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Why Now? – Part 2

May 20th, 2009

whynow2

Last week I looked back at Terminators 1 through 3 and explored how each movie corresponded to a specific period of technological discourse.

Today I want to look at Terminator Salvation and try my best to understand why this movie is coming out now – because, as a pseudo-cultural historian, that is my absolute favourite question to ask.

Well, right off the bat, I suppose the simple answer is that we’re in the age of reboots. Dead franchises like Batman, James Bond, and Transformers are all proving that starting over from the beginning is a very profitable game. Even plain old sequels to forgotten series are making money (Indiana Jones 4, Die Hard 4, Rocky 6, Rambo 4, etc.) so I guess it’s just time for another Terminator.

But that’s a little too simple and pessimistic an answer for my tastes, so allow me to go further…

As I mentioned earlier, the Terminator franchise has always revolved around our conflicting fear and dependence on technology. And when I say technology, I’m talking everything from nuclear bombs to blackberries to the cotton gin. It’s a discussion about machines. And the first three movies, when viewed as a whole, walk a nice middle line, neither condemning nor praising a techno-society, but suggesting that we might want to keep our eyes open and think about what we’re doing before we go ahead and do it.

So where does Terminator Salvation fit into this equation?

Well, welcome to 2009.

Even in the scant six years between T3 and now, “technology” has advanced to the point where we need to update our discussion. To sum everything up in a nice cynical fashion… now dating is done through Facebook (not to mention the “sexting” craze), every fourth grader needs a cell phone, and “doctors” are seriously starting to believe that technology is making us stupider (though, as a proud member of this new stupid generation, that seems an awful lot like an obsolete generation’s failure to understand their successors – sort of like the generation of parents who hated the Beatles).

So enter Terminator Salvation, where we meet a group of people living on the edge, hoping to build bigger and louder machines in order to defeat the biggest and loudest machines. Guns, planes, cars, even PDAs ensure survival, but a failure to understand basic radio signals spells doom. And the key to winning it all? The one guy who’s half-man and half-machine – Marcus Wright.

To my eyes and ears, Terminator Salvation is a look at a society where an understanding of technology is absolutely necessary to belong. Much like the world I find myself in, if you can’t work with machines, if you don’t know them inside and out, you don’t have a job. (As a writer working on the Internet, I find this highly entertaining.) And the ideal human is the guy who can actually become a machine, but can still cry and feel pain and make heroic sacrifices and all that other mushy “human” stuff.

So I guess what I’m saying is, amidst the unbelievably cool action scenes (which I’ll be talking about tomorrow), Terminator Salvation might just be the most intelligent movie of the summer. McG absolutely nailed the allegory – the “discussion” about technology is over; the machines are here and they won. Now it’s about surviving and fitting in. And hey, it’s not such a bad thing after all. At the end of the day, we’re still people who can fall in love and be heroes and make tough choices, only now we’ve got craigslist.

So check back tomorrow for my review of Terminator Salvation and have an excellent opening day!

a little philosophy

The Unavoidable Topic of the Christian Bale Freakout…

May 12th, 2009

bale

So I’ve tried to postpone doing the requisite article about Christian Bale’s little temper tantrum on the set of Terminator Salvation, but as we head into opening week, I guarantee that every holier-than-thou film critic in the world will be cracking jokes about the hissy fit, so I figure I should share my thoughts now…

There are few things more painful than being disappointed in your heroes. And let’s be honest, that’s what Christian Bale is. At least to me. I could talk about how he’s singlehandedly reviving the action movie, or how inspiring his dedication to genre fiction is, or how legitimately impressive his acting is, or how everyone I know (male or female, gay or straight) seems to have just the littlest bit of a crush on him. But the simple fact is, he’s Batman. In the incredibly illuminating novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon argues that Batman, like other sidekick-toting heroes, is an eternal father figure to generations of lost kids. And something about that has always rung true to me.

And so, ever since I first saw Batman Begins, Christian Bale has been one of my favourite actors, ranking up there with other “cool guys” like Harrison Ford, Humphrey Bogart, and everyone from The Wire. Here was a seriously talented guy who actually wanted to do silly sci-fi flicks like Batman and Terminator. He seemed to legitimate my own fascination with silly sci-fi stuff. And for that reason, I always saw him as a pretty down to Earth kind of guy. Someone you might be able to grab a beer with.

But then there was that pesky little tape of him berating a crewmember, and my faith was shaken, and it was a little difficult to continue viewing him as the common man. At one point or another we’ve all worked customer service jobs, or assistant jobs, or any minimum wage job, so I don’t need to explain how frustrating and off-putting this kind of behavior is. Not cool, Batman. Not cool.

And I’ve tried to defend his actions every possible way I can: The crewmember repeatedly broke one of the cardinal rules of working on a set; Bale is a method actor and he was still in character; It was a hot day and everyone was tired and he had a momentary lapse of judgment that happened to be caught on camera; He apologized sincerely and apparently everything’s back to normal. But that’s not the way it works. There’s the wildly unrealistic superhero image of Christian Bale that I have in my head, and then there’s the mere mortal Christian Bale, and unfortunately they had to meet (just like that episode of Seinfeld with the two Georges).

But at the end of the day, I still love The Dark Knight. And I still really want to see Terminator Salvation. And chances are I’ll still get excited for every other movie Christian Bale will make over his career. So what does this say about me? Am I throwing away my principles just to see a summer blockbuster? Because if I walked into a store and saw the owner treating one of his employees that way, I’d probably never go back. Am I anti-Semitic because I still think Braveheart is a wicked movie? Because, you know, ditto. Or, as a jaded film student, do I just expect this stuff from celebrities and I’ve stopped caring altogether?

I don’t really have the answer. All I know is that I love movies enough to forgive certain flaws in filmmakers that I might not forgive in someone else. I also know from my study of Hollywood history that Christian Bale is just plain nice in comparison to some of his colleagues. Truth is, if you want to hold every filmmaker (or writer or painter or sculptor etc., etc., etc.) to such high standards, you won’t have very many people left (as a particularly poignant example, look up any one of the millions of biographies on Walt Disney). 

So, I guess what I’m saying is, Batman gets a pass in my books. Am I disappointed? Heck yeah. Would I ever approach Christian Bale in a bar? Depends how many drinks I’ve had. Am I still clawing at the walls in anticipation of a third Batman movie? You better believe it.

So my advice is to just expect this stuff, enjoy it for the entertainment value, and yeah, maybe forgive the guy. You’ll sleep better.

a little philosophy

In Defense of Time Travel

May 6th, 2009