Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

darkfWe’re currently in a period -have been for quite some time, actually, and it seems there’s no end in sight- where pop culture seems obsessed with the past. With re-visiting old icons. Its actually been going on in film for so long now that one could be forgiven for thinking its just always been this way, that this is normal and entirely intellectually ‘sound’. Its gotten to the point at which, having remade and rebooted so many huge successful properties of the past, attention has turned to those that failed first time around; I still have to pinch myself that anyone deemed it a good idea to make a sequel to Blade Runner, box-office flop that it was. News has been circulating recently that John Carpenter’s 1982 flop The Thing is being remade/rebooted. I suppose so many years has gone by that the financial failures of those two 1982 duds has been softened by decades of ancillary sales on various video formats and platforms, and their critical reappraisal won’t have hurt either. But the performance of BR2049 should always be a sobering reminder of the dangers, even if it turned out (in my eyes, anyway) a quite brilliant film possibly equal to the original. So you know, maybe a remake/reboot of The Thing is not the monstrously horrible idea that my gut instinct thinks it is.

The Terminator franchise is one of those properties that Hollywood just hasn’t been able to quite leave alone, but by the time Terminator: Dark Fate arrived one had to wonder whether film-makers were rebooting/continuing the original two films or the successive sequels/reboots. It had gotten to the point at which my apathy left me curious about it, but not enough to actually shell out any coins to watch it. Which might be why the film failed -with a slightly higher budget than BR2049 it barely surpassed that films likewise dismal worldwide box-office, perhaps some measure of just how little any of those old movies actually resonate with modern audiences, no matter how good/bad/popular they were originally.

To be brutally honest, Terminator: Dark Fate is a totally unnecessary movie. Its like Terminator is some Hollywood corpse that keeps on getting kicked around, or which some mad Hollywood studio executive scientist keeps subjecting to lightning screaming “Its alive! Its alive!”until finally realising, no, its still quite dead and kicks it into a dark corner again until some other Peter Cushing lookalike decides its worth a shot.

Maybe this time is the last time. Maybe this time they’ll let it lie.

Its not that Terminator: Dark Fate is a bad film – well, maybe it is, but at least it isn’t terrible- its just that its so redundant, just bringing back the old tropes and stunts and, in this case, two of the original actors/characters. The whole franchise has gotten so wrapped up in various timelines and realities and paradoxes that the first thing this film does is wipe out everything post T2 in one brutal opening sequence to, as it were, simply clear the state. Unfortunately at the same time it also pulls an Alien 3, by pretty much negating everything in T2 itself, too. Which is either very brave or incredibly stupid- some Alien fans still get dangerously fluctuating blood pressure issues when Alien 3 is ever raised in a discussion.  For the record, I’m a fan of Alien 3 and quite like the sheer audacity of what it did to the characters who survived Aliens, but I have always been able to appreciate the ire that fans invested in the characters of Aliens felt at the time and indeed still do. Intellectually it wholly undermines the events of that film, threatening to negate any investment in that film whenever re-watched (possibly fans instead watch and stubbornly (wisely?) ignore the fact that Alien 3 exists at all- something that likely quite a few original Star Wars trilogy fans are attempting in this Disney Star Wars era.

darkf3What Terminator: Dark Fate proposes is that all the efforts of Sarah Connor and Arnie’s reprogrammed Terminator to protect her son John from the shape-shifting T-1000 and destroy Skynet were all for nothing, because in the first five minutes another Terminator (several, it seems, having been sent into the past to kill John Connor because, well, redundancy) comes along and kills John shortly following the events of T2. Its perhaps saying something about the inevitability of fate and AI that although Skynet has been stopped, it is instead simply delaying the same Apocalyptic events, this time orchestrated by another, later AI entitled Legion.

