Monday, May 25, 2009

Say 'Hasta La Vista Baby' To Terminator

Interesting little rumor by SlashFilm about the possible setting for "Terminator 5." What really caught my eye was not the information it had -- that T5 could possibly be set in 2011 post-war London -- but that it discussed a fifth Terminator movie as if it had a remote chance of happening.

Because we'll hear Glenn Close announce Steven Seagal as the Best Actor winner at the Oscars before we see another Terminator film. The franchise is dead. Not Marcus Wright dead. Not Jean Grey dead. Uncle Ben dead. (my apologies to those of you not up on your comic book history but a quick Google search will enlighten you.)

As of today, Saturday June 6, "Terminator Salvation" hasn't even cleared $100M domestically. That's half of its $200 million budget and the way the picture is hemorrhaging audience share and theaters, it will be lucky to hit $125M in the U.S.

Now we know the way to finally unplug Skynet: Send in McG!

Couple that with the recent cancellation of TV's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles", the signs are clear: The Terminator franchise is just about out of gas.

The kiss of death for a fanboy-targeted film like this is bad word of mouth. Because if the diehards aren't behind your movie, it doesn't have a chance. Go ahead and scour some genre sites and read what's been posted about T4. Just make sure the little ones aren't reading over your shoulder. Some of it is downright harsh.

Most critics agreed (although REEL TALK did give it a positive review. Hit the clip to see it). T4 is currently at 34% at Rotten Tomatoes. That's worse than "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" ("Star Trek" BTW, is at 95%).

What went wrong? We could point the finger at McG- everyone else has - and yes, as director he deserves much of the blame. Aside from cool action scenes -- notice I said cool, not groundbreaking -- the unfortunately-named helmer didn't do anything to disprove the haters who said he didn't have the filmmaking depth to follow in James Cameron's footsteps. When you have Christian Bale in your lead role, you need to make sure he isn't overshadowed by an unknown actor who can't disguise his Aussie accent.

You also need to make sure you don't start shooting with a one-dimensional script that gives the cast so little to work with. But it's not all McG's fault. After all, he did deliver on the hardware worship he'd been promising for the past year, with the Moto-Terminator cycles setting a new standard for post-apocalyptic cool. The sheer look and sound of the movie was superb. Unfortunately, the film was all style, no substance.

And an equally large chunk of the blame needs to fall directly at the feet of McG's handpicked star. Now understand before you read the following: I am a HUGE Christian Bale fan. Not only do I consider him one of the most talented actors working today, I think he is as good as any star at picking good scripts. Look at the projects he's been involved in.

"American Psycho." "Rescue Dawn." "Equilibrium." "3:10 to Yuma." "I'm Not There." "The Prestige." "The Machinist." "Velvet Goldmine." I didn't even mention the two Batman movies. Something else you notice as you peruse Bale's all-over-the-place resume is how it's the material, not the actual role, that seems to pull him in.

He's made a career of being second fiddle to other actors, whether it be Ewan McGregor, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and most famously, Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight." He plays the straight man again in T4, to Sam Worthington's Marcus Wright.

That decision, however, to sidekick John Connor is one of the key reasons why "Terminator Salvation" doesn't work. He's the prophesized leader of the resistance. How do you NOT make your movie about Connor? HE'S THE KEY TO THE ENTIRE MYTHOLOGY!! (didn't anyone bother to re-watch T1 and T2 before shooting began?)

Bale has said repeatedly in interviews that he didn't sign on until T4's script was to his liking. How could he possibly have been happy with this screenplay? None of the roles were fleshed out, while some were downright wastes of talent (I hope the woefully-underused Bryce Dallas Howard at least got to enjoy the craft services on the set).

I know many people will say the reported $8 million + profit participation salary was the reason Bale signed on, but I don't buy it.

