I’m going to talk about Terminator for a while. Part two.

There are two kinds of stories.

Okay, there are more than two, but go with me on this.

There are two kinds of stories. There are simple stories, and there are complex stories.

A simple story, as in my meaning here, could be like many one-shot movies that have been made for decades. I just watched Pixar’s Up last night with my wife. It was an extremely charming movie, endlessly entertaining, and very simple. The basic ideas and themes were conveyed quickly, and it didn’t take much to determine where a character was coming from or what the motivation was at any given moment. It worked.

In a complex story, such easy viewing isn’t possible. The motivations are hidden. The events aren’t linear. There are twists around every corner. To tell this kind of story, you have to be very careful. You need to have your facts straight, have events mapped out, and have names memorized. To do so is extremely important because when everything is said and done, it all has to make sense to be worth the time of those watching, reading, or listening to it. I’m a huge fan of the Lost television series because it does exactly that – drops little pieces here and there while you think the story’s headed in one direction, but when it all takes a major left turn out of nowhere, you can go back and see it was coming all along.

The failure to do this can and will result in what I call “The Refrigerator Box Syndrome.” Let me quickly define what this means. When a family buys a brand new refrigerator, often they will give the cardboard box in which it came to the children. Such a box is a blank canvas of imagination and adventure, where anything can happen. The children get in and envision journeys of peril and heroics. At one point, one of the children suggests adding a back door. All the children agree and they do so, and it makes the box that much more exciting. Then someone wants to paint or draw a logo on the side, so they do and now it looks better than ever. Then someone wants to add a hatch on top. Then someone else wants to add their own details to the mural. Then someone thinks the back door would be best if it was just an opening and not a door at all. By the end, the magical world that the children had was destroyed by too many ideas and not enough cohesion, direction, and common purpose.

Many stories have suffered from this, and the result is usually abandonment by its fans until a reboot occurs and promises to keep things together. The biggest example of this of which I am aware, which many people may not get, is the X-Men comic book series. I haven’t read comic books in over 15 years, but I remember in my middle school days that the X-Men story line was being pulled left and right by countless, arrogant writers who want to drop their own stupid ideas into the mix regardless of established canon. And at the time, in my eyes, it ruined the story.

The Terminator story is, in many respects, standing on the edge of a cliff above this abyss of worthlessness and butt-of-bad-jokery.

The first reason for this, and the most prominent in my mind, is the TIME LINE.

My goodness, people, is it that hard to stop and do some simple MATH?! Let’s put some pieces together as they are presented to us, shall we?

As mentioned before, Kyle Reese and the first Terminator were sent back in time from the year 2029 to the day of May 12, 1984. How do we know the date? Well for one, nearly the very beginning of The Terminator gives us the setting: Los Angeles 1984, 1:52 a.m. Shortly after this, Kyle attacks a cop and demands he tell him the date. The cop tells him it is May 12, to which Kyle replies, “No, THE YEAR!” This was  confirmed again in T2, in the scene which two police officers are questioning Sarah Connor, locked in a maximum security mental care facility, and show her surveylance pictures of the first Terminator from the shoot-out at the police station in the first movie. The say that they were taken “at the WesttownPolice Station, 1984.”

Big deal, right? Well the problems begin to mount when you remember that Terminator 2 came out in 1991. However, we can’t just assume it’s 1991 in the film. Why? Because John Connor would only be SIX! He was conceived in May of 1984, meaning that if Sarah carried him for the full nine months, he would have been born sometime in February 1985 (see? I know I can do math!). But John Connor cannot be six in this movie! Edward Furlong, the young actor playing John, was 13 when they were doing principle photography in 1990! Sure, older kids play younger kids all the time (e.g. Daniel Radcliffe, Michael J. Fox, the entire cast of 90210), but a 13-year-old passing as a 6-year-old? Not gonna happen.

But hold on – this is still fixable, right? We can just say it takes place in the near future! Why should they have to wait until the year in which the fictional character John Connor would be in his middle school years just to do the story? Sure, that works. Of course you run in to the problem that you’ve got middle-schoolers in the mid-to-late 1990’s listening to Guns ‘n Roses, wearing mullets, and playing After Burner at the arcade, but we can get past that.

Yet there’s another obstacle in the way. The writers set the date for Judgment Day to be August 29, 1997. In 1991, the year 1997 may have seemed like an eternity away, but now you have issue because that means John Connor is TWELVE YEARS OLD WHEN THE WORLD ENDS! How old did we say Edward Furlong was during shooting? And this WAS done to an extent because the T-800 tells young John that he will send him back “35 years from now.” That means it would be, at the earliest, 1994. That makes John Connor nine. The writers have managed to chop of their own arms to make a believable story because there’s no WAY that kid is anything less than TWELVE! His voice is changing, for goodness sake!