Now on the one hand, this is a fascinating proposition- similarly to the mythology of the BSG reboot, it seems to be suggesting that whatever we do, humanity is doomed to repeat the same mistake, in that the drive/forward momentum of scientific advancement we are always destined to create machines and then AI which, when sentient, always turns against us. In BSG, what has happened before is destined to happen again, a cycle of advance and disaster. So that defeating Skynet in T2 is always futile because some other scientist is going to eventually stumble upon the knowledge that leads to AI and another Skynet- in Dark Fate‘s case, an AI called Legion. It suggests a particularly dark viewpoint, the nihilistic view that humanity is doomed whatever we do. This isn’t really dwelt upon, more the pity, because Dark Fate lacks the darkness of the first Terminator film in particular The one thing I did appreciate, is that Dark Fate actually offers a possible break in the cycle: the issue with T2 was that it ended Skynet but not the industrial/economic drive for scientific progress that led to Skynet (because Judgement Day never happened,  the lesson of Skynet couldn’t be heeded by the public/powers that be). Dark Fate is never about stopping Judgement Day, it happens eventually, and Dani is the leader to lead the resistance and defeat Legion. One would suppose that afterwards, whatever the world is like, its one in which scientists won’t be so eager to create AI that threatens the Apocalypse.

So, decades after John has been killed and Sarah lost in semi-drunken rage, two new Terminators arrive from the future- well, one, as it turns out, is not quite a Terminator, but the other is a black-liquid T-1000 variant obviously up to no good- and the basic plot of the Terminator movies is up and running again. The AI of the ‘Future End of the World (Delayed)’ has identified the human that usurps it in its future and has sent a deadly assassin into the past to kill her and ensure it isn’t, er, usurped. And, er, someone else has then sent someone into the past to ensure she, er, isn’t.

darkf2Its like the very definition of reboot. And of course, it perhaps reflects the current obsession of our times that the hero that can save humanity is a woman not a man, and that the ‘good’ Terminator sent into the past (actually an augmented human, named Grace) is a woman too. I’m not concerned with the sexual politics, its boring and largely irrelevant except for those that choose to make a Big Deal about it on YouTube etc (afterall, we had Ripley and Sarah Connor herself kicking ass in films 40-odd years ago so its really the same old, same old). But the gender choices do impact the casting, and its that casting that chiefly damages this film. On the one hand, Mackenzie Davis as Grace is great – she’s excellent at the physical work in the action sequences and she is a very fine actress so is emotive and is, really, the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, while Natalia Reyes, who plays Dani, the Dark Fate variant of John Connor, is probably a good actress in her own right, she never at all convinces as the future saviour of the human race. She doesn’t have the hardness or physical attributes to really convince that way, particularly (and most damningly) in the future sequences in which we see her leading the resistance against Legion. Maybe it was an attempt to cast against type, but it doesn’t work, at least it didn’t for me. To be honest, it was almost laughable, and her future leader proves even more unconvincing than her present-day unwitting factory worker destined for Greatmess. As if ‘anyone’ can be The One.

Arnie, of course, is back, as the Terminator that assassinated John at the films opening but is later redeemed by living with humans and getting a conscience. Yeah, I know, even typing that feels stupid, but its one of those leaps of logic that Dark Fate inflicts upon us in its strange insistence to stay positive about everything- the film really misses the darkness of the first film. This Terminator seems to have even adopted a family and had success selling Drapes. Excuse me while I barf… I don’t know. Maybe they should have written a backstory of Sarah hunting the Terminator down for revenge, capturing and reprogramming it as her robot-slave or something, or maybe that would paint her in a bad light. Speaking of Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton makes a welcome return as the great haunted anti-heroine, but again, she utterly lacks any chemistry with Reyes as Dani, I mean, there is literally nothing there.

Its like the film lacks any emotional depth or profundity at all, and that Reyes is this strange Black Hole when the character really needs to be an icon, a gravitational force of depth and substance. Only Mackenzie Davis seems to make any real connection with Reyes or Hamilton or anyone, really. Arnie is pretty much wasted, he gets a few funny gags/one-liners but its not as if the film has a dark mood to alleviate. Without the emotional connections there really can’t be any drama, and some of the decidedly ropy CGI work in the stunts with digital characters substituting for the actors and their stunt doubles while plainly necessary is so poorly done, and sticks out so badly, it just seems to turn it into an animated movie so minus any real tension.

