Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Human Condition No Longer Applies To Your Franchise

When McG signed on to direct Salvation, he knew that hardcore fans of the franchise would cry sacrilege. So he decided that he needed the Godfather's blessing. He went down to the set of James Cameron's Avatar, hoping to get a benediction (or at least some advice) from the man who created T1 and T2. But he walked away empty-handed. ''Cameron was very cordial, but he didn't give me his blessing,'' says McG. ''He did tell me, 'I know how you feel. When I directed Aliens, I was following Alien and the mighty Ridley Scott, and people thought, 'Who is this James Cameron? All he's made is Piranha 2!'''

A wide smile spreads across McG's face when he says this. He's not the subtlest guy in the world, and you can tell that he just wants to come right out and say it: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is his Piranha 2 and Terminator Salvation will be his Aliens.

-Entertainment Weekly.

That last bit seems to overlook that Cameron followed Piranha 2 with The Terminator, a film made with a small fraction of the Charlie's Angels franchise's budget, but never mind. It's fun to let McG speak for himself. More telling, really, is that the T4 screenplay is by the writers of Catwoman. There was clearly very little Jonathan Nolan could do to fix that, and the mind boggles at trying to pinpoint which scenes or themes he has inserted.

Paul Haggis, Nolan, and other screenwriters reportedly jumped in on a draft of Terminator Salvation (Skynet, apparently, has grammatically terminated the colon). The result is still a formless mass, bereft of dramatic action, free of incident, while being needlessly reflexive of James Cameron's films (T2 and Aliens) and also some boring thunderdome-less Beyond Thunderdome.

That's not to say this is really all that much of a letdown, since this series was dead by the end of T2, or, technically, by the end of the needless T3. The point after which your protagonists have at last failed to stop nuclear destruction is when it's hardest for me to care very much about the fate of John Connor (knowing full well that Kyle Reese will be fine until 1984).

In fact, I care very little about John Connor in general, though I suppose when I was a kid I viewed my T-800 guardian quite happily through the eyes of my on-screen Edward Furlong-surrogate. That was then, though, and it's a curious devolution of these films that they would so casually forget what made them appealing in the first place, their erstwhile protagonist, Sarah Connor. The Alien series remembered its female protagonist ass-kicker until the AvP films, deeming it necessary to clone her back from the dead (while giving her nothing much to do).

Sarah Connor dispatches the first Terminator (with some help from Kyle Reese). In T2, she's buff, deadly, and ruthless about her mission. James Cameron was really very good at creating female warriors. That's no small ingredient to the success of these franchises.

Absent that (and some perfunctory inclusion of a sassy female ass-kicker), the one moment of recognition between Connor and the young Kyle Reese (making the film both sequel and prequel), was effectively built into the premise by Cameron twenty-five years ago.

Either write these films, or don't make 'em. If you get to the point where you need Paul Haggis to save you from screenwriter barnacles latched upon your franchise, you've made the wrong fate for yourself.

No comments: