Terminator: Salvation vs. Star Trek

Is Terminator: Salvation too much of a throwback film?

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

When Star Trek came out I blogged that it could represent (or be a leading indicator of) a change in the national mood. We went through a post-9/11 period in movies and television where our movies were dark and gritty and our heroes were reluctant, tortured (sometimes literally as in Casino Royale) and the bad guys were ascendant. Think of Lord of the Rings, the Batman films, and Battlestar Galactica , to name a few. J.J. Abrams's Star Trek had a different tone—a planet-killing villain, yes, but its mood is optimistic and upbeat, punctuated by trauma. The post-9/11 era movies were traumatic and stressful but occasionally relieved by success or fleeting happiness. One could describe Star Trek as a Barack Obama movie and the others as Dick Cheney flicks, tonally speaking.

I haven't yet seen Terminator: Salvation, but judging by the reviews, it strikes me as a throwback movie—a relic from the post-9/11 films. The bad guys are winning; the hero is dour and angry (is literally Batman, in fact); everything is destruction and decay. Take this review from TNR's The Plank, which is fairly representative of the reviews I've read:

What's missing is much of anything that could be plausibly described as fun. Director McG—best known for his work on music videos, commercials, and the Charlie's Angels movies—paints his post-apocalyptic landscape in a palette of sand and steel, as if color itself had been bleached from the world. But in contrast to The Dark Knight (one of the obvious models for this reboot), he fails to imbue his grim vision with any depth, texture, or complexity. A slender, silly movie that is upfront about its silliness (say, Star Trek) can be a giddy pleasure; a slender, silly movie that presents itself as an unflinching portrait of human endurance is setting itself up for failure.

I'll be curious to see what kind of business Terminator does both this weekend and going forward, especially as compared to Star Trek. I'm not sure the film will suit the country's mood, but we'll see.

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