Its bad enough that we’ve largely seen so much of this before, but the films tendency to try to do action sequences up there with the daftest Marvel Studios spandex hero nonsense just makes it, well, silly, totally lacking any weight or depth. It really needed, in my opinion, to return to the physical reality of the first movie, and a violence that looked real and hurt, away from the Marvel stuff that threatens to infect everything now.

Dark Fate is not a complete disaster, but its really not particularly good either, completely negating any reason for its existence, even if it could argue for one in the first place. Did we need another Terminator movie? If we did, we needed one better than Dark Fate.

Black Mirror: Nosedive & San Junipero

I love instances of synchronicity, where image and sound become something special, reaching some other cinematic level through the sublime combination of craft and music.  Here’s two examples; two episodes of Black Mirror that each attain some extra level of greatness because the great scripts and performances are accompanied by utterly perfect soundtracks that enable a special emotional ‘kick’-

nose5Black Mirror: Nosedive

Finally subscribing to Netflix enabled me to at last catch up with Black Mirror and I started with the episode that intrigued me the most- and it was the Max Richter soundtrack that got me there. I’ve been listening to Richter’s music for years and his many original albums and scores have been one of the soundtracks to my life and work commutes, and I’ve been very curious about this particular work. Fortunately the episode itself blew me away.

Nosedive is about a society of social media-obsessed people whose lives revolve about their status, their score that they carry everywhere and which is governed by what everyone else thinks about them, their lives, their achievements, their posts on social media. Peer pressure is everything- you are your score, your rating, and its mostly governed by everyone else. So smile, look happy, be content, and if you mark someone else highly they might do the same for you too. The more people you know, the more likes and ratings and ‘hit’s’ you get, the higher your score, the higher your worth, and the greater your happiness.

nose3It really doesn’t feel that far into the future. Somewhere around the next corner, maybe, and future-fiction in the grandest tradition of The Twilight Zone. Being a Black Mirror story, this is naturally a cautionary tale, a pastel nightmare. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard, utterly wonderful here) lives what is on the surface a fairly idyllic life, but her social standing and life- opportunities are squarely defined by her score of 4.2, a measure openly noted by everyone she comes in contact with. Everybody wears contact lenses that work a little like Google Glass, augmenting what they see with a virtual avatar, like a numeric hologram that floats like a Facebook Halo by their heads. A simple number that somehow summarises everyone’s life and worth.

The insidious part of this is that this number limits your life choices- quality, life-changing loans/discounts are only offered to people rated 4.5,  the quality of your job or the car you drive or the place where you live can all be impacted by your score. In Nosedive, Lacie needs a rating of 4.5 to enable her to receive a discount that will enable her to live in a plush apartment and all the opportunities it will give her. She needs to be more popular, to be ‘better’, and her efforts spiral into a descent into horror as circumstances get the better of her and her rating actually plunges, forcing her to reassess her life and the ways she lives and measures success and those around her.

nose2Nosedive looks utterly brilliant, all pastel colours and clean art direction, a world designed by Apple for IPad people, it pictures a utopian world that looks perfect but is, naturally, rotten to the core and in just the same way as the best Twilight Zone episodes did, the story forces viewers to consider how it colours our own world and our own values and perceptions. The cast is terrific, particularly Bryce Dallas Howard, who blew me away her with a charming and powerful performance that is career-defining in my book. The heart and soul of the episode though is Richters music, full of emotion and pathos, fragile and tender as the veneer of idyllic perfection is stripped away to reveal the real horror beneath. The soundtrack is barely 24 minutes long so it’s woefully slim for an album, but here is a case where quality wins out over quantity. The music is quite haunting and adds substantially to the impact of the episode.

