January 15, 2008
Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles Pilot Episodes
Movie Review By: SFAM
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Josh Friedman
Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Medium
Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium
Key Cast Members:
- Sarah Connor: Lena Headey
- Cameron: Summer Glau
- John Connor: Thomas Dekker
Overview: OK, so the Terminator franchise was pretty much killed off with the storyline train wreck that was T3, right? Think again. The luminaries at Fox have decided to wipe the thought of T3 from our collective memories to try again. While I would have preferred something taking place in the fucked-up future, this was not the direction taken (clearly the budget for a futuristic TV series would be cost prohibitive). This one takes place in modern times, with a potential bevy of bad terminators once again attempting to waste John Conner while he, mommy and their cute little teenage Terminatrix sidekick try to force crib death on Skynet before it becomes self-aware. While the initial pilot was less than inspiring, the second episode was significantly better – so much so that its worth giving this thing a viewing or two.
The Story: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes place after Terminator 2, and ends up pretty much obliterating the Terminator 3 storyline from existence. Starting in 1999, in this “version” of the future past, Sarah (played by Lena Headey) and John Conner (Thomas Dekker) have settled down to a life of sorts, where John goes to school and Sarah waitresses and falls in love with a regular guy. While they have kept out of sight of the police, Sarah never feels safe, an decides to leave when her fiancé gives her a ring. Soon after settling in their new digs, John befriends a nice girl at school named Cameron (Summer Glau), and then almost gets blown away by his substitute teacher who turns out to be a Terminator. Luckily for him, that cute girl he befriended ends up being his protector teenage Terminator chick.
Cameron informs them that the new world expiration date (when Skynet becomes self-aware) is April 19, 2011. After a bit of terminator action, Sarah, John and Cameron agree to find out how Skynet gets revived. Strangely, this involves raiding a bank built in 1963 to find weapon parts that can kill the current “red shirt” terminator (there appear to be lots of them), and then use the time machine left there to transport them to 2007. Cameron “supposedly” did this to ensure they would be safe – NOT.
As the second episode ensues, Sarah, John and Cameron are working to get legit-looking IDs, meet up with a bunch of Connor’s staff from the future, who also came back to 2007, and then to eventually stop Skynet. Unfortunately, it turns out that another Terminator has already wasted three of the four warriors from the future. Even worse, the red-shirt Terminator wasted with the cool ray gun in episode one somehow had its parts scattered into the future when the time travel occurred – now he’s rebuilding himself.
Evaluation of The Cast:
- Cameron: Most of the early buzz around the Sarah Connor Chronicles concerns Summer Glau’s staring role as the mysterious but good terminatrix chick. In the pilot episode, she has a very mixed – mostly off – performance. Her deliverance of the signature “Come with me if you want to live” line had a quavering voice – hardly the stuff of terminators. Further, the awesome fighting we associate from her Serenity performance wasn’t on display. That said, Summer was significantly better in the second episode. Her face was more terminator-like, and she seemed to grow into the role more in a number of ways. Still, Summer is clearly not your Aaaahhnold’s Terminator - the bad guy terminators don’t even recognize her model number, for instance. She doesn’t even seem to have the same basic instruction set in that she seems to process information differently. There are already allusions to her having a very close relationship to John in the future, including a slight amount of sexual tension between Cameron and John. She could evolve into an interesting Data-like version of a “what dose it mean to be human?” terminator, or she could end up being John’s hawt android sexbot who just happens to pack a nice punch - who knows at this point?
- Sarah Conner: Lena Headey plays a fairly interesting character, but is one which bares very little resemblance to the character played by Linda Hamilton. This Sarah Connor is a waif who struggles to be tough enough to do what is necessary. Emotions are always just under the surface for this character. In truth, Headey plays a Sarah Conner FAR closer to the first Terminator instead of after the second one. I don’t know if I like the change, but besides the occasional English accent switch, Headey does a decent job playing whoever this character is supposed to be.
