I was just old enough for my Dad to show me The Terminator when it came out on VHS in 1984. I still remember the awe I felt for the robot, the merciless, emotionless, endless assault it made upon poor Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn (and people wonder why I don’t trust Co-Host.) Watching it on our crappy little 24 inch tube TV, I think my Dad and I actually cheered with relief when Sarah Connor uttered those classic words, “You’re Terminated, Fucker.” I still get the chills thinking about it.
I was 21 years old when T2 made it to our local theater. I couldn’t believe that someone had made a sequel to a film I thought nobody took seriously except my small group of movie-saavy friends. We snuck in about a case of Milwaukee's Best in our trench coats and proceeded to get our mind’s drunkenly blown by what is still arguably the best action film of all time. “Come with me if you want to live.”
That’ll put hair on your balls. Not the crappy beer, the movie (the beer will just make you want to get a better job so you can afford something that’s not just refrigerated piss.)
Unbelievably, after a monster hit like that, everything stopped. No new Terminator projects for umpteen billion years. There were numerous attempts to get at third film launched but they all stalled for various reasons. Regardless, aside from a mixed bag of comic tie-in releases from Dark Horse occasionally and disappointingly pitting Terminators against everyone from Robocop to Superman, a whole mess of mainly-worthless games, and a cool ride at Universal Studios, nothing new happened until 2003. Linda Hamilton had gotten original director James Cameron’s share of the rights during their divorce and she immediately sold them to Carolco pictures who after going bankrupt and arising from the ashes as C2 pictures, finally got the long awaited Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines released albeit to a mixed bag of reviews. While it’s definitely the weakest of the three films, I personally still enjoyed the hell out of it. I know, I know, I liked Spider-man III and Superman Returns too, so what? If you don’t like it, go start “splash.com” or something.
I’m as confused as the next geek as to whether the continuity of the show ties into the upcoming film. The producers blatantly state that T3 is from an “alternate time-line” and that the Chronicles follows the characters after the events of T2. That’s the wonderful thing about time-travel sci-fi. The moment you introduce chronal displacement into your mythology, anything that didn’t work you can write off as having taken place on an alternate time-line or parallel earth or was made by Alan Smithee.
Of course, with a new bad Terminator comes a new good Terminator, so they send the perfect cyborg to accompany a teenage boy...an uber-hot Terminatrix named Cameron played by the lithe River Tam. Uh, I mean Summer Glau. I know if I was John Connor with her as my own Terminator, I’d be writing some new code, if you hear what I’m saying.
Cameron is much stronger than she looks so she effectively and repeatedly beats off, um, defends them against the evil Terminator named Cromartie (?) but they realize that he’s too tight on their trail so they figger a way to time jump slightly into the future...the far flung date of 2007. There the series effectively starts it’s new tale and it’s evolving of the Terminator mythos.
While the techno-fear element of the Terminator films made sense back in the eighties and nineties, it seems almost quaint now. When Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) looks at horror at a computer, it’s much harder to take it seriously now. I’ve seen so much online porn that computers give me an autonomic pavlovian erection. That being said, while there are obviously a few issues here that aren’t addressed to my comfort as a giant fan of the series, mostly I’m nitpicking. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is actually a very impressive undertaking.
It’s not easy to stick to continuity and write a time-travel series, but damned if they don’t do work their asses off trying. From the documentaries in the extras, you learn that show-runner Josh Friedman (the guy who started the bizarre internet obsession in the film “Snakes on a Plane” with his killer blog “I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing”) is as big a fan and loyalist to the original films as his audience is, and it shows. Not only does he get the action scenes and effects EXACTLY right, but he finds ways for us to deeply sympathize with these characters as well. I expected at best the cool shit factor might be up to snuff but the drama gets it just as right. While the show uses the same technique T2 did of having the characters explain their odd human behaviors to the Terminator in order for us to emotionally connect to them, often it's the surprising subtle, layered messages that are revealed that can be quite touching. In the episode “The Demon Hand”, I actually cried a little at the end. That’s right. I was moved to tears by a Terminator.
I could tell you about how great the cast is in this, especially the so-good-she-makes-up-for-not-having-muscles Lena Headey, make no mistake, the supporting cast is great here as well. James Ellison (Richard T Jones) is an FBI agent who has been tracking Sarah for years. Charlie Dixon (Dean Winters) is Sarah’s former fiancee who she left behind in 1999 only to find him bewildered to see her alive and the same age so many years later. The various and sundry actors playing the other Terminators all hold their own as well as big guys playing killer robots need to. The surprising stand out is Brian Austin Green, best known from his long run on 90210, who plays Derek Reese, the brother to John’s father Kyle (from the first movie, remember?) About half way through the nine episodes he joins the cast and while his broody, tortured “OMG we’re all gonna die, no pity for these frakking robot-lovers” byline which makes Sarah look like a model citizen by comparison is grating at first, the story ultimately develops his tortured, morally confused character to a fascinating level. In a flash-forward-to-the-future episode we learn plenty about his motivations and distrust of “good”Terminators. His relationship with John has its own satisfying relevance as well in the wake of John never really having a male role-model outside of a short-lived Austrian robot.
Most of the extras, outside the interesting documentaries, are space-filler here: A video of Summer Glau practicing ballet (really, on a Terminator DVD?), cast audition tapes (are these EVER interesting?), an animating sequence (I suppose if you’re really into knowing how storyboards work…), and a gag reel (without many gags.) The disk features extra scenes on a few of the episodes that are usually worth a look and three episodes have commentary by Josh Friedman and the cast/crew. If you want to, you can watch the extended cut of “The Demon Hand” the great episode I mentioned earlier.
The drama of Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles manages to stay tense throughout for the obvious reasons, but manages to get to sleep-inhibiting levels when the show makes some reveals that force the audience to rethink almost everything we’ve seen so far. While I don’t usually watch TV as it airs (with the exception of Lost, because if I don’t, Leon will “accidentally” let something slip I suspect just so that I’ll get caught up and he can talk about it with me), you can totally believe that on September 8th I’ll be tuning in for the premiere of season two. They got me. Just what I needed, another TV show to become hopelessly addicted to. It’s no wonder I never meet women.