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Trying To Terminate My Inner Critic

I’m sometimes told that it’s a shame I feel compelled to analyze everyrhing, and I’d be a happier person (some have gone so far as to say a ‘better’ person) if I were just willing to take some things on faith. You’ve probably cottoned on already that I’m referring mostly to theists who think I should just accept their ludicrous truth claims in the face of both the evidence and the lack thereof, and I am – but not exclusively, and it’s not what’s on my mind tonight.

(If you doubt that critical examination of theology is a good thing, I refer you to religious wars and ghettoizations, refusal of medical care to dying children, pointless cutting  off of bits of children’s genitals, retardation of scientific progress… the list is very, very long.)

The other arena in which I sometimes genuinely do wish my inner critic would give it a rest is when I’m trying to enjoy a bit of fiction, either written or on a screen. Unlike theology, there’s no real gain to be had in mentally tearing apart the actions of characters, but I simply can’t help myself to any real extent. It’s the way my mind works.

It doesn’t help that my favorite form of fiction is hard science fiction. For those unfamiliar with the distinction, ‘hard’ science fiction is that in which the science is speculative but pains are taken to keep it plausible,  and it is integral to the story. At the other end of the spectrum is space opera, where plots and characters that wouldn’t be out of place in an opera are simply dressed up a bit with aliens and spaceships. The “Star Wars” franchise is a good example of the latter, the various “‘Star Trek” falls somewhere in the middle (the science isn’t usually very plausible, and the plots usually don’t depend on it very much, but there are exceptions).

Genuine, raw, clear-quill hard science fiction almost never makes it to the screen intact. On the small screen, the most successful ones almost always involve Joss Whedon (“Dollhouse” for example), and on the big screen Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The franchise that started me musing, as you’ll have guessed from the title and now the mention of Schwartzenegger, is the Terminator ouevre. The original, eponymous movie was a very fine piece of hard SF; we don’t know how to build either killer cyborgs or time portals with today’s technology, but the Terminators are certainly plausible, and time travel isn’t too much of a stretch. It’s made plain that the machine intelligence SkyNet just barely managed to get a single Terminatior sent through before the prototype time portal was captured, so it’s understandable that it didn’t use it more strategically.

Significantly. both technologies are portrayed as limited; the Terminator is a good imitation of a man, but not perfect, and the areas in which the imitation fails are exactly those you would expect; it is unimaginative and extremely poor at acting in a human manner. The time portal requires that the transportee be surrounded by living tissue. Why? Well, only the people who invented it can tell you that, and they’re not available for comment; nevertheless, given that it’s the prototype you’d expect some kind of serious limitation, so it adds to the plausibility (and, not incidentally, limits both the Terminator and Kyle Reese to the technologies of the 1980s, which makes for a more exciting story).

At the moment that limitation became clear, though, my critic began tearing at the edges. Why don’t the transportees arrive bald, with flayed-looking skin and no fingernails or toenails?  Those parts aren’t alive; they’re a product of life, but then so are leather and cotton clothing. Never mind, that’s a detail that could probably  be explained away, and it’s not important to the story; my critic can live with that, and I deeply enjoyed the rest of the movie.

In the sequel, however, we’re treated to two Terminators, one a duplicate of the original model reprogrammed to protect John Connor, and the other a newer advanced model called the T-1000. This movie was even more action-packed and full of whizz-bangs than the first one, but it was spoiled for me by the presence of that damned T-1000.

See, the T-1000 is a triumph of nanotechnology, a pseudo-metal mass that can morph into any shape it wants to, can be broken into pieces that will independently run back to the main mass to reform if they’re close by, the kind of thing that a really deeply advanced technology could plausibly produce… it’s just way, way, way beyond the technology expressed in the T-1, and it’s not at all plausible that the two were produced almost contemporaneously.

Worse, it’s not a cyborg – it has the capability to mimic a human by altering its shape and surface coloration, but it has no living component and so the time portal shouldn’t have worked for it. (Idiotically, though, it does go to the trouble of putting on the appearance of a naked person when it travels the portal, before re-coloring itself to assume a clothed appearance.)

Worse yet, the presence of a new Terminator shows that SkyNet has regained access to time travel, and plainly it wasn’t so rushed this time.  Why not destroy John Connor with a strategic nuclear weapon wrapped in fresh meat sent back to within miles of anyplace he or his mother were known to have been? Better yet, why not replace those clumsy old nukes with nice genetically engineered plagues sent back in time, to destroy those pesky biological types while keeping the nice infrastructure intact?

Worst of all, it should be plain as the light of nuclear fusion that if SkyNet has developed that kind of control over matter at the most basic level, the game is over. I don’t care how damn inspiring John Connor is as a leader of men or how much of a military genius he is destined to become, the human race is toast against that kind of metal.

I watched the two TV seasons of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and there was some good acting in it, and some subplots that were interesting in themselves, but as far as the major problems oulined above, the series only added complications and recomplications without ever resolving anything. Possibly the third season would have done so, and might yet if it ever gets made (doesn’t look likely).

There were also, it must be said, some appallingly sloppy continuity from episode to episode, things like Sarah Connor spending an entire episode on the edge of death with a bullet lodged behind her femoral artery, and in the next episode (which is set only days later) she’s striding lithely around in heeled boots and skin-tight jeans with not even the merest hint of a limp.

It was also pretty appalling when a big point is made that Derek has the rarest blood type AB-, Cameron the Cutest Terminator pipes up with the information that Sarah is type O- (universal donor), which isn’t good enough because of the quantity of whole blood needed, but the day is saved because John also has the rare AB- type as Derek, who is his uncle. Please, people, if you’re going to make blood type a plot point, take five minutes to look up the possible inheritance patterns; if Sarah is an O, John is A or B or O, he cannot be AB. (What makes this elementary scientific slip particularly grim is that there was an interesting and valid alternative available in the form of infusing Derek, who hates Terminators deeply, with the artificial pseudo-blood of a Terminator. He’d have hated that.)

Now, I’m told that T3: Rise Of The Machines is a good movie, but frankly it gets wearisome having to constantly stuff the critic back into his box. One or two improbabilities or even outright mistakes I can handle, but it gets exhausting trying to overlook one logical error after another. I’m really wondering if it’s worth my time.

Anybody seen it, and/or the Terminator:Salvation movie, and have an opiniion?

UPDATE: Saw T3. Meh. I also wish all film directors would get a clue about basic physics; it doesn’t matter how strong you are, you can’t lift a soft pine crate weighing several hundred kilos gripping it only by the edges at one end, being hit by a speeding vehicle that outmasses you by several times is still going to send you flying no matter how tough your skeleton is, and the friction on the bottom of a pair of boots is not going to allow you to hold back a semi.

~ by BT Murtagh on December 29, 2009.

musings, pop culture, Sci-fi

One Response to “Trying To Terminate My Inner Critic”

  1. Stopped at T2. Didn’t watch the SC Chronicles. We DID see the Terminator 3D thing at Universal Studios back in 1997. Not sure if it is canon or not, but the presentation was pretty nifty.

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