San1Black Mirror: San Junipero

Clint Mansell’s score manages the same with the next episode of Black Mirror that I watched; San Junipero. Its a 1980s-flavoured score, its electronics sounding like something John Carpenter might have written for one of his films of that period. Its a rather warm and tender soundtrack in spite of it being synthesisers, suffused with a sadness that permeates the episode itself.

On a neon-drenched Saturday night in a 1980’s Californian seaside town, two young women meet in a nightclub- shy, inhibited Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and confident, mysterious Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  rather a case of opposites attracting, the two begin a relationship, but as usual for Black Mirror, something feels ‘off’, something about the place and the people and obscure offhand references to limited time and it always being a Saturday night with a deadline of midnight.

The twist is that the seaside town of San Junipero isn’t real- its fake, a virtual world in which the two women are escaping from their harsh realities.  In the real world, both girls are actually old women near the end of their lives, living far apart and never destined to meet. Yorkie has been in a coma for 40 years, and Kelly is a widow and bereaved mother who is dying from cancer. San Junipero offers a few hours of escape, but they have the option -as their real bodies fail and they die- to stay in San Junipero forever. Yorkie is keen to do so, but Kelly wants to die and try her chances for a real heaven and a real reunion with her dead husband and daughter. The love affair seems ultimately doomed, and Yorkie destined to spend eternity in her virtual seaside heaven alone.

san2Beautifully acted and sensitively told, for me, the story was as much a study of what is ‘real’, as much as it was a love story. There were some pretty deep ideas being shuffled around. The guarantee of a virtual heaven in San Junipero against the act of faith in a real heaven was an interesting concept, and the possibility of humanity through technology being offered the comfort blanket of a virtual heaven, versus the unproven promises of religion, seemed fascinating. At the end of the episode, we see a vast hall full of servers in which no doubt thousands or even millions of dead people live forever- literally, per the Belinda Carlisle song that opens the episode, Heaven is a place on Earth. 

Or is it? In a similar way to the technological promises of Star Trek‘s transporters or Altered Carbons‘ stacks and ‘sleeves’ offering immortality, the seductive promises of San Junipero surely lack substance. The way I see it, the transporters of Star Trek are actually rather scary- people are scanned, disintegrated, and then re-integrated, or copied, at their destination. The Kirk that appears on a planet is surely a copy of the one that was vanished from the Enterprise – looking and feeling identical, with identical memories etc, but surely not the same Kirk. In Altered Carbon, the stacks are hard-drive backups of the real people, simulacra that when re-loaded into new sleeves are just that, copies, perfect in every detail and convinced that they are real, but just duplicates nonetheless. In San Junipero, Yorkie really dies and her brain dies too- it’s a download or copy of her brain waves that lives forever in the virtual heaven of San Junipero. The ideas and promises of the technologies are seductive but they are not real. Or maybe it’s real enough for the virtual Yorkie in her virtual world, as is the false immortality that stacks and ‘sleeves’ offer in Altered Carbon. Maybe technology really will save us. Maybe copying/downloading our intellects is future salvation, or maybe our souls are salvation and those digital intellects redundant.

Or maybe I’m just overthinking stuff. God, I love sci-fi. Its some crazy shit at times.

This music is real though- Richter’s Nosedive and Mansell’s San Junipero are wonderfully evocative, powerfully affecting scores. And these two episodes of Black Mirror are two of the best pieces of television I have seen in years.

san3

Blade Runner 2 update

br2Well its been a few months, time for another update before I close the curtains and hide from the outside world to avoid any real spoilers. Most details are being kept refreshingly secret (and I hope it stays that way for several months to come), but there’s been a bit more news of late about Blade Runner 2 (still lacking an official title), currently in production in Hungary. In production– I confess it seems so weird, thinking that a sequel to Blade Runner is currently being shot. I’m certain that watching this film next October will be the most surreal experience of my life- its like reality has taken some weird twist into a distorted dreamland. But yeah, its in production, its real.

