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Non-Review Review: Terminator Genisys

“I am inevitable,” the villain boasts towards the climax of Terminator Genisys, just as things look their darkest for our heroes. He is a fully 3D digital image sourced from wall-mounted projectors, reflecting the way that the film itself has been marketed.

He might as well be talking on behalf of the film itself. The Terminator franchise has evolved into an unlikely juggernaut, spanning over three decades and evolving from a low-budget science-fiction film into a blockbuster series. Critical (and popular) reception to Terminator III: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation has been somewhat muted, but the film franchise just keeps coming. In a way, it feels like Skynet making itself manifest. Or, more appropriately, the eponymous robot killing machine.

Fresh off the factory line...

Fresh off the factory line…

There are points where Terminator Genisys seems incredibly self-aware, posing the sort of existential and philosophical questions that are confronting the audience. In The Terminator and Terminator II: Judgement Day, James Cameron positioned time travel as a metaphor for the strings of fate and destiny that seemed to bind free will. In Terminator Genisys, time travel becomes a powerful metaphor for the process of film- (or franchise-) making itself.

Both a sequel and a prequel, a reboot and a remake, the time travel plot element of Terminator Genisys turns the franchise into a gigantic mix tape. Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier collaborate to turn Terminator Genisys into a live-action version of a Jive Bunny and the Mix Masters track, a sample filled with familiar beats played at the wrong tempo. There are moments when the wrongness seems the point, when Terminator Genisys wanders into the uncanny valley. There are points where it almost achieves consciousness.

Prick me, do I not leak?

Prick me, do I not leak?

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Watch! Terminator Genisys Trailer!

Well, I guess Dawn of the Planet of the Apes demonstrated that Jason Clarke is the guy you go to for your post-apocalyptic franchise films.

To be fair, Terminator films not directed by James Cameron feel like a risky proposition – it feels like so much of the first two films was tied up in Cameron, that any subsequent attempt is imitation rather than innovation. It is, perhaps, quite telling that the most surreal sequences in the new trailer for Terminator: Genisys featured a version of the T-1000 not played by Robert Patrick.

And, nevertheless, there is something interesting here. A story about how time travel has muddled and muddied a narrative universe so much that the story seems to reboot and remix itself feels like a self-aware take on the contemporary fascination with reworking and retooling classic franchises. Terminator: Genisys looks like a self-aware cocktail of the most iconic bits and pieces of the first two Terminator films.

That self-awareness could be the key; after all, trying to mimic James Cameron feels like a fool’s errand. However, a more playful approach just might work. Terminator: Genisys probably has an uphill battle ahead of it, but this trailer’s not a bad start.

Doctor Who: Paradise Towers (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Paradise Towers originally aired in 1987.

Oh, I see. It’s some sort of robotic cleaner with automotive bicurval scraping blades. Impressive workmanship.

You don’t understand.

No, I don’t, but I intend to.

– the Doctor and the Deputy Chief Caretaker

Paradise Towers is brilliant. It’s crazy, it’s overstated, it’s an hour too long and it suffers from the fact that nobody really knows what they’re doing, but there’s a sense of genius at work here. Script editor Andrew Cartmel took over at the start of the season, with no scripts. Time and the Rani came from John Nathan Turner’s reliable Pip and Jane Baker, so Paradise Towers is the first script where Cartmel has been allowed to make his mark.

And it’s precisely what the show needed. The execution is significantly flawed, the pacing is all wrong and there’s a sense that not everybody between the script and the camera realised what was going on, but it has a distinct energy to it. Time and the Rani was essentially Doctor Who struggling to keep its head above water. Paradise Towers sees the show diving right into the eighties.

"... where the grass is green and the girls are pretty..."

“… where the grass is green and the girls are pretty…”

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Superman: The Animated Series – The Way of All Flesh (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Although it was quite clear from The Last Son of Krypton that Superman: The Animated Series was going to be quite a different beast than Batman: The Animated Series, there were times when the show borrowed a trick or two from its older sibling. Particularly early in the show’s run, there were a number of “villain origin” episodes which seemed to emulate the more successful villain-centric stories from Batman: The Animated Series.

Fun and Games, the origin episode for Toyman, could easily have been adapted for the other show with a minimum of fuss. It was probably too similar, and a demonstration that Timm’s approach to Batman couldn’t be expected to work perfectly for Superman. Feeding Time and The Way of All Flesh are two single episodes designed to introduce two of Superman’s second-tier bad guys, the Parasite and Metallo.

While they retain a stronger sense of serialised storytelling than many of the Batman stories, there’s a very clear attempt on the part of the writers to humanise and almost empathise with these villains. The Way of All Flesh is probably the most successful, in part because Metallo has a great hook for writer Stan Berkowitz to mine, in part because he’s an interesting villain is his own right, and in part because it does this without seeming too much like an attempt to copy Batman: The Animated Series.

The real man of steel...

The real man of steel…

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Non-Review Review: Aliens (Theatrical Cut)

To celebrate the release of Prometheus this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.

I think Aliens might be my favourite James Cameron movie. Of course, the guy has any number of iconic movies vying for that position – The Terminator and Terminator 2 both come to mind, for example – but I can’t help but admire how efficiently the director constructed his first big budget motion picture. Regardless of its place within an iconic science-fiction franchise, Aliens is practically a guidebook on how to effectively construct a movie, from writing the script to directing the action and absolutely everything in between. It’s hard to look at Aliens as anything less than a complete triumph, no matter which angle you examine the film from.

Queen bee…

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Non-Review Review: Terminator Salvation

There are perhaps some franchises which really shouldn’t endure after the departure of the creative brain behind the operation. Some would argue that The West Wing should have ended after Aaron Sorkin departed, and I would argue that Warner Brothers should probably reboot Batman after Nolan leaves, rather than continuing his saga (since there’s no way they’ll let that franchise lie fallow). Terminator is perhaps another example. The first two films are iconic, towering science-fiction masterpieces which perfectly blend big ideas with visceral thrills – The Terminator is a tightly constructed urban thriller, while Terminator 2: Judgement Day helped define what a blockbuster should look like. However, once Cameron departed, the franchise was somehow allowed to continue limping on. After the really awful Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, I was willing to let the series die. However, somehow we got a fourth movie. And, despite all my misgivings and preconceptions, it isn’t bad. It isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible.

Sam Worthington needs a Bale-out...

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Non-Review Review: The Terminator

Wow. What a debut. Okay, I know this wasn’t quite a debut for James Cameron, but Pirhana II hardly counts, right? Terminator is perhaps the best example of a talented young director producing a large-scale action movie on a miniscule budget. I’ll provoke the disdain of many a film buff out there when I declare I have a very slight preference for the sequel Terminator II: Judgement Day, but the first two movies are some of the best examples of action movies from the eighties/nineties. Hell, they are both some of the best examples of any action movies.

Don't ask him to show you his guns...

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