THE SARAH CONNERS CHRONICLES
REVIEWER: Gregory Bray
EDITOR'S NOTE: This review is part of BATMAN ON FILM's 2007 COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL SAN DIEGO coverage.
Preview panels are an essential part of the San Diego Comic-Con experience. Here, the cast, producers, writers, and directors of a variety of programs sit in front of an audience and tell them to spread the word about their program. It’s self-promotion at its very best—at least it can be, as was the case with “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.’
I had a great deal of luck on Saturday, July 28th. Several panels were held in the room 6 D E F, which meant I could sit toward the front for “The Two Rays,’ “Chronicles,” and “Smallville.“ More on the other panels in a later report.
As for the “Sarah Connor Chronicles,” there was a brief introduction, the lights dimmed, and we were off to the races. The program, we were told, was a special extended length edition, not cut for broadcast time. So, elements we, the audience, viewed may not make it to FOX when this mid-season replacement airs in January.
The pilot began with the “road shot” coda from TERMINATOR 2. We see a dark road, rolling past the camera, lit by headlights, and we hear Sarah Connor’s voice over. Lena Heady gives the character as much of her own spin, although the underlying fear, fatigue, and the readiness for battle (present in Hamilton’s characterization) are clearly here.
In the beginning, Sarah runs into a classroom where we see John Connor, played by Thomas Dekker (and looking remarkably like Nick Stahl), and tells him it’s time to leave. As they run out of the school they’re surrounded by police, and are promptly arrested. Suddenly, a Terminator shows up and makes short work of the police. John flees, only to be shot to death. Sarah kneels beside her fallen son and pleads with the terminator to kill her. A nuclear holocaust erupts behind him, and Sarah jolts up in bed.
It was a nightmare. But it’s apparent she’s had this nightmare many times over. Sarah’s engaged, living in a comfortable home, and has a new last name. When her fiancée leaves, she wakes John up and tells him it’s time to move on. “It’s safe,” he pleads. “No one’s ever safe,” she tells him, and they’re on the run.
The problem is her fiancée immediately goes to the police, and the FBI tags her ID. An FBI agent, sure to be a series regular, enters the room, and tells him that Sarah is responsible for the destruction of Sky Net and the murder of Miles Dyson (played by the terrific and terminally underused Joe Morton in Terminator 2). The agent asks if she had told him about the robots from the future. It’s a wonderful exchange. I truly hope this isn’t left on the editing room floor.
John’s been moved to another school, but he doesn’t seem to fit in. “Everybody wears cowboy boots, here. I hate cowboy boots.” Connor meets a beautiful girl, played by Summer Glau, and there’s an immediate attraction…sort of. The girl’s name is Cameron. Some people cheered when she introduced herself, others groaned. Still, it’s a nice nod to the series creator.
A new teacher walks into the room, and there’s something a bit robotic about him. As he calls off attendance, he tears his leg open under his desk, and removes a gun from his mechanical thigh. He fires at John, and hits Cameron. John is able to escape into the parking lot, but is cornered by The Terminator. As he’s about to make his maker, a truck suddenly collides into the terminator. The Driver? Cameron. She extends her hand. “Come with me if you want to live.” The audience cheers.
I’ve just taken you through the first part of the pilot, and I’m not going to bother blowing the rest, but I will say this: It’s terrific. This is simply GOOD television.
The first two TERMINATOR films are modern classics. James Cameron created a world of story that was compelling, pulse pounding, and frightening. Both films are essentially extended chase sequences, but Cameron is a master at large action set pieces. They’re the kind of films I can view over and over again (usually during the summer) with a bag of popcorn and still feel a great deal of excitement for. I was less enthused about the much-maligned Terminator 3. I didn’t outright hate it, but the chase wasn’t as exhilarating. If you have a predestined conclusion, it’s difficult to get excited about it. And Sarah Connor was missed. Sorely missed.
