Revisiting The Terminator

The film that put James Cameron on the map, The Terminator is quite rightly seen as a science fiction classic, a film that has had enormous impact on modern pop culture thanks to both the lasting impression that The Terminator made and the huge career boost that James Cameron received afterwards. Without The Terminator, I very much doubt that we would have seen the rest of James Cameron’s filmography come to fruition, never mind the number of actors that he has since helped turn into film stars.

The story follows Kyle Reese as he travels back in time from a post-apocalyptic future in which an artificial intelligence known as Skynet has taken over the world. His mission is to protect Sarah Connor from a killing machine known as a Terminator that was also sent back in time to kill her thanks to the fact that she is destined to give birth to the leader of the human resistance.

The time travel mechanic is a creative and tidy way to set the story in motion, and allows James Cameron to hint at the much larger world he has created without it getting in the way of the progression of the story and the momentum that is being built from the very start. It also allows Cameron to easily explain why Kyle can’t call for back up, and why the police and authorities are simply unable to help – it’s a very smart way of ensuring that their is no easy way out for the main characters, keeping them isolated and on the run for the entire movie.

Which is important, because at it’s core The Terminator is little more than a slasher flick with a science fiction flair. The Terminator itself is the ultimate slasher bad guy, a silent, expressionless, intimidating and virtually unstoppable killing machine that is never too far behind our heroes, who are hopelessly outmatched. The best example of this is during the now iconic assault on the police station – even dozens of cops on their home turf can’t do anything to stop the Terminator, really upping the ante and making the Terminator feel as dangerous and unstoppable as it is meant to be, while at the same time showing us how capable Kyle Reese must be to have successfully fought the Terminator off several times before now.

Potentially more important, The Terminator manages to avoid the casual misogyny and conservative politics that are now synonymous with the slasher genre, defining itself as markedly different during a time when slasher flicks saturated the market – no doubt a part of why The Terminator was both a critical and commercial success in it’s time and why it still stands up as a solid piece of film making over 30 years after it’s initial release.

It’s also worth pointing out how well developed the relationship between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor is in The Terminator when compared to Terminator Genisys, and it’s mostly because of the subtle but important character work that the The Terminator does with Sarah Connor both before and after her first encounter with Kyle Reese. You can understand completely why a vulnerable and scared Sarah Connor would seek comfort in the only man in the world that knows what she is going through, but the equivalent of this in Terminator Genisys is (like everything else in the film) rushed, forced and ultimately unsatisfying.

And the only reason that this all works as intended is because of Cameron’s ability to recognise and work within his limits. His original idea for The Terminator also included a liquid metal robot that would go on to be the primary antagonist in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but he cut it because he knew that the visual effects available in 1984 weren’t good enough to do the idea justice. This restraint is noticeable throughout The Terminator, which saves it’s limited special effects for important moments and manages to do more with it’s modest budget (just $6 million!) than films that cost upwards of 20 times as much – I’m looking at you, Terminator Genisys.

I still stand by my opinion that The Terminator should never have been a franchise, with the phrase “diminishing returns” very much applicable to the series after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but that’s neither here nor there – The Terminator is a testament to the importance of inexperienced directors being given the opportunity to prove themselves, showing us the potential longevity of a film when an idea is executed well by someone who knows what they are doing. Even if The Terminator has since been overshadowed by it’s own sequel, it’s still an important and entertaining film that shouldn’t go under appreciated.

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Re-evaluating the end of “Planetary”

“You’d love this,” said Scott. “I know you liked ‘Transmet’–” that’s the sprawling journalist-meets-dystopia Transmetropolitan “–and this is even better. And the art is amazing.” With this recommendation from my comic shop, I picked up the first and only “Planetary” collection: All Over the World and Other Stories.

Over the years, I read the rest of the stories Warren Ellis and artist John Cassady created about this team of “mystery archaeologists”. The titular team operates in a world complete with analogs to copyrighted pulp-fiction heroes. The series is a single story formed by the intersection of pocket-sized tales, and contains some of the best writing in superhero comic books. (Don’t even try to call “Planetary” a graphic novel; the story’s too firmly rooted in the pulps for that.)

