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terminator
Yes, you read the title right (photo courtesy of themOvieblog)

Today I went to see “Terminator Genisys” with my son.  That’s he’s a teenage boy is all you need to know as to why we went—I probably would have just waited for it to come out on video.  (Indeed, I rate it as “Wait until it’s out on video” in the Doug Movie Rating Scheme.)  Emilia Clarke is much more enjoyable than I ever would have expected her to be having seen her flat acting in “Game of Thrones”, plus she looks significantly better as a brunette.  Ahnuld is Ahnuld, as one might expect.  Kyle Reese is played by some six-pack-sporting block of wood name Jai Courtney, who is quite a contrast to the slender, easily-hurt, somewhat wild-eyed and desperate Michael Behn from the original film.  He’s not as bad as Hayden Christensen [but then, who is?] in “Jumper”; think Sam Worthington from “Avatar”.  Why is it all male action movie stars now have to sport slim waists, ridiculous six-packs, and wooden acting?  When did that become de rigeur?  And why is it they continue to cast slender, small-busted, small-hipped women and try to make them look curvier than they are? I don’t understand Hollywood.

But this isn’t a review of the film.  God knows you can see reviews for this summer blockbuster almost anywhere.  (Next week it’ll be “Ant-man”, a movie I still can’t believe got made.)  It truly is a meditation on thoughts that this film, released 31 years after I saw the first one with a couple of buddies in college, came to me there in the dark, flickering images dancing on my face while I chomped on pretty durn good pizza.  And if you want to know how you can have good pizza while simultaneously watching a film, you need to see if Alamo Drafthouse has opened a facility near you.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah: Meditating.

I wasn’t all that interested in seeing “The Terminator”.  In 1984, hardly anyone had heard of James Cameron, Ahnuld was a hulking “actor” without much acting ability who had played Conan and a few other silly roles (two Conan movies, “Hercules in New York”, that sort of thing), and it was pretty low-budget—$6.4 million, compared to, say, the first Ghostbuster movie out the same year, which cost $32 million.  All in all it sounded like a bad combination, so I was going to give it a miss and wait for it (for years maybe in those days) to come out on video.  But then a good friend of mine on the Ultimate Frisbee team (“Ultimate Kaos”) convinced me to go.  And I was glad I did.  I went expecting explosions and stupid action sequences; what I got was explosions, excellent action sequences, suspense, humor, interesting special f/x, some damn decent acting (and a role Ahnuld was clearly born to play), and most of all . . . a story.  An honsest-to-God interesting story that I never would have expected from a movie with a young directory, a (comparatively) low budget, and a wooden leading man.

There was no way I would have expected the movie to turn its filmmaker into the biggest director on the planet, spawn a TV series, 4 sequels, a long-running career for its star, and two terms of Governor Schwarzenegger.  Not to mention countless catch-phrases, imitations, rip-offs, spin-offs, and God alone knows what else.  Even Exxon-Mobile’s accountants (less scrupulous than the worst Mob accountants any day) would be hard-pressed to calculate how much dough that one movie eventually generated.

What did “Terminator Genisys” do in my case?  It made me feel old, and depressed, and homesick.

Let’s say this up front:  Despite my chronic pain and slowly-breaking-down 52 year-old body, I don’t feel a whole lot different than I did in my 20s (there are those who will insist that I didn’t age emotionally much after age 12; I’ll leave it to others to decide).  I don’t feel as if I’ve aged much past 27,

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aken in front of the Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand, by Tim Miller

despite the hard evidence I see every day in the mirror.  I like to think I have a young spirit to go with my old soul, but I’m probably just fooling myself.  But truth to tell, most of the time I really don’t feel old.

And I love living in Austin, a truly wonderful town much more polite and relaxed, much cheaper, and much less crowded, than the San Francisco Bay Area, or even my beloved Santa Cruz.  And I’m a hard person to get down for long; it takes quite a bit.

But still, that’s how I felt after “Terminator Genisys”: Old, depressed, and homesick.