The largest problem I had with T3: RISE OF THE MACHINES was how at odds it was with the previous film, in terms of its theme. In T2, we learned that there is “No Fate But What We Make.” T3 essentially said, “uh, yeah scratch that, we really are screwed, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
This television series presents a new timeline, and a chance to give us a story more consistent with what was laid out in the Cameron films. The audience over all reaction seemed welcoming. One gushing fanboy during the Q&A stood in front of the crowd, and exclaimed “you got all the references right! You just got it all right!” He actually said that over a period of five minutes, until the rest of the audience began to yell at him to ask a damn question, but his enthusiasm was entirely understandable.
This pilot, even if there were no follow up program, is far superior to T3 in terms of storytelling.
There were some minor hurdles for me, though. First off, I identify Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. I never viewed “Beauty and the Beast,” and only caught portions of Hamilton’s catalogue. To me, the actress and the role are about as married as Sean Connery and James Bond must have been to the previous generation. Lena did a fantastic job, and listening to her on the panel (speaking in her non-American accent, and disappearing behind a radiant smile) it was like seeing a different person entirely. She entirely enveloped herself in her Sarah Connor character. Will there be a time when I can accept her to the degree of Hamilton? It’s possible, time will tell.
On the other hand, Lena has a beautiful singing voice
Second, I’m not sure if the big bad Terminator in the pilot was supposed to be a T-100, or a like-model that intentionally bore similar resemblance to “Ah-nold, “while not actually having a Hungarian accent. If this bad Terminator is supposed to be one we have not met before, it’s rather convenient that this is the same Terminator that was in Sarah’s dream at the beginning of the episode.
It would be nice if they sent a small old woman to be the evil Terminator. Someone grandmotherly and docile as to not rouse suspicion. A buff dude existing in the Terminator universe can only mean one thing—metallic endoskeleton. I hope they mix it up a bit. Also, the actor playing the bad Terminator played emotions. He seemed happy to have the drop on John Connor. What made Arnold so compelling in the first Terminator movie was his ability to not demonstrate any emotion, even when saying “Get Out.” And that’s what made him so scary (and the fact that the guy was huge!).
The panel afterward clarified a few things. First off, Summer Glau is just about the most beautiful actress I have ever seen. Her smile (often hid behind the masks of River and Cameron) just lights up the room. A number of people I spoke with afterward immediately had a crush on her.
Fanboys have a crush on Summer Glau -- and women in general
She said that when she came to Hollywood, she expected to do Jane Eyre style films, and was real happy to have these assertive roles where she could put her ballet training into practice. Plus, “I get to be a Terminator!” Her giddiness behind that line was infectious.
Josh Friedman, producer and director David Nutter were part of the panel as well. When asked if this series was going to be a ‘Terminator of the Week,’ or a ‘Monster of the Week,’ series, Friedman responded, “What is this, the CW or Fox?” Clearly a dig at “Smallville” and “Supernatural.” The producers explained that this series essentially is an alternate timeline to T3 (it eradicates it, really), and that the story lines for the first 2 or 3 seasons have been mapped out.
This leads me to another concern. As I said early, the TERMINATOR franchise, while excellent films, are extended chase sequences. Will every episode follow suit? Will there be episodes that showcase a Cameron on vacation in a bikini (one can hope)? If Seasons 2 and 3 are 22 episodes per season, will there be a time when the inevitable wheel spinning, shark jumping, and general decline of quality takes over? I don’t mean to sound like a cynic, but I truly wish American television would limit the number of episodes per season, and focus on quality and not quantity. This could be an excellent television series, and be a worthy entry to the mythos James Cameron started. The pilot certainly is. I’m crossing my fingers for the rest of the program.
Still, things are off to a real good start, and I’m pleased I was able to catch such a wonderful pilot. Here’s hoping for a successful run.
GREGG'S GRADE: A-
Mr. Bray is Lecturer in the Communication and Media Department at SUNY New Paltz.
Gregg, a longtime BOF'er, also serves as an administrator on the BOF forum.
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