynet had sent back two terminators, one for Sarah and another for her son was…okay-ish in that it wasn’t too much of a stretch. Arnold wouldn’t come back unless he was a White Hat because he was a huge star by then, so now we have our first “good terminator.” Four time travelers were, like I said, okay-ish. You could accept it because four time travelers wasn’t too big of a pill to swallow.

But then came Terminator 3 and the question had to be asked, how many of these fucking things are running around history? The time machine used was looking less like an experimental prototype and more like a damn highway. Predestination was back on the table for reasons and John Connor was now a mopey twerp.

John Connor was rather emblematic of the franchise’s troubles. When we first heard about him, he was this unseen mythical demi-messiah. A combination of Napoleon, Genghis Khan and Belisarius. The greatest military leader the human race had ever produced and he arrived five minutes before midnight. Then we actually met him in Terminator 2 and god, you just wanted to slap the kid… A lot. The savior of humanity was such an obnoxious little shit, no one could stand him. Worse still, he was pretty damn dull. I don’t know about you my beloved readers but I was expecting young John Connor to be a an Ender Wiggin. A child of destiny, obviously born for greatness and this punk and petty criminal sure as hell wasn’t that. Then we meet John Connor in his final form. A moist, maladroit drifter and failure. There was no way in hell this guy was born to be a leader. If humanity was following this asshole, it was only out of idle curiosity.

Terminator 3 was a money grab, that felt like a money grab. The first two movies had been reasonably thoughtful and intelligent for Eighties action movies but this one was not. It was badly written with no depth or thought behind it. Cameron had made sure the science was pretty solid but in the third film it was just a bit of techno babble. There was no real thought process in reinstating predestination, it was just a default because the lazy-ass sausage grinder masquerading as a screen writer needed to get Judgement Day back on track. Terminator 3 was nothing but fan service and technobabble about time travel.

And for the core audience, it was the end. The franchise just wasn’t interesting anymore because you couldn’t bring yourself to accept the endless parade of robots being sent back in time.

I am reliably informed that there was a fourth Terminator movie that took place during the war but I didn’t see it. What was the point? I knew that eventually Skynet would lose the war and John Connor would be send Kyle Reese back in time to father him. Anything taking place before that was going to be a contrivance to kill time. I found out later that I was basically right.

Terminator Genisys was comically bad due to the fact that along with it’s other problems the Terminator franchise is intrinsically tied to one actor and he is way too damn old for the part now.

Now there is yet another Terminator movie in the batter’s box and it must be a pile of hot garbage. The marketing team is trying to get the Misogynistic Man-Babies Who Live in their Mother’s Basements all pissed off at the flick, so that SJWs will feel obliged to destroy their money and afternoons supporting it. This is because they’ve already written off the core-audience on the grounds that it no longer exists.

This now brings us back to the core question posed in the title of this post. Can Terminator be saved?

And the answer is surprisingly, yes. In fact I recently saw a great Terminator story, (more on that in a minute).

A good place to start, would be by answering the question that, (so far as I remember), none of the other films has ever tried to unpack: Where did John Connor come from in the first place? Just as a reminder of the freaking obvious, John Connor’s existence is a logical impossibility. He wouldn’t have been born unless he sent his father back in time but he couldn’t have sent his father back in time if he had never been born in the first place. He could never have existed without time travel. What were the events that set that paradox in motion?

A great story succeeds or fails by the style of it’s telling. And the great little Terminator story I recently saw had nothing to do with killer robots or Big Arnold. It was a very thoughtful and intelligent study of time travel and it’s implications. And it was called Stein’s Gate.

I’ll be doing a Cataline Recommends on Stein’s Gate soon. I’ll need to get all of my thoughts sorted on that one first.

Okay, I’m done here.

4 thoughts on “Can Terminator be Saved?

  1. I’m in the minority, but I’ve always preferred Terminator to T2. The first has a tight, self-contained story. T2 is simply too overblown. It’s not bad, just not better. The other thing is the flashback scenes in Terminator are gritty and feel real. Humanity is basically vermin, scraping together whatever they can to beat the machines. In T2, they suddenly have nice uniforms and terminators are running everywhere. Terminator Genisys is worse in that regard.

    The story about what set off the paradox could be interesting. I have no idea how you go about it, but look forward to hearing about it.

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    1. They’re both great movies, but as a child of the 90’s who saw T2 first, that one will always be my fave. I’ll be honest though, the one thing I dislike about it is the paradox of “if you had a liquid metal Terminator, why not send THAT to 1984 when the good guys would have been even less prepared to deal with it?” I guess it might work if you posit that Skynet and the resistance’s meddling created a new timeline where both Connor and Skynet effectively create themselves, and which accelerated Terminator technology in the future to the point where the T-1000 was possible. But then again, if only organic matter can go back in time, how does the T-1000 do it…?

      You know my thoughts on T3. T4 might have been interesting if they had blown up the core trope of the franchise like they had planned to (the original ending called for John Connor to die and Sam Worthington’s character to literally parade around in his skin). Genisys was just bad, bad, bad. It hurt to watch Arnold whore himself out like that.

      What’s funny is that the TV show (which went unmentioned, even though in my opinion it’s not on the level of the first two but better than T3) actually DID do that by (spoiler alert!) accidentally sending young John Connor to the future where no one knows who he is because he ceased to exist until he came out of the timewarp. It also had the interesting idea of a “good Skynet” who didn’t want to wipe out humanity. Sadly, the show was cancelled before any of that could be explored. Everything I described happens in the last episode.

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  2. Saw T1 on home video and was blown out as a kid.

    I saw T2 on the cinema and while I was blown out by the special effects and the overall effectiveness of the movie (Same effectiveness as with Aliens) there were many things that bothered me.

    T2 suffers from the “We have a time machine but we’re running out of time” syndrome that it is now pervasive in fantastic storytelling.

    This can be explained in a multitude of ways but is exemplified by Skynet being retarded by not sending the T1000 to the 80’s

    Second issue I have with the movie is that the T1000 disappears from screen for a sizeable chunk of the movie, something that always bothered me, the T1000 should be actively searching for the Connors, he has nothing else to do.

    Third issue is the nature of the T1000, I know Terminator is fantasy, but it bothers me that it can switch from inorganic to organic depending on the script requirements.

    I have seen the movie once and I haven’t ever bothered to watch it again, saw T3 in the cinema with my brother and both of us thought: “meh”, I haven’t bothered with the rest.

    T2 and the rest shouldn’t have been made as Terminator movies but their own separate thing, however (((marketing and reasons))).

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