Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Terminator, Or What the Fuck Did You Do With My Sarah Conner

This movie would have been better if I wrote it. It wouldn’t have sucked as hard.

How about this: they could have written all the parts that had to do with robots. And I would have written everything that had to do with the people.

It's true, the new Terminator machine concept was great. I genuinely liked the new Terminator model, and the creepy goo behind it. The heart imagery was way overdone (and let’s not even get into who the fuck is going to do a successful heart transplant in a field hospital but anyway), but dial it down by 50% and it would have been neat.

As J. said to me afterwards, “Well… I liked the robots.”

Indeed. The robots were great. They were fast, interesting, and in the case of the Terminator himself, strong, brave, and kickass.

But the people? The people sucked.

Let me tell you the fucking problem with the last two Terminator movies, because it’s pretty bloody obvious to anybody who loved the first two.

The problem is there’s no Sarah Conner. And I don't just mean Sarah Conner the actual character. I mean Sarah Conner the archtype.

I had great hopes for Christian Bale as John Conner. Because, you know, like anybody else who grew up watching Sarah battle it out for the future (her son’s and humanity’s), you really want to like him. No, you want to LOVE him. You want this to be the great, awesome, heroic, courageous leader you’ve been hearing about your whole life. This was the movie where I thought I would see him become that amazing leader. When he spoke, I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to believe him. I wanted a leader.

Instead, what I got was a whiny, hesitant, terrified grunt with a monotone Batman voice and absolutely no personality or charisma whatsoever (when Bale wanted to portray emotion, he yelled. A LOT. “I’M ACTING! I’M ACTING! I’M AN ACTOR!”).

And his wife? What was her name? I’m sorry, I don’t think she was name checked once. But whoever the hell she was, she and John had absolutely no chemistry, and she had no reason for being in this movie except to give you the impression that since she was pregnant it would be OK if Conner died, so you had a bit more suspense there at the end (honestly, I was secretly rooting for Conner’s death, if only because then maybe Bryce could have become the next awesome Mother of the Future in a Sarah Conner way and not a fucked up Padme way, tho honestly, I really can’t stand Bryce Dallas Howard and I have no fucking clue why she was cast in this movie. She acted with all the emotional power of a piece of blank cardboard).

The female characters in the movie are a BIG problem. James Cameron and Linda Hamilton set the bar for female heroines in this franchise, and directors have since gone backwards in their efforts to cast and portray female characters. I suspect this is largely because they felt that the only way to make John Conner awesome was to castrate all the women around him (freeing him from his perceived strong mother complex?). What they didn't fucking realize is that a guy who has a badass mother is going to surround himself with a lot of badass PEOPLE: this guy should have Gina Torres at his right hand. This is somebody who will naturally gravitate toward strong, kickass people, and many of those people will be women.

This is THE FUTURE, you fuckers. It’s a future full of badass people. Who else do you think would be left?

But instead of writing PEOPLE, the writers decided to write (and the directors decided to direct), WOMEN. WOMEN who wouldn't upstage Conner (first tip: surrounding a leader with strong people makes them stronger, not weaker).

What’s wrong with writing WOMEN as WOMEN, you may ask? After all, you don’t just want Conan with tits, do you? DO YOU??

Here’s what’s wrong:

When people who have a lot of preconceived notions about what a “woman,” is, about what “women,” can do, about why this character, in particular, is a “woman,” they’re more likely to write clichĂ© women characters. They’re more likely to wax on and on about the character’s femininity, and take every opportunity to make it clear that THIS CHARACTER HAS TITS. Instead of, you know, writing a person.

Some of the great portrayals of great female heroines were parts originally written for men. This is largely because we all write with a misogynist bent, some of us more than others (you absorb this shit from you culture. Deal with it).

Note that Ripley in Alien was originally written as a man. Both female characters in Alien were originally written as men. The only change they made to the script was… well, it wasn’t. They just cast women for the roles and subbed pronouns. And why did they make this decision? Because the women’s movement was “really popular” at the time, and they figured it would sell more tickets to have more women in the movie.

What is it, exactly, that we figure will sell tickets these days? Not kickass female characters, apparently. Just women in leather who look good getting their asses kicked. The supposededly “tough” women in shows these days are all form, no substance. You can’t just put a chick in leather and hand her a knife. Recall Linda Hamilton’s arms. I BELIEVED she was a crazy psycho who could kick my ass.

I actually blame a lot of this form-over-substance change on Buffy. But that’s a rant for another time.

In any case, there are still a lot of writers who go out of their way to make sure we’re clear that the only reason the women are in the movie at all is *because* they’re women… not because they’re people.

So John Conner’s wife is pregnant (something only a woman can do). And Bloodgood’s character is 1) almost gangraped 2) cuddles up to and falls for the Terminator (both generally things that would only happen if the character was female. Far more transgressive would actually have been to write this as a part for a guy). At least the kid running around with Reese 1) had a useful 6th sense 2) knew how to properly load a gun 3) knew how to get her hands on lots of useful weapons and detonators. I guess that before you hit puberty, you're still allowed to be tough, because little girls are less scary that women with Linda Hamilton arms.

In fact, the one scene where we get to see a chick kicking ass… she’s saved by the Terminator. And even then, she doesn’t even hop back into the fight with him. She just lets him take over the whole fight, and doesn’t appear again until it’s all over, so she can shoot somebody (and puullleeeez, people: she’s been fighting machines for years, living as part of a rebellious underground, and she FORGETS HER GUN when she goes outside? Give me a fucking break. Folks who forget their weapons when they’re wandering around are just stupid, and wouldn’t have survived this long. Don’t insult me by making her stupid, too).

So, the female characters suck. Upshot would be that there were actually some faces (some with actual speaking parts!) that were non-white. At least there are black people, Asian people, and Other, in the future.

Though the Sarah Conners of the world all seem to have died off.

Apparently, the machines were smart enough to kill them off first.

These women were the biggest threat.

3 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

tyim courts said...

Haven't seen this movie... but it was directed by the guy who did the charlies angels movie so i had zero hope for it. I'll catch it when it's on netflix. Wish they would of canceled the movie and kept the tv show. Lena Headey kicked ass.

Matt said...

"After all, you don’t just want Conan with tits, do you? DO YOU??"


Seen it, It was called Xena Warrior Princess

Kameron Hurley said...

Nah, Xena didn't have enough sex to pass Michael Moorcock's "Where's the female version of Conan?" challenge.