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!