The story was continued in the second book, The Fourth Man, which had a detour into Elijah Snow’s past as well as a reinterpretation of the entire story to date. However, the story wasn’t even halfway finished when Ellis seemed to lose interest in the tale, and Cassady–then becoming more well-known–started taking on other projects. Whatever scripts Ellis tossed his way probably ended up on the back end of the priority queue.

It was a decade after the release of the first issue that issue twenty-seven ended the story. The last few issues seemed fairly anticlimactic, but was that because they were of lesser quality? Or did our waiting months and sometimes years in-between issues rob us of momentum?

Huge spoilers below, yadda yadda.

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Contagion – ‘Jaws’ for the Flu

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Comparison of physical copy vs a digital copy

Back in 1975 a movie came out that terrified people to not want to ever go into the ocean again. That movie was Jaws.

Similarly, there have been other movies that tried to be the “Jaws of [insert mundane activity here]” to no avail. But Contagion, at least for me, was quite successful in making me paranoid of every day life.

Contagion, written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh, follows a young woman returning from Hong Kong to a very serious flu/disease. The beginning of the film shows how this disease was contracted by about 5-6 different people. Eventually, the virus starts killing people within days of being contracted.

News breaks out soon that people are dying and the remainder of the film follows a Man and his daughter, the WHO as they follow the contagion, a CDC agent, and a freelance reporter.

The movie does a very good job of showing how easily a virus can become an epidemic and how easily the population can react to it. It even mentions the H1N1 virus and how the CDC didn’t do a very good job of informing the people about its actual dangers (or lack thereof).

There’s also a great deal of information on how the CDC and WHO actually create vaccines and the protocols for containing a virus of that magnitude. I learned a lot about bio-chemistry from this movie without even knowing it (Like what an R-0 of a virus is, or how a virus mutates, or that the average human touches their face 2500 times a day).

A social aspect of the movie that I found quite interesting was how it showed how some people followed rules and suggestions to the T, while others (mostly those who were in charge of said rules) created their own personal protocols for selfish reasons. See how sane people rationalize or go into a mob mentality when the urge to survive kicks in.

Another interesting theme I found was how it explored the idea of using a social network to bend the minds of the masses into either avoiding or taking a specific treatment. That is to say, how the use of Facebook or a blog can actually influence a certain population to do something that may or may not be the right thing to do, and how this control could be coming from a very unlikely place.

After the movie, I was literally scared to touch anything. I was scared to even use the bathroom in the theatre. This movie did exactly what it was intending to do, and that was to make me paranoid. I know this winter season, I’m now going to be carrying extra Purel and probably investing into a medical mask. All-in-all I would highly recommend this movie for those who like thrillers where there is no mystery, only the instinct to survive at the character’s grasp.

DC’s new 52

2 weeks ago, DC began an ambitious experiment that spans their entire line of comic books.  DC has set aside existing continuity to begin a new continuity that’s similar but different to the prior one that’s existed for almost 80 years.  They’re accomplishing this starting with the ending of the summer event Flashpoint, along with the first book in the new continuity, Justice League #1.  Many, but not all of our familiar heroes are in this new continuity, but their histories are different, relationships changed.  During the course of September, DC will be releasing 52 #1 issues.  Every book in their lineup has been reset to #1.  Each will help establish the new universe that’s spun out of the events of Flashpoint.

Personally, I’m a lapsed DC Comics reader.  I read many of their books (especially Superman, Green Lantern, and Flash) up until early last year.  As such, my knowledge of the old universe runs up to the start of Brightest Day.  I haven’t read Flashpoint, but I know the premise that The Flash mysteriously ended up on a parallel Earth, and somehow after unraveling the mystery of that other Earth, this new continuity was created.  Due to logistics, I don’t receive the new comics on Wednesday, as many comic fans do, so my posts here discussing the new reveals lags a bit behind what is currently known.  At this point, I’ve read Justice League #1 and Action Comics #1.  After the information we learned in Justice League, I knew my priority had to be to read the first Superman book that came out.

