Most film series have an over-riding feel or theme that unify them and when they move away from it the results are often fatal. For the Terminator series it’s all about dreams. The first is an outright nightmare, the second is like a daydream that startles you awake and the third always felt tinged by John Connor’s insomniac paranoia. That they also place memories of possible futures and actual dreams front and centre only re-enforces this feeling. The forth film tried but lost this and the franchise became yet another action yarn.
Terminator Genisys doesn’t even bother. It’s about fan service and convoluted (i.e. dumb) plotting. It ends up offering nothing more than it’s existence and none of it is convincing. Take Jai Courtney; Kyle Reese is no longer a battle scarred, half-starved soldier on a desperate mission, he’s now ‘generic action guy’ and interchangeable with countless others. This goes for most of the film and, to be honest, if you hadn’t seen those spoilertastic trailers you’d still know exactly what’s coming.
Disappointing, but you already knew that didn’t you.
It’s fitting that The Terminator was supposedly inspired by a dream (or, more accurately, some Harlan Ellison stories) because it plays like a nightmare. From the dreams of a future past holocaust that infects everyday machines to the insanity of Reese’s story and the impossible, unstoppable mechanical man, none of it should be happening if Sarah is awake. But it is and the film is a classic because it doesn’t let up and nothing feels like a waste.
The next two movies didn’t have the life on show here; the first sequel is a bloated affair and the second feels unfinished although the ending is great. They have their share of moments but neither is as smart or interesting as the original and both suffer from Arnie’s need to recast himself as a father.
Like a lot of people my age, I first became aware of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide through the BBC’s children’s TV show Blue Peter (1958 – ). In 1988 the annual appeal was The Great Blue Peter Bring and Buy Sale for Kampuchea (in 1979 they had done a similar appeal to bring food to the survivors of Pol Pot’s utterly fucking warped ideology). Mention Blue Peter appeals to people of my age and this is generally the one they will remember, no surprise as we were 8 and just starting to look outwards and understand the world a bit. It stuck with me and when I saw The Terminator (1984) for the first time about three years later it was the Cambodian skulls that I was brought back to.
Even having spent a further 26 years looking out at the world, Rithy Panh’s documentary telling of the Cambodian genocide is still a slap in the face. It’s a tale told using simple clay figures and archive footage that drag this tragedy of mass numbers into a very personal and staggering story of humanity, will and survival. What works is the simplicity of it all, a simplicity that still manages to raise large questions about freedom and the meaning of recorded images.
This is a great example of abstracting a subject into focus.
Here’s a clip from the Blue Peter appeal of one of the presenters interviewing the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.