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Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin, Jadagrace, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Michael Ironside
Writing Credits:
John D. Brancato, Michael Ferris

The End Begins.

In the aftermath of Judgment Day and the takeover by the machines, John Connor (Christian Bale), the destined leader of the human resistance, must counter Skynet's devastating plan to terminate mankind. As Connor rallies his underground street fighters for a last, desperate battle, he realizes that to save the future he must rescue his own father, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). But the most shocking discovery comes with the arrival of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a mysterious loner from the past who challenges Connor with an impossible choice that will determine the future of the human race - leading them both on a brutal journey into the very heart of the enemy.

Box Office:
$200 million.
Opening Weekend
$51.943 million on 3530 screens.
Domestic Gross
$125.322 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 114 min.
Price: $28.98
Release Date: 12/1/2009

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Terminator Salvation (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 23, 2009)

After 25 years, the Terminator franchise keeps chugging, but I donít know if we can say itís going strong. Actually, the series has been more active over the last few years than ever, as itís not like they cranked out one Terminator effort after another. We got the original flick in 1984, its first sequel in 1991, and its third chapter in 2003. Three movies over 20 years isnít a very active pace.

Things heated up in 2007 when Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles hit the air. Not long after that, we learned that a fourth Terminator feature film would arrive in 2009.

Though this would seem to mark a golden age for Terminator fans, the situation didnít play out to as much popular success as many wouldíve liked. Chronicles got canceled after its second season, and 2009ís big screen Terminator Salvation wasnít a huge hit. Sure, its gross of $125 million in the US meant it wasnít a flop, but with a budget of $200 million, clearly the studio hoped itíd do better. Seriously, who thought Paul Blart Mall Cop would earn more than a Terminator flick?

So it remains to be seen if any further Terminator adventures will emerge. Iíd guess they will, though it may take a while to let the dust settle and go for a ďrebootĒ ala the 2009 Star Trek movie.

In the first two flicks, folks fought to prevent Judgment Day. They did the same in the TV series and the third movie as well, but T3 indicated that Judgment Dayís gonna happen no matter what.

Which leads us to Salvation, the only Terminator film to focus on the events after Judgment Day. Mostly, at least, as it starts with a sequence set in pre-apocalypse 2003. Condemned prisoner Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) grudgingly agrees to donate his body to science to help the research of cancer-ridden Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter).

From there the movie gives us a text explanation of Judgment Day and the war against the machines, all of which folks who saw the earlier movies will know. The flick leaps ahead to 2018 and introduces us to John Connor (Christian Bale), one of the leaders of the human resistance against Skynet and all its mechanical operatives.

A mission to rescue human prisoners doesnít work out well, and only one survivor emerges: Marcus Wright, though he doesnít know who he is or how he got there. (And neither do we at this point.) As he wanders the wasteland, he meets and befriends Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), the man fans know will someday become Connorís father.

And Connor knows this as well, so he reacts accordingly when he learns that Skynet has targeted teenage Kyle. Connor also volunteers to take on a mission to test a method that might just pull the plug on Skynet; this will allow him the chance to save Reese and thus himself. Much action and various revelations emerge along the way.

Wow, thatís a complicated synopsis, isnít it? Iíve seen the film twice and still donít feel certain that I really covered the story very well. Not that I suspect it really matters, as plot nuances and character issues arenít really the filmís emphasis.

Instead, action comes to the fore, as well it should in a Terminator movie. After three prior flicks and two seasons of a TV series, I must admit I find it more and more difficult to care about the various participants and their quest to save mankind. I think once T3 told us that apocalypse was inevitable, the quest lost some of its urgency.

In fact, I think that setting the film post-Judgment Day gives viewers even less hope of actual resolution. When we saw Terminator and T2, we thought that the participants mightíve prevented the apocalypse. In T3, we actually saw Judgment Day, but that offered its own strange form of conclusion; hey, at least it meant we wouldnít have to watch various Connors attempt to stop it anymore.

On the other hand, Salvation finds us in a different place. I donít think itís a spoiler to reveal that John and his partners donít end the war with the machines here. Perhaps someday the franchiseís producers will decide that enough is enough and theyíll allow John to finish things once and for all, but I doubt it. Even if that does occur, the tangled time travel web the series weaves always means something could happen to alter apparently decisive events.

In any case, Salvation lacks the sense of conclusion that we found with the first three movies. Even if we suspected that those flicks would generate more adventures, they wouldíve worked as finales. Salvation doesnít succeed in that way. It comes across like a chapter in a much bigger book, not something that stands on its own particularly well.

That sense of transition makes it more difficult to invest in the characters. I suppose we hope that John and Marcus will save Kyle because of the characterís fate as an adult, but that area opens a big old can of worms that has always been the seriesí biggest logic weakness. In the first film, John sends Kyle back to 1984 to save Sarah. Kyle and Sarah get it on, and the resulting pregnancy creates John.

Which always left open the big question: how did 1984 Future John Ė the one who told Kyle to go back in time and protect his mama Ė come into existence in the first place? In some timelineís 1984, someone other than Kyle had to knock up Sarah to create 1984 Future John or else he couldnít tell T1 Kyle to travel in time.

Oy, that paradox makes my head hurt! And it always will, as the series will never adequately resolve it. Since the series plays so fast and loose with logic, this means we find ourselves less invested in the charactersí fates. Even if Salvationís circa 2018 Kyle gets iced, whoís to say other time travelers wonít hop to another era to protect him and alter the events of 2018?

We also feel pretty sure that John wonít die. Not only is he the lead and Bale the movieís biggest star, but John has to live another 10 years so he can send Kyle back to 1984 to knock up his mama. (Ugh Ė my headís hurting again.) The movie toys with Johnís mortality, but we never really feel a threat against him for these reasons.

Because of this, only Salvation-exclusive characters allow us to feel any emotional investment. This mainly means Marcus as well as Johnís wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Marcusís gal pal Blair (Moon Bloodgood). Honestly, we donít really care what happens to the two women. Kate receives so little exposition that sheís there as nothing more than a prop. Blair gets better development, but we sort of expect her to die, so in a perverse way, it doesnít matter if she does. Sheís kind of like a red shirt in Star Trek; she feels like cannon fodder.

This leaves Marcus as the movieís emotional heart, and he works surprisingly well in that capacity. (Alert: potential spoilers ahead!) As we learn about halfway through the movie, Marcus is an unwitting double agent of the machines; heís an infiltration terminator who doesnít even realize this is his lot in life. (You may already know this from the trailers, as they revealed too much and eliminated the surprise from the movieís big reveal of Marcus as terminator.)

Marcus displays the most emotional range in the movie as he attempts to cope with his half-man, half-machine status. Heís the first terminator to show actual feelings, and heís also the one who most actively combats his status as a killing machine. Oh, others showed some self-awareness, but their human sides resulted from programming, whereas Marcusís humanity comes from his source as an actual person.

I guess. As Iíve already noted, the Terminator series has never been very good about logic and continuity, and Salvation doesnít give us a solid understanding of Marcusís creation. Iíve seen the flick twice, and I must admit I still donít really understand how the executed prisoner from 2003 turned into the man-machine of 2018. Maybe Iím just slow, but I donít think the movie does much to explain this, and it also makes little sense that in an era during which Skynet is just starting to make T800s Ė ie, the Arnold Terminator Ė they can produce such a sophisticated hybrid man-machine. I realize heís a prototype, but he still seems like a big leap ahead in terminator technology.

Despite all these question marks, Marcus at least gives the movie a sense of real emotion and heart. He takes us on a journey that the others canít accomplish, and he also offers the only major character whose fate seems up in the air. Worthington does a good job in the role and allows us to really care about the character.