- John Conner: Thomas Dekker’s John Conner is FAR preferable to the monstrosity played by Nick Stahl. So far, Dekker is by far the most believable character. He seems pissed off, tough, smart and screwed over – exactly like we’d expect from the kid from Terminator 2. I’m interested to see how he “grows” into his leadership role.
- James Ellison: Ellison is an FBI agent played by Richard Jones, who seems to be discovering that the future that psycho-Sarah seems to have told everyone might actually be coming true. So far, he hasn’t had enough face time to be relevant, but there appears to be some interesting possibilities.
Problems With The Dress Code: OK, call me crazy but Sarah Conner in skirts and the Terminatrix in miniskirts just doesn’t work for me. Here’s a thought – I know its cliché but how ‘bout we try making Summer look tough. How? Hmmm, I dunno, how’s about using the traditional black leathers motif? That seemed to work for Kristanna Loken, not to mention virtually every other female action star since Catwoman in Batman Returns. Considering the number of clichés they’ve used already, this one seems like a “slam dunk.” And just another thought – have they considered possibly combat fatigues (or something similar) for Sarah Conner? Whatever they choose – PLEASE – stop the skirts.
Forget the T3 Fate - Now the Future Timeline is Fucked Up: Similar to T2, the message again is that the future is unclear. That said, if the future is sooo unclear, how is it that John Conner in the future is able to keep sending back his cronies to different times (1963, 1984, 1991, 1999, 2007 so far)? You’d think there would have been “some” change on the future, especially since apparently the 1963 machine is the way people can go back to the future. Again, one has to ask, if Skynet has the ability to send a significant number of people back (they always seem to be able to create that “one” more time machine…), why not send someone back to Sarah’s mother’s time and wax John’s grandmother? But far more troubling is the idea that all these things in the past simply haven’t affected John’s actions in the future. The world expiration date has now been pushed back to 2011 - how did that affect the people alive when John originally sent his father Reece back to 1984? Such questions are clearly beyond our understanding, but it just goes to show, that we can modify the signature line of the series (“We’re never safe”) to “We’re never safe from sequels in a previously successful franchise. Given this reincarnation, its only natural that the timeline issues so wonderfully explored in the first Terminator are now totally rendered nonsensical and silly.
They Actually Ripped Off Hardware!!! Yes, that long, lost, forgotten low-budget cyberpunk flick from Richard Stanley has been ripped off here. In Hardware, set in a dystopic future, a guy finds a cool looking robot head which he brings back home to give to his girlfriend. The head ends up being a low-budget Terminator-like robot (yes, it ripped off the original Terminator, so go figure), who ends up being able to slowly rebuild itself. Once it does, it wreaks havoc on the the wierdos living in this truly bizarre apartment building (I highly recommend this movie). The red-shirt terminator who gets wasted in the first episode apparently didn’t really get wasted (so much for the red-shirt analogy). Instead, he slowly rebuilds himself in a very cool zombie-like way…
The FX: Similar to T3, the Sarah Connor Chronicles are rescued by high quality FX – far better than we should expect from a TV series in fact. The time travel Terminator bubble looked excellent, as did the initial world destruction dream sequence. For the most part, the damaged terminators look decently realistic, and the battle sequences believable. Nice touches like the open arm and leg shots really do serve to finish this off. However, some stunts like the stupid terminator not noticing the 200 mph car hitting them have already been way overdone (twice so far). Truly terminators have learned how to look both ways before crossing at this point, ey? It looks cool and all, but give it a rest already.
The Bottom Line: For the pilot episode, I’d give it 4 stars at best. The second episode rates at least 6 stars – probably 7. While the pilot was really problematic, the possibilities exist for this to become a pretty good series. Some of the minor characters and plot points might end up working well. The whole mysterious terminator thing that Summer Glau engages in could end up being very interesting, or, if they pursue the whole love interest with John thing, it could turn into a truly sour dud. And even though the show has problems both in minor plot issues and believable characters, the well-known Terminator score really helps build suspense. We “know” what the music should sound like when a bad guy terminator approaches – we aren’t disappointed here. Bottom line, the series is worth giving a watch at this point. I’ll re-evaluate as the 12 episode season gets to its mid-point.