31 August 2007

"One bag, plus the guns. I'll make pancakes."

Through divine intervention (or a friend of a friend), I managed to watch the pilot for Fox's slated 2008 hour-long show, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. That's T:tSCC for you geeks.

I love Terminator and T2, and I'm very happy that the rumored third film never came to fruition. Whatever did happen to that alleged third film? I could've sworn it was shot, but for some reason I can't recall any of it. Kinda like the prequel Star Wars trilogy George Lucas said he'd do but hasn't yet. Boy, I hope the rumors are true and Lucas casts Leo DiCaprio as Anakin Skywalker. He'd be good. Anyway.

For the fans out there, your worst fears have not come true. The pilot (which I hear is undergoing reshoots) is solid. It actually kicks some ass. The opening shot is of those familiar headlights on a dark road, which dovetails into a Sarah Connor nightmare that recalls more iconography -- nuclear holocaust and T-800 skeletons. The show quickly settles down to reveal the strict, regimented life of Sarah and John. Sarah's nightmare has sufficiently spooked her into wanting to take John and run from a home that includes a sweet fiancee. Despite John's protests, Sarah coldly tells her son, "No one is ever safe. Half an hour. One bag, plus the guns. I'll make pancakes."

While I'm pleasantly surprised that the official title of the show has "Terminator" in it, it really should be called The John Connor Chronicles, because at this point the writing begins to focus on the dilemma of the future savior of mankind: be a kid or be a soldier. As played by Thomas Dekker (who had the recurring guest role of Hayden Panettiere's friend Zach on Heroes), John is torn between the allure of a normal teen-aged life and the dire warnings of his mother. He has an easy chemistry with Summer Glau, who plays a cute girl named Cameron (as in James) at John's new school. His awkward confession about his parents is sweet and endearing, and is the kind of emotional territory the show can use as a solid foundation.

And just as I'm appreciating the emotional groundwork the pilot is laying, shit hits the fan. By the end of the pilot, the requisite good and bad terminators have appeared. The clever aspect of having the show from Sarah and John's point of view is that constant, ominous threat every other human provides. Anyone can be a terminator in this world.

The action is almost non-stop from the point the terminators come into the story, and this is where the pilot really clinched my fanboy adoration. There's a distinct feeling that writer Josh Friedman and director David Nutter truly love and respect James Cameron's original world. The hand-to-hand fight choreography between the terminators distinctly mirrors the face-offs between Arnold and the T-1ooo. Miles Dyson's wife and son ("Danny? Dann-eeeee!") have a brief but heart-wrenching reunion with Sarah, who they think murdered Miles. The original films' linchpin is a time machine that is never seen, but Friedman cleverly works it into the pilot's plot. But the show doesn't just want to rehash what Cameron did. One inspired sequence toward the end of the episode has the good terminator assembling hidden gadgets into a ridiculously cool weapon, and it's revealed that an engineer from the future was sent back to the 1960s explicitly to build and plant technology that can be retrieved in the 1990s.
There's an underlying excitement in exploring new aspects of the original world that's very alluring.

While one staple of the films -- epic, kinetic action sequences -- is hindered by the TV budget, there's enough tension and invention in the writing to make the production go. And the true core of the story, the mother-son relationship, is dealt with in quiet, endearing exchanges. While some of the dialogue errs on the cheesy and a subplot involving an FBI agent on Sarah's trail appears to already be running out of steam (how long can he NOT believe Sarah's crazy tale of the future?), there's good stuff here. And while this picks up where T2 left off, it sure feels like the show will end up rewriting that third movie that we don't talk about and doesn't exist. I'm not quite certain what these characters will be doing on a weekly basis, as their search for who picked up Skynet's research isn't given a lot of momentum in this pilot. But these characters are alive and well, so I'll be back... er, I'll be down for watching more.

PS - If you want to quibble about story continuity... it's fine. The 1992 film actually does take place in 1997, where this picks up. And I don't want to spoil it, but this world does revolve around... wait for it... time travel. I know, I know... Just shut up and watch it, dude.

PPS - Sarah Connor is played by Lena Headey, who is gaining serious geek points. She works with Terry Gilliam, co-stars in 300, and then takes the role as Sarah Connor. And she's no slouch in the looks department (looks strikingly like Naomi Watts in this, too).

Oh, what, you still think Alba's hotter? How many times have you seen 300? Now, how many times have you seen Honey?

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you, The Sarah Connor Chronicles pilot ROCKS!

mikedotta said...

"the pilot really clinched my fanboy adoration."

Ouch. That must've hurt. The last time someone clinched my fanboy adoration (I think it was the stewardess, in the cockpit, with the vice grip), I was sore for weeks!

Anyway, I enjoyed the read. Best of luck to you. And don't forget to rotate the ice packs.