A little while ago we got a few examples of pre-production art that infers the film will maintain the tone of the original film, such as is in the image above. I was surprised by this as I had assumed the film, set decades after the 2019-set original, would have its own ‘look’ and feel- I almost expected them to go the Minority Report route visually and maybe they will, but that image above does look very Blade Runner.

As the film is shooting there have been more cast details, most recently news of Jared Leto being a late addition. I quite like Leto onscreen but he has a weird rep behind the scenes that is a little disconcerting. Other additions include Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Barkhad Abdi, Ana de Armas, Carla Juri and Lennie James. Seems a pretty solid cast is being brought together, multicultural and quite European (as the original was shot in Hollywood it was mostly an American cast). They join the already announced Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright and Mackenzie Davis.

Mackenzie Davis has been speaking a little about the project. Regards the original, she says that “…it’s been my favourite movie for as long as I can remember… I can’t believe I get to be a part of it. (Villeneuve’s) enthusiasm and love for it has made the whole thing so exciting. I had friends from university who called me when the news first came out saying, ‘It’s so crazy, you had been talking about this when we were 19 that if ever a Blade Runner sequel came out it would be your dream job.’ And then it happened. It’s truly insane to me.” I guess it’s another reminder of how influential the original has been amongst the film community over the decades, no matter how it flopped back in 1982.

Vangelis, who has his first album for several years out next month, is definitely not involved this time around. As widely expected, it has been confirmed that Jóhann Jóhannsson has signed on to write the score. Oddly enough, like Vangelis,  Jóhannsson has a solo album being released next month (Orphee, which sounds great by the way from what I’ve heard of it). While publicising Orphee,  Jóhannsson has made a few comments about Blade Runner 2.

He has revealed he has visited the set and already started working on the score, and like Mackenzie Davis is a big fan of the original. “I saw [Blade Runner] when I was 13, the year it came out, and it had a huge effect on me. I was already a big fan of Philip K. Dick’s novels, so I knew the original. Obviously the film is very different from the book, but I was a huge fan from day one and it’s a film that’s hugely important to me in terms of both being a visual masterpiece – this amazing world that Ridley Scott and his team created – and also in terms of the music and the sound design, which is tremendously strong and which was very memorable at the time when I saw it. This is true of many people of my generation who experienced that film, it had a deep impact on them.”

Arrival,_Movie_Poster“Denis I tend to start very early in his process,” he says of scoring films. “I start working on the music when he starts prepping the film. When he starts shooting I’ve usually started collecting material and putting together ideas and starting the process of finding the sound of the film. This is a long process that can take many months and I like to start early in order to send things to Denis while he’s filming.” Jóhannsson has also scored Villeneuve’s sci-fi film  Arrival, which is released in November. Arrival (previously Story of Your Life) is a fascinating prospect- it will be so interesting to see how Villeneuve handles a genre film with his Blade Runner 2 on the horizon. Which raises the thought- can you even imagine the pressure he must be feeling?

The most recent news concerning Blade Runner 2 was actually something tragic and a reminder of all those people behind productions that usually never hit the headlines- a construction worker has been killed whilst dismantling a set on which production had been completed at Budapest’s Origo Studios. A statement by Alcon Entertainment stated that he was a local employed by a subcontractor to dismantle the set, he wasn’t a member of the film-crew and production has continued, having already moved on to the village of Etyek in Hungary where they were filming at the time of the accident.

So how long can the secrecy hold? How long before the marketing department get loose of their chains and start dropping set photos and teaser trailers out? I guess that will be when I try to stop thinking about the film and start actively avoiding any details. Or do I just give up avoiding those details, will it even be possible? I rather like it how things are now. It’s nice knowing the production has a great director, a fine cast and a backroom staff that seem to have a handle on the project and how important it is, but it’s also nice not knowing any further details, like the plot or what characters the cast are playing. Blade Runner 2 may be a project many of us Blade Runner fans never expected or really wanted, but at the moment it could be all things; great, horrible, brilliant. It could be anything.