He already has a cash cow, and its name is Batman. He's also one of the first 3 or 4 guys the studios think of for any potential franchise, new or reboot. The rumors of him doing "John Carter Man of Mars" keep gaining steam (Drew McWeeney over @ had a detailed writeup about it recently). Also, Bale doesn't live the 'Entourage' celebrity lifestyle that demands taking certain roles just for the amount of zeros on the paycheck. Just a guess, but I think the family Bale is not wanting for anything right now, outside of some privacy. So while money is always part of any Hollywood equation, I don't believe that was the primary motivation here.

So while Bale's rep for picking good projects will take a hit, he'll be fine in the long run. Advance word on "Public Enemies" is good and besides, he's already showed Dennis Rodman-like rebounding ability in the wake of his on-set tantrum.

This is likely the last hurrah for the Terminator property, however.

There was an alarming lack of buzz surrounding the pic in the months leading up to its release. Summer movie talk seemed to center on Wolverine, Harry Potter 6 and the current cyber-cinema du jour, Transformers 2.

The fact is, "Terminator 2" came out 18 years ago! Yes, there was a 14-year break between Star Wars films, but as popular as the first two Terminator movies are, they have never come close to approaching the popularity and mainstream reach of Lucas' universe. It also didn't have all the ancillary parts of the Jedi empire - the books, comics and toys - keeping the property in the public eye. It had a few comic book series, but none with any staying power. And when a sequel finally did arrive, "Rise of the Machines" in 2003 sapped whatever excitement remained for the mythology. The small-screen TSCC didn't do much to boost interest either. What I'm trying to say is, there haven't been a lot of online petitions demanding a Terminator revival.

Despite all signs pointing downward, the disappointing third chapter, the face of the franchise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, too busy Governing California, producers decided to go ahead and revive it anyway.

The deck was already stacked against T4. And the film failed to live up to the challenge.

Instead, "Salvation" mirrored another notorious fourth film - "The Phantom Menace" - in driving a stake through the heart of fanboys. The now-grown kids who had been teased by those frightening visions of the future war between man and machine had waited patiently for the payoff, and just like the Clone Wars, one of the Star Wars universe's most fabled events, it turned out to be a colossal disappointment.

Not only was John Connor a remarkably uninteresting character, but he also had a terrible memory. Why didn't Connor remember the T-800 he sent back in time to protect his younger self? Or the fact that Terminators have been sent back in time twice to save his life. What happened, the screenwriters used up all their expository dialogue on Helena Bonham Carter's role?

Talk about missed opportunities. There were so many with this movie. Not just with the John Connor role but with the technology and the advantage of the time period it was set in. How did we not see an all-out assault on Skynet by the resistance, taking on an army of Terminators? Where was the 'Oh S@#t' moment of the movie that EVERY Terminator film needs, demands.

'Salvation' didn't have that, though I did enjoy the truck chase scene with the Moto-Terminators. But not only did that scene not overwhelm you, it wasn't even the best chase scene involving a truck in the series. In fact, it was only third best. T2 and the much-maligned T3 both had more jaw-dropping road rage moments.

In the middle of all the salt-rubbing I'm doing in "Terminator Salvation's" wounds, I should point out that maybe the best part of the whole film was the look of it. Much of that credit goes to cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, who was on the receiving end of Bale's now-legendary rant. You go keeping double-checking those lights, Shane. Because this movie proved you know what the hell you're doing.

Bale and McG both talked about having clear visions of what they wanted to see unfold during their Terminator trilogy. I would suggest to both that they compare notes, hire a great artist and collaborate on a graphic novel to finish up their story. I know I'd buy it. why wouldn't I? It would be the last, best chance I have to see the Terminator saga played out to the very end.

Because I have a better chance of breaking 80 at the Black Course at Bethpage next weekend than they do of getting the green light to do a fifth Terminator movie. And I'm a really bad golfer. And this is tough to write, because I have loved this franchise since I was 13 years old.

But it won't be back.

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