Saturday, July 28, 2007

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Pilot Review

The Terminator franchise is one that just will not seem to go away. The first two movies by James Cameron were nothing short of brilliant. The Terminator was revolutionary for its time and made Arnold Schwarzenegger the star he is today. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a completely different movie. Where the first movie was about accepting fate, the second movie was about changing it. T2 seemed to close essentially all gaps in the franchise. The creator of SkyNet was killed and all of his work went with him, thereby preventing Judgment Day from ever occurring. Of course, despite this, people still wanted to see some Terminators, so twelve years later, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released making a decent amount of money but was somewhat disjointed from the rest of the franchise. SkyNet was now essentially the internet and more focus was placed on John Connor's future family than that of John and Sarah, especially given that Sarah was written out by succumbing to leukemia.

Now here we are, barely four years later and a new, possibly long running installment in the Terminator franchise has arrived. What this television show, which will be running on the Fox network beginning in January, is attempting to do is stand in place of Terminator 3. Essentially pretending that T3 never existed, the show is open to so many more possibilities than it would have otherwise and could possibly be a worthy successor in the Terminator universe.

The show begins in 1999 as Sarah Connor (Lena Headey from 300) was just proposed to by her boyfriend of 6 months. Taking on the alias of Sarah Reese (after Michael Biehn's character Kyle Reese), she and John (Thomas Dekker) are trying to lie low after blowing up Cyberdyne two years prior. An FBI agent, James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) is hot on their trail so Sarah takes John away and brings him to New Mexico to start a new school and yet another new life. Since they stupidly did not change their aliases, the two Terminators are able to track them down with relative ease. When the initial Terminator battle happens between the protector, a seemingly fellow high school student Cameron (Summer Glau), and the killer (Owain Yeoman), the resulting witnesses see a robot leg and all sorts of destruction not able to be caused by normal people. This puts doubt in Ellison's certainty of Sarah's insanity. The rest of the episodes centers around the fact that Sarah still wants to stop SkyNet from going active and therefore the journey begins.

What is great about the episode is the casting of John and Sarah Connor. Edward Furlong, who played John in T2 was not the greatest actor. Yet, Dekker brings to the table a vulnerability that Furlong was missing and certainly does a better job than Nick Stahl in T3. Lena Headey does a phenomenal job of replacing Linda Hamilton in the role of Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor was Hamilton's iconic role and it is a hefty challenge to replace her. While not surpassing Hamilton, Headey does a more than adequate job of commanding the role and it should be interesting to see where she takes it over the course of the series.

The action is also phenomenal. The producers seemed to spare no expense. While there was only one shot of an all-out terminator, as cool as it was, the battle worn terminators are very realistic and on par with T2, if not quite T3's effects. The intensity of the earlier movies is still present here and I am very curious to see where it is going to go and how they will keep it up. The Terminator Cameron is a very interesting character and plays it with more humanity than any previous terminator, despite having no explanation as to why at this point.

There are a couple of big negatives that could ultimately be rectified by further explanation down the road. First of all, the creation of SkyNet happens in 2011 instead of 1998 or whatever the original timeline was. How this is possible given what transpired in the second movie will need a lot of explanation, although it is very superior to the completely unrelated SkyNet that was created in T3. Secondly, the way time travel is handled in this movie is completely against everything that was established in the first two movies. The Terminators and Kyle Reese all took one-way trips before the time machines were destroyed. There was no way of going back. Now, there seems to be more time traveling happening that does not fit into the established mythology. Yet, because this was such a blatant violation of the rules of the universe, I expect that there is a distinct possibility that there are good reasons for these changes. This is one of those things that I will have to wait on.

On one final note, the pilot that I have seen will be changed slightly upon its final airing since they recently revealed that they were going to be reshooting scenes in which a shooting occurs at a school in an attempt to be sensitive following the Virginia Tech shooting. Since this scene was so integral to the plot, I am curious to see how they will be changing it. Nevertheless, it was a very cool scene and a fun introduction to the Terminators.

Overall, the show begins with a bang. The cast is good and the story so far seems interesting, even though it's starting out to be a rehash of T2. I trust that they will find their footing and come up with some compelling Terminator stories. When I initially heard about the show, I thought it was going to be a terrible idea. I did not want to see it. Now that I have seen it for myself, I think it could have some serious potential and will definitely be on my must-see list come this January.


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