Some Blade Runner 2 Trivia

Blade Runner 2 is now scheduled for release October 2017 (bumped up from its original January 2018 slot) so we really are closing in on something that was once either incredibly unlikely or even impossible. Just to make things a little weirder, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Alien: Covenant, is due out in August 2017. Its enough to freak me out.

Here’s something interesting I stumbled upon whilst looking up the latest Denis Villeneuve/ Blade Runner 2 news on the ‘net and trying to avoid the clickbait. Someone on the IMDB message-board was asking what’s the longest stretch of time between a film and a sequel being made. Blade Runner was released in 1982, and the (untitled) Blade Runner 2 film is set for 2017, which is a gap of 35 years. Some examples of other long gaps the poster mentioned are The Hustler (1961) and The Colour of Money (1986) = 25 years,  Psycho (1960) and  Psycho II (1983) = 23 years, The Godfather Part II (1974) and  The Godfather Part III (1990) = 16 years.

There are likely other examples, but a responding poster noted there is a Brazilian horror -film franchise with a longer gap;  This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)/ Embodiment of Evil (2008).  But I think there may be a case for Blade Runner taking the prize for a Hollywood film series. One I can think of is The Odd Couple (1968) and The Odd Couple II (1998) which is close at 30 years, but still short of the Blade Runner gap. Maybe someone reading this will be able to think of something obvious that I’ve missed.

Blade Runner 2 is scheduled to start filming next month (I’ve read it starts shooting in Budapest but don’t know how true that is, like everything else, much about this film -including its proper title- is a mystery). But yeah, we do know it starts shooting in July. The more I think about that… its really weird. I guess all the design work is done, the sets are being built now, costumes are getting ready… it messes with your head, thinking about it. Imagine what it will be like when the first set photos get released or the first teaser trailer in six months. I guess it won’t be long before some of the secrecy gets lifted a little, at the moment it feels like the lull before the storm. Anything is possible right now.

On the whole  everything seems promising, and as someone who was critical of a sequel at first, I’m currently quite looking forward to it. Up to now everything I have read about it seems positive. News has been scant about the film other than updates on the cast, which is looking as impressive as the film’s backroom talent – Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright were confirmed awhile ago, but more recently Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre) and Mackenzie Davis (The Martian) have been added to the roster, as well as some names less familiar to me- Carla Juri, Sylvia Hoeks and Ana de Armas, which already indicates the film has more women’s roles than the first film featured. God only knows what that means.  But Mackenzie Davis in the picture below looking very Pris-like is an unnerving coincidence…

Mackenzie Davies, looking rather like Pris here...

Funnily enough Denis Villeneuve has another film due out this year, and it’s a sci-fi film too- Story Of Your Life is based on an acclaimed short story of the same name by Ted Chiang (note there is a rumour going around that the film’s title has now changed to Arrival).  The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, and concerns aliens arriving on Earth and the military recruiting an expert linguist to determine whether the aliens come in peace or are a threat. I’ve avoided reading the original story so know little more than that, other than its serious science-fiction inferring the film is firmly in the CE3K camp of First Contact rather than that of  Independance Day. In anycase, its Villeneuve’s first genre entry and so will be very interesting to see prior to his Blade Runner 2.

Of course one of the questions fans have about the new film concerns the music and whether Vangelis will be involved, and this has yet to be resolved. I rather suspect Vangelis won’t be composing the films score. Villeneuve usually has Johann Johannsson composing the scores for his films and I expect the same to apply here- which is good, as having a creative team familiar with each other always bodes well for a project. Nothing has been announced yet, but Johannson stated “Back in the studio working on a very special project to come in the next year.” on Facebook which has his fans already wondering, but he has signed a new album deal so it is likely something for that or some other film project. It certainly feels too soon for work on the Blade Runner 2 score, unless he is preparing some source music for on-set use (i.e. background music for in a bar or something). Who knows?