You can brand me a nerd for noticing these things, but actually having things line up in your story shows that you care about what you’re saying. To completely ignore it and let things fall where they may is lazy and it shows you put as much effort into it as a D-grade 9th grader does in a 10-page research paper. If you write movies, then that’s your JOB. If I did my job to an equivalent of that I’d be fired in a week.

Well what has been done in retrospect is to say that Terminator 2 takes place in 1995, when John is 10.  Sigh. Whatever. Let’s move on.

Now we get to the crown jewel of the series (*cough* sarcasm), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Right from the get-go you can tell the producers and writers of this film really didn’t give two hoots about what they were doing – they just saw dollar signs due to their super-model villian and Arnold’s mug on posters. Most people understand that the third movie was horrible, namely because of bad acting and over-the-top and way-too-long action scenes, but allow me to explain the other reasons it was bad.
The opening narration given by John Connor states that he was THIRTEEN when the 2nd Terminator came. We’ve already established that’s impossible within the timeframes given within the first two movies, so there’s no need to embelish on how wrong that is. What this means is the writers either didn’t care or didn’t check when they established this. My money is on both.
This error is embelished all the more when John later explains that his mom was diagnosed with leukemia and was given 6 weeks to live, but “fought on” for three years to make sure Judgment Day didn’t happen. That means she was diagnosed in 1994, three years prior to Judgment Day. I’m sure you’re doing the math by now to realized that John would have had to have been nine in the second movie (at the oldest), not thirteen, for those time frames to work. Though I am willing to bet that the writers assumed the first movie took place in 1991. I just got that vibe.
Now that I’ve pretty much exhausted the Time Line problems, let’s move on to a few more.
1) What the heck is the name of Arnold’s character? – In Terminator and T2, Arnold was called a “Cyberdyne Systems, Model 101.” The extended scenes in T2 refer to him as a T-800, and he is also called T-800 in the latest Terminator Salvation. Terminator 3 calls him both “T-850” and “T-101.” Can we all just have a meeting and come to an agreement? At least pop a cassette into the VCR to see what the movie said. Does it take that much time?
2) We can all debate about how time travel can work, but it doesn’t work that way – This is essentially one of the major plot flaws of the third film. Putting aside the fact that Skynet wasn’t supposed to be around in 2032 (which I’ll get to in a moment), the T-800 (or 850, whatever) explains that John could not be located so the T-X was sent after his generals and future wife. Well that’s all fine and dandy since John told us in his opening narration that he’d been living off the grid for several years, but why didn’t Skynet send the T-X to a time when John could be located? I do believe that we’re talking about time travel. Does anyone else remember the climactic scene in Back to the Future when Marty remembers that he is in a TIME MACHINE and he can give himself all the time he needs to save Doc’s life? (Of course he comically gave himself only 15 minutes, but never mind that).
2) The T-1000 was supposed to be advanced as it got – This might seem a bit picky, but it ties directly into my main point, which I’ll conclude with. When Kyle is being interrogated by police in 1984, he states that his forces in the future had smashed the defense grid of Skynet, effectively winning. They found the “time machine” and that the Terminator had already been sent through. Kyle believed that after he went in after it, the time machine was destroyed. However the second movie reveals that there were actually two Terminators sent, and that the second one, the T-1000, was an advanced prototype, meaning those things weren’t in mass production yet and it was likely the only one. Then, remember, the human resistance wins the war. As Kyle said, they’d destroyed the defense grid. If that’s the case, how does the T-X come around three years later? And why all the sudden does Skynet know about John’s T-800?
Sure, you can say that Skynet knew all along. You can say that Kyle didn’t know that the war would rage on for 3 more years, just as he didn’t know a second Terminator went through. But by that point you’re not creating a good story, you’re mopping up bad writing.
My main point is that in these kinds of stories, one should not rewrite what is already written. You can write around what’s already written, and (even better) you can write into what is already written, but you shouldn’t change it. It negates everything already established and makes it less interesting because the multiple parts cannot be enjoyed as a whole.
Now that I’ve beaten up relentlessly on those movies, it’s time for me to bury the hatchet and admit how blown away I am by the over-arching story’s complexities and its subtleties . . .
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One response to “I’m going to talk about Terminator for a while. Part two.

  1. Pingback: Twenty Awesome Things About Homestar Runner (that aren’t Trogdor), 11-20 « I hope you know what you're doing . . .

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