May 22, 2009
‘Terminator’ traps Yelchin in sci-fi Shoah
If you’re a Monty Python fan, you know that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. But if you’re a Jewish “Terminator” fan, you know to expect a Shoah reference at some point – from the nuclear holocaust of Judgment Day (part of Skynet’s Final Solution) to the paraphrasing of a talmudic teaching in the pilot episode of the “Sarah Connor Chronicles” (“And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”).
The most conspicuous part of “Terminator: Salvation” is the film’s allusion to the Holocaust.
During a critical point in “Salvation,” teen resistance fighter Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) is abducted and dropped into a flying cattle car packed with other people who couldn’t outrun Skynet’s behemoth Harvester robot (think: Tripods collecting people in the 2005 “War of the Worlds”). Inside the shadowy Nazi-like transport, actors dressed for a Jewish ghetto bemoan their fate. It doesn’t take long for Reese to rally his fellow captives, telling them not to give up. “You have to stay alive in your heart and in your mind,” he says.
The coup de grâce for the overwrought Holocaust references comes when the cattle car lands at a Skynet facility, which resembles a train platform outside of a concentration camp. Giant Terminators stand at the ready, like tower-dwelling SS guards, as the prisoners are marched single file toward what they expect is an unnatural end. Naturally, one of the captives makes a break for a wall, only to be gunned down.
This isn’t to say “Salvation” is hackneyed (derivative, maybe). As an addition to the “Terminator” series it falls short of “T2” and the original, but it redeems writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who penned “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”
“Salvation” is set in 2018, 14 years after Skynet becomes self-aware and begins its war on humanity. The film chronicles John Connor’s rise from foot soldier to future leader of the resistance, which is planning an all-out attack on Skynet. But the appearance of Marcus Wright, a stranger from the past whose last memory is of being on death row, adds a wrinkle to that plan. After Wright befriends Reese and watches him get dragged away by Skynet’s forces, it’s up to him to convince an untrusting Connor to work with him to save Reese, the future time-traveler who will eventually father John with Sarah Connor.
“Terminator: Salvation” is, however, two different movies – a popcorn-noshing summer action flick, in which Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright steals the show, and a character-driven sci-fi drama along the lines of “Battlestar Galactica” that features impressive turns by Christian Bale as John Connor and Bryce Dallas Howard as his pregnant wife Kate. But somewhere between the high-octane chase sequences and Connor brooding over a future that was written for him before he was born, fans will delight in the catchphrases (“Come with me if you want to live,” “I’ll be back”), references to earlier films (Connor hot-wiring a console, just like the ATM in “T2”) and the appearance of a T-800 prototype that’s a dead-ringer for our own Governator.