PTR Staff Writer
I saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day nine times in the theatre when it was released in 1991 (and when it still only cost us about 5-ish or so bucks to attend a matinee) .
I was T2 obsessed.
I was in awe of Robert Patrick’s T-1000.
I thought Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor was the badest badass woman my young 16-year-old self had ever seen. And let’s just say that, a couple of years later, when Demi Moore tried to do her own badass woman impersonation in the over-the-top-we-don't-want-to-see-a-woman-become-a-man G.I. Jane, I left that film going, “Sorry, Demi, but you’ve got nothing on Linda Hamilton. Or Sarah Connor.”
And so, if there is a savior of a television show for me during this writer’s strike shortened primetime season, it is Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on FOX.
Oh. My. God. I think I have died and gone to Terminator heaven.
My absolute favorite of the Terminator films has been turned into a full-fledged television series, complete with all of the best elements of the film - including the score, the action, the special effects, the backstory and the awesome T on T sequences.
Now, if there is a caveat in all of this, it is that the more working knowledge you have of the film series (and specifically T2), the better. As I was watching the pilot last night (which continues tonight at 9 p.m. on FOX), I was trying to figure out how hard it might be for non-Terminator fans to follow given the pilot picks up exactly where the end of T2 left off. We remember that Sarah and her son, John (future leader of the resistance against the mean ol' machines), had successfully toppled the big bad Skynet corporation. As we recall, Skynet was supposed to build the horrible supercomputer that eventually becomes self aware, takes over itself and allow machines (read: terminators) to wipeout mankind in the not too distant future. Well, with Skynet toppled, Sarah and John are still living on the run (given they blew up lots of stuff and killed a good number of people trying to save the world in T2).
But of course, as optimistically hunky dory as the T2 film ended, the television series reintroduces the immediate threat on John’s life, whereby terminators are sent back in time once again to try and kill him given he is to be the future leader of the resistance against said terminators. Additionally, it looks as though Skynet will eventually get rebuilt. As will that nasty ol' supercomputer.
So Sarah has to stop Skynet.
And John has to be kept alive.
And how awesome is that?
There are some seriously nice new twists the television series brings to the table – particularly when it comes to the terminator sent back to protect young John. This time, it is in the shape of a younger teenage girl (played brilliantly by Summer Glau and of whom is named "Cameron" - a nice homage to original Terminator creator, James Cameron, who outdid himself bringing us the T2 sequel). This girl can throw her terminator weight around with the best of 'em, stopping the Robert Patrick-esque T-1000 with surgical precision and ease.
Schwarzenegger is not missed in this.
Nor is his Cyberdyne Systems beefcake terminator model.
Also not missed is Edward Furlong's John Connor. I only ever liked him so-so in the film version. He was a little too Guns n’ Roses for me at the time, and his squeaky, puberty-plagued voice got on my nerves given it could’ve broken some china plates (I think). Thus, Thomas Dekker is a welcome upgrade as a more mature John. He’s still trying to figure out how in the world he’s ever going to run the resistance whilst simultaneously trying to remember all of the rules to stay alive in our time today.
Rules set down my mom, of course.
Robert Patrick’s brilliant precedent as the menacing, never blink, never breathe, never break a sweat, hardly-seem-out-of-step perfection as the T-1000 machine is emulated pretty darn well by Owain Yeoman. Owain is not Robert, of course, and Robert's meditative preparation for T2 is now the stuff of legend. But, you can tell just how much of a mark Robert made on the series as Owain tries to replicate Robert's flawless portrayal.
And then there is Sarah.
Still passionate. Still relentless in her own right. Still protective. Still no nonsense. She’s trying to find a way to live the most normal of abnormal lives, with John (and his welfare) still the center of her world.
But for the television series, she’s tempered a bit. We see more of the mother, and we have the soldier aspect dialed down a couple of notches.
And that is a good thing.
I like it.
There is a certain sensitivity that is being introduced into the overall Sarah/John dynamic, and that wasn’t necessarily prevalent in the film (save for a scene or two). The dynamic between mother and son is the foundation on which the telvision series is being built. And that is a strong premise. It’s also evident in Summer Glau's potrayal of the Cameron terminator. The film had its sensitive moments that didn’t detract from the action, the pace or the overall premise. I'd have to say the television series is doing the exact same thing - possibly better, given the medium allows for a fuller expansion of the family backstory.
That said, the biggest shoes to fill are Linda Hamilton’s, and her unforgettable turn as Sarah Connor. We remember when Jodie Foster said no to playing Special Agent Clarice Starling for the third time, and it fell upon Julianne Moore to maintain the brilliance of the legacy in Hannibal. As brilliant of an actor as Juilanne Moore is, it didn’t really work. It was like Darren being swapped out on Bewitched.
There was/is only one Clarice Starling: Jodie’s.
The same could be said for Sarah Connor. She’s always going to be Linda's.
Yet, this 2008. Linda isn't exactly the mid-30-something badass she once was. As such, Lena Headey's Sarah Connor is a good one. There is a certain weariness to her, an exhaustion of maintaining years worth of rules to ensure her and John’s survival. Yet, the mother in her is equally strong – we never forget how overly-protective, dutifully devoted and worrisome she is nor how much she feels she has cursed John’s very existence.
That said, I know there are entire Terminator related fandoms devoted to the legacy of Sarah, and as such, view Lena’s performance as not paying enough homage to Linda’s kick-arse version. But, I think it’s just that feeling of the whole Jodie/Juilanne / Darren on Bewitched / swap-actor-but-keep character thing we all have to endure at one point or another when our favorites get modified. It can be a hard pill to swallow. I know. I’ve been there.
But when it's done pretty darn well, those favorite characters get to live on.
And that is a great reward.
As such, I’ve got to give the whole package the show is offering a complete thumbs up. Never mind that the T2 film broke my sequel-can't-ever-be-better-than-the-original rule, the television series could actually make me end up wishing the film gave me more.
A good deal all the way around.
New episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles air Mondays at 9 p.m. on FOX. Tonight's episode is the second part of the premiere/pilot, so be sure to tune in!
Photos: FOX; IMDb.