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Movie Review: Terminator Salvation

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A man is about to be sentenced to death in the year 2003. A pale, cancer-ridden lady sits across from him quietly begging him to donate his body. For what we don’t know, but we can guess easily enough from the trailers what his body will be donated to.

Flash forward to 2018. Self-aware machines have taken over the earth, a robotic zombie invasion complete with a mechanical Isengard located in the heart of San Francisco. Well, it used to be the Bay Area until the machines took over. Now it is the hub where all the terminators are produced. They are built for one reason, to rid the world of humans. Humans are deemed the biggest threat to their survival; therefore they need to be put down. John Conner (Christian Bale) is considered by most to be the leader of “the resistance.” The resistance is comprised of groups of humans that have survived and now are fighting back against the robots.

Unlike the recent Star Trek film, Terminator Salvation requires the audience to have a little more than minimal knowledge about the Terminator saga. It is a good idea to brush up on the preceding films before viewing this one.

After the opening sequence showing a man being put to death by lethal injection, the guns and bombs never cease. One relentless action scene after another pounds its way across the screen. It’s almost impossible to hear anything other than bullets firing, and machinery whirring. Most of the dialogue is yelled, but is still at times inaudible.

Some will call Salvation big, dumb fun, and while that is certainly true, it’s comparable to the big, dumb fun of Transformers. There’s so much action going on all around you, it’s hard to focus on any one thing. The shaky-cam filming doesn’t help matters any. There are some spectacular shots where the camera stays stationary long enough for us to realize the true scope and power of these machines, but mostly the action is blurred by the hand-held cam technique.

Bale is gruff enough for the part of John Conner, who is constantly dirty and yelling at someone, but his character is one-dimensional, which doesn’t correlate with Bale’s acting style. During much of the movie Bale is given close-ups where he’s supposed to look paranoid or pissed or both. That’s about all he’s given to do, and it’s a shame. He’s greatly underused in his part.

In Terminator one and two we were able to relate to and care about the characters because the story was happening on a personal level. In Salvation it’s hard to care about the characters, because the movie is based on such a massive, worldwide scale that we lose that one-on-one relationship with the important characters. Hardcore action sequences take the place of character interaction. Character development gives way to building demolitions.

The CGI effects in Salvation are, at most times (except for a silly cameo towards the end), a sight to behold. They are done well, and made to look completely realistic. Many of the robots look battle worn, which adds to the realism. There is a giant robot, with a gun mounted where its head should be, that is quite possibly the most menacing machine ever conceived for film. There is inventiveness in Salvation when it comes to the robots, but when the real people are involved, that ceases.

Salvation is predictable, and at times pretty cliché. It still is full of some fun and exciting scenes that will satiate the action fans. Terminator fans will cheer just because it’s another Terminator movie, and others will enjoy the exhilarating nature of the film. But be aware that will be all you’re going to get. Like a robot, the film does exactly what it is programmed to do — entertain with brute force.

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  • I loved the mechanical Isengard line. I just picture a bunch of robots pulling up trees and burning them in the name of industry. Is the gun-for-a-head-robot the Saruman of the mechanical Isengard?