Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Terminatus Salvatorius

What is our fascination with John Connor? A man known to us only as the supposed savior of mankind in the war against the machines after Judgment Day. We've watched the unborn baby grow into an adolescent and most recently, into an adult in "Terminator: Salvation," the fourth in the series of "Terminator" films.

But over the past two years, we've also been exposed to the exploits of John Connor and his mother, Sarah Connor, in the Fox TV series, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." In the series, which takes place in the present day, Sarah and Cameron (a Terminator from the future sent back to protect him) work week in and week out to ensure that John survive to assume his role as the messiah.

So the obvious question: is John Connor truly the savior? The viewer honestly doesn't know, and I think its in this unknowing that makes "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" grossly more interesting to watch than director McG's "Salvation."

I will admit. It's truly unfair to compare a TV series to a motion picture, but at a time like this, when a property such as Terminator is more or less competing with itself, its hard not to. So I will succumb to peer pressure and throw in my two cents on the matter.

"The Sarah Connor Chronicles" started a little shaky. Each week, the viewer was greeted with a voice-over from Sarah, prophetic about the future that she would never see, which then proceeded to bookend the episode in the same way it started. The convention grew stale over the course of the short season, and when it drew to a close, we weren't sure if this series was going to be able to grow beyond the stigma of the films.

But season two upped the ante and planted a very powerful foot forward, beginning with a sequence to the song "Samson and Delilah," as sung by series newcomer Shirley Manson. A great supporting cast including Brian Austin Green and Richard T. Jones enhanced the show, and it quickly deepened the complexity of the world. In addition, the idea that time traveling was actually changing the future was introduced. This meant that they COULD stop Judgment Day.

Originally, the series explored the idea that the future is your destiny and can't be changed. But now, the rules were changing. Would Sarah die of cancer as she was meant to? Would John Connor lead the resistance after Judgment Day? And would Judgment Day happen at all? All the while you had heroes questioning themselves, their motives, and their humanity. Season two was sometimes rocky, but generally stayed the course and ended with an incredible cliffhanger (though some would argue, rather, a perfect ending.)

"Terminator: Salvation" unfortunately doesn't have the time to really explore these ideas as its too busy blowing up robots. The year is 2018, and John Connor is the voice of the resistance (though maybe not quite the leader as of yet.) He's quiet, stoic, and hates the machines. But it never seems for a moment that he doubts who he is or what he's meant to do. Granted, the design of a new terminator throws him for a moment, but the vulnerability of man who is the supposed savior of mankind never quite comes across, making him a character with few likable qualities.

Instead, the viewer latches onto young Kyle Reese (played well by Anton Yelchin of recent "Star Trek" fame) and Marcus Wright (played by show stealer Sam Worthington.) Marcus finds himself suddenly fifteen years in the future after he is put to death by lethal injection back in 2003. He's unsure how or why, but he's bound to get to the bottom of it all. And through his travels, we find out that Marcus is more than what he seems to be, and in turn, he questions what it truly means to be human - a role we would think would be harnessed by John Connor.

It's difficult to tell exactly what this new crop of Terminator movies has in mind. Supposedly planned as a new trilogy, is it possible that this is just chapter one of the John Connor Chronicles? And so he'll grow as the movies continue, possibly even showing us the end of the war with the machines? Maybe, but I sort of feel like that misses the point a little. Everyone believes in John Connor except for himself, which leads to a hero we can all connect with and understand what he's going through. Instead, we see a hero who knows what must be done to win and maintain his own humanity, almost TOO perfectly.

I guess I like my heroes a little more flawed, because the future is always uncertain.

Especially for "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," which was just recently canceled by Fox. Another good sci-fi series bites the dust, leaving some believing it was taken well before its time, and others seeing it as perfect timing.

In other news, do yourself a favor and go see Pixar's "Up." And prepare to be moved.

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