Thursday, 25 June 2009

Film: Terminator Vs Transformers Vs Star Trek

I have now seen all of this unholy trilogy that is being constantly referred to as “the summer movies”, a phrase that makes me wince ever so slightly, as if the only reason I’ve seen these films is because they have been carefully and perfectly marketed to me in order to catch some kind of summer vibe that requires, nay, demands to see things fight each other, win romantic conquests, blow up or a combination of all three.

From this squabble of “summer movies”, I’m going to ascertain a clear winner and a runner up. Let me first of all establish that surprisingly, none of them were out and out bad. If you have to pick one and you find yourself not wanting to read through the rest of this, see Star Trek, but I think I’ve already said that in a previous post.

Terminator: Salvation
I hear lots of people calling this Terminator 4, which it is, essentially, but I’ve noticed a trend with these films in that they’ve abandoned numerical identification, almost as if they are trying to trick us into thinking these are new, original, not-in-any-way-a-sequel ideas. The fourth film in any series definitely seems to be the final nail in a franchise shaped coffin, with exceptions of very long running series’ such as the James Bond films. There may be a reason for this in that we are used to the format of a trilogy and the well trodden beginning middle and end. You look at any trilogy (preferably one that was planned to be as such) and you should see the beginning in the first film, the ending in the third film, and the second film containing almost pure plot and struggle (or struggling plot in some cases). Even trilogies that only become trilogies after the success of the first film such as the original Star Wars, the Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean seem to follow this structure, so it’s clear we’re happy with three films in a series before we start to lose interest. A fourth film will always destabilize how an audience will feel about the other products. The Alien series is probably a good example of this in that the fourth film can only really be described as “snooker loopy” with the main character being a resurrection of the main character from the previous films through the method of replicating her DNA through the ashes that remained of her body after the third film. Although the fourth film wasn’t all bad (the script was pretty good and the characters for the most part solid) it served to remind me that the whole franchise had started to go rapidly down hill. Terminator Salvation did the same thing. Instead of enjoying the film, I couldn’t help thinking about how much better earlier incarnations were. Terminator was fun, Terminator 2 was remarkable and probably the only film that I can see as better than the original, and Terminator 3 threw everything out the window and started heading rapidly down hill again, exactly as it did with the Alien films.
Focusing more on the film as opposed to half-baked theory on audience tolerance and running the same idea through the sequel grinder, I can’t put my finger on exactly what was wrong with Terminator Salvation. It had some promising moments, it had some decent if underdeveloped characters and it was great to finally see a bit more of the post-apocalyptic world that was teased at the beginning of Terminator 2. Unfortunately, the post-apocalyptic world that was teased at the beginning of Terminator 2 was much more bleak and dramatic in my imagination (and I know it’s difficult to make some both bleak and dramatic at the same time so I really do expect too much from my films), they had John Connor as the main character instead of the far more interesting half-man half-machine character that was introduced, and the promising moments were near the beginning of the film that were quickly abandoned around about the time a giant humanoid transformer style robot with bikes that launched from his thighs turned up, delicately picked up some humans and put them in his basket, blew everything else up and rode off on the back of a flying machine.
I feel like I’m being harsh on this film when I think back on it. It was better than the third film, but the third film still felt more like a Terminator film. I suppose now I’m being incredibly difficult to please by seeming to demand original material yet original material that adheres close enough to what has come before it.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
This one was pure unmitigated fun. Following my logic discussed previously, this being the second film in the series, if it were a trilogy, we’d be into the substantial meat of the story. As it happened, Revenge of the Fallen is allegedly the final Transformers film that Michael Bay intends to direct, so actually what we got was substantial story and an ending, but that is said with a caveat the size of China in that putting the words “substantial”, “story” and “Transformers” together isn’t truly representative of what I’m talking about. I’ve read reviews about this film that say it’s boring, along the lines that fireworks are boring: See one firework and it’s impressive, spend an evening watching fireworks and it becomes dull, only replacing the word “firework” with the phrase “robot turning into a car/plane/tiger”. I can’t honestly say it was boring. Apparently the film was very long, but again, I can’t really say I noticed. Some people have said the plot is confusing, or not there, or somehow hidden. This again is probably not fair; I think if you think about it for too long it will disappear, but there is a plot in there somewhere and it holds up well enough to have transforming robots beating up transforming robots, and really, if you’re expecting Citizen Kane from Transformers, someone needs to remind you that this is a film based on a cartoon based on a line of toys that became popular after Hasbro recognized that children generally want a tiny amount of back story to what they’re playing with.
Another Transformers film would wound this particular reinvention (and Transformers have been reinvented many many times before so I can’t say the franchise as a whole) and a fourth film would kill it.
This film was however, as I’ve said, fun. Really good fun. I don’t know if it was because it’s genuinely decent, or whether it was because I saw it with three other twenty-something-probably-too-old-for-this-film types, but either way, it was fun.

Star Trek
Star Trek has now had so many films, TV series’, spin offs and what-have-you that they’re pretty much coming full circle. I can’t even think of what number you could accurately pin on this film. Possibly 0 because of the fact it’s pretty much a prequel, but potentially 11, 12, 35, or whatever number they’ve gotten up to previously.
This is a franchise that is a very very brave project for anyone, even someone with decent credentials such as JJ Abrams. The use of the word “rabid” in describing even mild fans of the series is probably a massive understatement, but in short, there is a lot of room here to anger a lot of people, and from what I can see, he neatly avoids any issue like this by saying “Right. All that happened. Now this is happening as well, but earlier and differently.” To briefly explain that nonsensical statement, this isn’t a reboot or a re-imagining or a lowly remake, this is just a new series set in an alternate universe, a concept that is explored probably every five episodes of any Star Trek television series, thus making it sit perfectly well with true Star-Trek-for-life fans, and giving it room to be fun and entertaining for the newcomers to the series.
I have nothing much more to say about Star Trek other than it was very well executed, the casting was spot on, it trod the line between not-taking-itself-seriously and decent science fiction extremely well and I would recommend it to anybody, regardless of whether they like space ships or not.

The Winner Is:
I’ve already said which is the better film. In fairness to the other two however, Star Trek had its script finished just prior to the writers strike. Transformers and Terminator weren’t so lucky, and it was noticeable that for some sections, dialogue and direction was somewhat improvised. There were in fact whole sequences in Transformers that were really just showing what was going on as opposed to spending any time going through it, but I actually thought this worked quite well. A film that claims heritage to a line of toys can get away with this. A film that is known for its philosophical ramblings on the nature of man, war and inevitable self destruction can not.
If you have to pick one film to see, see Star Trek, if you can make it to two, go for Transformers, and if you can go and see three, see Wolverine, but if you’re bored, Terminator isn’t as bad as it could have been and it isn’t a complete waste of your time, just a partial waste.

Additional Notes:
Actually, I can’t even say the word movie without feeling physically ill. I don’t know what it is about the word; I just always see them as films.

I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned Wolverine before or not. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure why.

I suspect the real test of whether I’m right or not about Star Trek being for everyone is if my girlfriend would like it, but I’m just not brave enough to throw my theories into the field just yet. My self esteem could not take the hit if my suppositions turned out flawed.

Incidentally, at some point in the future, maybe we’ll see the actual film of Terminator Vs Transformers Vs Star Trek. I’m not saying it would be good, but it would at least be well attended.

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