The new Justice League
The new Justice League

Justice League gives us our first peek at this new world, and it does so with a flashback.  The entire issue takes place 5 years prior to the present.  It shows us Batman and Green Lantern meeting for the first time, and alludes to some of the changes this new world brings.

Batman and his prey are being chased by Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), and it’s clear they view him as an enemy.  The criminal Batman is chasing has superhuman abilities, and soon attracts Green Lantern (Hal Jordan).  Green Lantern came to investigate an “unauthorized extraterrestrial”, which turns out to be the criminal Batman is chasing, who reveals himself to be somehow connected to Darkseid.  He plants a Mother Box and escapes in an explosion, which potentially was some sort of new violent Boom Tube.  After a brief stop to introduce Vic Stone, the duo arrive in Metropolis, and the issue ends with Superman appearing.

So from this, we see that superheroes are still new on the scene.  Batman clearly hasn’t developed a positive relationship with the GCPD, and for some reason even Green Lantern isn’t known as a hero to the GCPD.  The heroes haven’t even met and teamed up, it seems like the next few issues will deal with origin stories and the initial formation of the Justice League.  The criminal they were chasing establishes that the Fourth World and New Gods are a factor here.  In the old continuity, they’d died in 2007’s and 2008’s events Death of the New Gods and Final Crisis.  It’s unclear if they’re still dead in the new continuity, as this criminal could have been a non-New God alien that worships Darkseid and has a piece of leftover Fourth World tech in his Mother Box.

The story jumps to Vic Stone, high school football star.  The name indicates this fellow is Cyborg, but he’s still fully human in the story so far.  The story only devotes a couple of pages to him, but we learn he’s being scouted by several colleges and his father’s a barely-present workaholic.  His father apparently is involved in studying the new superhuman menace.  As we know his future role of Cyborg, there’s not too much new insight to the new world in his introduction, but he’s going to be a part of the new Justice League, which the old Cyborg wasn’t in the previous continuity.  In the previous continuity, he was instead a member of the Teen Titans and later the Titans once they grew out of the “Teen” moniker.

After seeing the hostile treatment of the heroes in Justice League, when I received my comics from week 2 of the New 52, my first stop was Action Comics.  This was because one of the ideas in Final Crisis was that each of DC’s parallel Earths had a Superman, and he was a key part of each universe.  You could see this in some of the differences between New Earth and Earth 2.  In Earth 2, he wasn’t a superhero, but instead a supervillain, and so the Justice League of that world was all evil, and the universe had the tendency for evil to triumph over good.  So I sought some more information on this new world from the first Superman book I could read.  And it definitely helps clarify things.

Action Comics #1 introduces us to a new Superman.  This is a younger, angrier Superman who takes some pages out of Batman’s playbook.  His powers seem weaker than the Superman in the old continuity, and this new Superman isn’t even capable of flight.  I guess he’s back to just “leaping tall buildings in a single bound”.  He roots out evil white collar criminals as well as your regular street criminal.  This new Superman roughs up criminals and will scare them into confessing their crimes, decidedly more violently than Superman acted in the old continuity.  This helps explain the way the authorities treated heroes in the Justice League issue.  Superman is relatively new on the scene as well, and he is more of a violent vigilante than he was in the prior universe.  Without the kind leadership that the older Superman provided, there’s no one providing a positive connection to the government in this new world.  The story also introduces us to younger main characters.  Clark, Lois, and Jimmy are all much younger than they were, and Clark isn’t an established journalist yet.  So I expect our first month of #1 issues will give us similar glimpses into the early careers of many familiar and not-so-familiar heroes.

Overall, I’m very curious about this new universe.  Part of me is not enthused by the decision to have the superheroes not on good terms with the police, as it comes off as an attempt to make this new world ‘dark and gritty’, which is a trope that’s been overused of late in all media.  But the blank slate this universe offers has me excited by the possibilities that this offers long time comic book writers who are now freed from the previous status quo.  I also appreciate the decision to add Cyborg to the Justice League as one of those changes, as more of the B-list heroes deserve to graduate up to the A-list.

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