Tuesday, July 26, 2011
TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological*
While 2009's SALVATION doesn't come up to the level of either the first or second films in the TERMINATOR franchise, it's a distinct improvement over the third installment from six years previous. T3's greatest fault, however typical of a lot of Hollywood product, was at least appropriate to the Terminator-theme, in that T3 was "too mechanical."
One improvement in T4 is that director McG and the film's writers attempted to extend the mythology somewhat. This endeavor is more difficult than it sounds, for unlike many other franchises TERMINATOR's mythos depends on a lockbox concept: that in the near future an evil computer system and its robot hordes will attempt to exterminate mankind, only to be defeated by military leader John Connor-- who only exists because he sent the man who would become his father back to the past to protect (and mate with) his mother. (Talk about your major reversals on the Oedipus Complex: here the hero actually *wants* his father to be with his mother!)
SALVATION's attempt at adding a new mythic personage involves reversing the pattern of the original TERMINATOR: for the first time, a human being from our present is propelled into a future dominated by the war of man and machine. Marcus Wright is a convicted murderer who volunteers to let science use his body once he's been executed, but he wakes to a future (roughly 2018) which promptly has him raging against lots of machines. He also meets a young version of Kyle Reese, whom the audience knows to be the man who will eventually go back in time and spawn John Connor. Connor knows it too, and is desperately trying to find and protect Reese while also juggling a major military offensive against the malevolent mechanisms. Wright thus becomes very valuable to Connor, but Connor must also deal with the possibility that Wright may be a pawn in this future conflict without even knowing it.
Sam Worthington pulls off the best performance as Wright, balancing human confusion with the necessary toughguy ability to survive incredible falls and blow up stuff real good. By contrast, Christian Bale's Connor is dull, but the script does use the two of them to make some telling points about the nature of humanity in a machine-dominated world. Their respective dramatic agonies keep the impressive FX from overwhelming the storyline, as arguably occured with T3. Some of the repeated tropes from the earlier films in the series may be wearing a little thin-- I could stand never to hear "I'll be back" again-- but I had to smile at the sequence in which the filmmakers match Connor against a *doppelganger* of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I call this a "cosmological" film because this is the category Campbell assigns to myths which address the nature of mankind's physical reality-- the movements of the sun, the habits of animals, and (here) the sentience of the very machines mankind builds to make life easier. As in James Cameron's two TERMINATOR films, the noisy shrieks and groans of metal are everywhere, while robots with metal skeletons stand as a perverse revision of the human skeletal form.
In terms of assigning the TERMINATOR films the best possible category of Fryean mythos, I've concluded that the first three films, for all that they use many tropes of the adventure mythos, are structured more like horror films than adventure stories-- and, as I've often remarked on my ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE blog, horror dominantly follows the form of the drama-mythos rather than the adventure-mythos.
SALVATION may come the closest of all four films to the structure of an adventure-story, but I tend to feel-- in large part because of the fate suffered by Marcus Wright-- that drama is still a better match than adventure for this TERMINATOR as well.