Ahnuld looks old.  The guy is 70; he has every right to look old.  But when I first saw him in “The Terminator”, he looked significantly older than me.  Looking at his young version in the new film, he looked so very, very young.  So now someone who looked old when I was young now looks young.  MAN that made me feel old.

And thinking how long ago it was—before the Loma Prieta earthquake, Chernobyl, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, 9/11, before even “Back to the Future” came out—made me feel old.  And it wasn’t one of those Baby Boomer “Oh my childhood was so innocent!” type deals; I was remembering an era that had the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan rattling sabres at each other in the middle of Europe (Germany, to be exact), an era when “The Day After” had just come out, when we really did, no kidding, worry that our President was going to do something cosmically stupid and we were all going to die in a nuclear holocaust.  It was hanging over us all the time, though we usually managed to forget it, but it was there.  Look, kids; I know I sound like G’Grandma talking about the Depression, but I’m telling you, it could be fucking scary.

So yeah, sitting in a spanking new theater with my 17 year-old son, my cell phone in my pocket, a 7th Star Wars movie being previewed up on the screen, thinking just how far away that whole time period seems, and I felt old.

But the film also takes place in San Francisco.  I lived in the Bay Area for 25 years, visited 3-4 times a year for the next 7, then lived there again part-time for the next 3. But in the last year-and-a-half, I’ve been there once; last April, on business.  And I miss it, damn do I miss it.  Don’t want to move back, but I miss my friends, my old haunts (especially in Santa Cruz), my favorite restaurants, and the unbelievably, eye-melting beauty of it.  Lord it’s a beautiful place, and I do miss it.

And finally, it made me depressed.  Partly because I can’t watch this film with the same low expectations (thought I was going to say “innocence”, didn’t ya?) I brought to the first one, partly because it reminded me of things gone, or things changed, and partly because this was probably the first time I’ve taken The Boy to a movie he has been hugely looking forward to that he was . . . disappointed by.  It was “Okay;” it was “not bad”.  But it  also “didn’t make a whole lot of sense”, which for him was a combination of the time travel stuff confusing him, and the plot holes.  (For me there was also, “WTF happened to JK Simmons’ character?”)  I was already pretty bummed, but seeing my boy not excited, in fact seeing him experience his first real movie “let down”, was a massive bummer.  Two weeks in a row we’ve gone to movies that he’s really anticipated (and he loved Chris Pratt in “Jurassic World”; the “Terminator” folks should take a lesson as to what a lively actor can bring to a film) and have fallen short.  You’re stealing my son’s innocence, you movie-making boneheads!

Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh, but you see what I mean.

What’s funny is that in a way, we live in a Golden Age of Sci Fi, only it’s mostly on TV.  “Orphan Black” is a wonderful, wonderful SF show with a complex plot line and (imagine it!) a woman in the lead role.  Ditto the two new shows on SyFy, “Killjoys” (interstellar bounty-hunters, sort of “Cowboy Bebop” in a different solar system with a woman playing Spike) and “Dark Matter”, a kind-of “Farscape” where the whole crew has amnesia.  Very faithful to the whole “Firefly”/”Han shot first!” vibe.  And there’s been “Continuum” (with a female lead!), the more fantasy-esque but still fun “Lost Girl” (with several female leads!), the Halle Berry vehicle “Extant”, and on and on.  And we’ve had “Eureka” and “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” and “Warehouse 13” and even all the comic-book originated one like “The Flash” or “Arrow”—some not so great, sure, but the volume is really incredible.  (And remember Sturgeon’s Law!)

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Maybe it was just ahead of its time by a decade?
(Photo courtesy of Giles Bowkett)

Really, in this kind of environment I’m surprised that so few folks have the balls of a Wachowski or Nolan to make an original SF movie, and that the sequels rolling our way (“Jurassic World”, say) seem so flat.  Perhaps it’s as some say: That the episodic nature of TV lends itself better to SF.  Or that Hollywood has run out of ideas.  Or the public has become jaded.

I don’t know the answers.  All I know is that it made me feel old, depressed, and homesick.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll have a drink, one  of my morphine tablets, and re-watch “The Terminator”.  Or maybe “Kingsmen”; I hear that’s kind of fun.  Hope springs eternal.

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