Bale is less effective, though I donít fault the actor much. Though heís the nominal lead, Salvation remains much more invested in the Marcus story, and it doesnít seem to worry much about Connor. John often feels like a supporting role, and the movie seems to forget about him for long stretches. In reality, I think he gets a fair amount of screentime, but it just doesnít feel that way. Connorís a reasonably active participant but heís not as major a factor as Iíd expect.

That said, as a fan of the franchise, I think itís fun to learn more about the various participants and see the nuts and bolts of the Future War as depicted in Salvation. Every other Terminator effort just gives us hints and tidbits of the post-Judgment Day world, so Salvation is the only one that really engulfs us in its reality.

I also like the ďfull circleĒ feel to the tale. As I mentioned earlier, the film shows the timelineís introduction of the T800, so we get the impression that weíve come back close to the era of the first flick. Thatís not really true - T1ís John and Kyle are a good decade older than Salvationís characters Ė but I like the feeling of progression and development.

Director McG doesnít have much skill in terms of story and character development, but he knows his way around an action scene, so that side of Salvation succeeds reasonably well. The film integrates its many CG creations into the real environments in an effective manner and it gives us more than a few exciting set pieces.

And still, I find myself somewhat disenchanted with Salvation due to the lack of character investment. When I saw it theatrically, the action scenes worked well enough to carry the day, but on second viewing, the filmís shortcomings become more apparent. Salvation has enough good action to make it reasonably enjoyable, but the lack of strong character drama means that it leaves a hollow feeling.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio A/ Bonus D-

Terminator Salvation appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not a bad SD-DVD presentation, the transfer was more erratic than Iíd like.

Some of the inconsistencies came from sharpness. Parts of the movie exhibited good clarity and definition, but more than a few exceptions occurred, especially in wide shots. Those tended to suffer from notable jagged edges and some shimmering. Overall delineation was fairly good, but too many unattractive shots appeared.

Some light edge haloes occurred, and other forms of artifacting marred the presentation. I noticed a bit of mosquito noise, and the movie occasionally looked grainier than it should. Various print flaws were absent, however, as the film lacked specks, mars or other distractions.

To fit its post-apocalyptic wasteland setting, Salvation went with a severely restricted palette most of the time. In essence, we got faded browns or chilly blue-greens; a few other tones emerged on occasion, but this usually remained a very limited set of colors. Even given those restrictions, I wasnít especially impressed by the hues. They seemed a bit messy and lacked great clarity.

Blacks were similarly erratic. Dark tones tended to be somewhat flat and inky, and shadows were up and down. Some low-light shots offered decent clarity, but many were rather dense and tough to discern. I found enough positives here to make this a ďCĒ transfer, but the concerns made it inconsistent.

On the other hand, I couldnít complain about any aspect of the filmís stellar Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. As I expected, Salvation offered a dynamic soundfield that cranked out material from all five speakers on a near constant basis. Packed with action sequences, the movie used the different channels to great effect. Various vehicles, gunfire, explosions and other elements cropped up all around the room and created a terrific sense of excitement. They all blended together well and formed an immersive setting that served the film in a compelling manner.

Audio quality was very satisfying as well. Effects played the most prominent role, and they kicked butt across the board. Everything sounded clear and accurate, and these elements offered terrific low-end response; bass was consistently deep and firm. Music presented good range and clarity as well, and speech was crisp and concise. I felt very pleased with this excellent soundtrack.

The disc opens with a few ads. We get promos for Blu-ray Disc, Sherlock Holmes, the Batman: Arkham Asylum videogame, the Terminator Salvation graphic novel, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. And thatís it Ė if you want supplements, youíll have to get the Blu-ray.

As a film, I maintain a lukewarm attitude toward Terminator Salvation. On one hand, I like its many exciting action pieces, but on the other, it doesnít have much else going for it. Only one character takes us on any sort of emotional ride, and the rest of the film leaves us feeling curiously cold. The DVD provides stellar audio, but it comes with mediocre visuals and virtually no extras. I like Salvation enough to recommend it to Terminator fans, but I think itís the weakest of the seriesí four movies.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 44
10 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main