Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No Future For Ms. Connor

What affects us in Terminator films (the first two, I mean) is the length of violence the characters will go to achieve their goals. Sarah Connor will do anything (anything!) to protect her son. In a sense, she can be seen as the human-turned-terminator. The Terminators sent back to kill her and her son some of the baddest-asses in the movie history.

This "limitlessness" grabs the audience on a subconscious level. We all feel a thrill watching someone doing whatever it takes to get what he/she wants. Maybe we too want to be like them: not robots, but as persistent and goal-oriented as they are. This is the charm of Terminator movies.

Sarah Connor Chronicles, however, seems to have missed these crucial spots in James Cameron's highly successful merchandise. As the first four episodes demonstrates, Sarah Connor is not as ruthless as she was in T2. John Connor seems to have shed all of the leadership traits he had in T2. They are not much different from ordinary runaways. Even Richard Kimble seems to have more courage and initiative.

God, even Terminators in the series are wimpy and stupid. One of them misses John who was nothing but a sitting duck in the classroom. Another flees a fight while their primary target (john and sarah) were nearby. The girl sent to protect the leader-to-be is hit by a car because she forgot (forgot!) to check both sides of the street before crossing it.

The term "Terminator" means a "non-stop killing machine". This determination was the reason why people flocked to the theatres in the first place. The creators of the series seem to have overlooked this quality while adapting it for the TV. I wonder if there will be another season for Sarah Connor unless they increase the potential of the heroes and villains in this post-Jack Bauer era.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Intentionally Cold and Bleak but Very Interesting

Idea: A man who has lost his memory tries to remember who he was as CIA agents track and try to kill him.

Why would CIA try to kill anyone? Because he constitutes a threat to the country. What if this time they are after one of their own. Someone who is one of the best killers they have ever trained? And what if this killer fights back, not rememberin on whose side he was?

As you can see, Bourne Identity is very exciting even at the most fundamental level. And the film delivers what it promises. Lots of action-packed sequences, among which some very interesting scenes are scattered.

Plot: We travel with Jason Bourne, as he discovers bits and pieces of information about his identity. The laser which a fisherman cuts out of his hip takes him to a bank vault in Zurich, where he learns that he does not have a single identity, but many. He learns that he lives in Paris, and offers Marie, a German girl twenty thousand dollars for a ride there. Thus these two misfits embark on a journey which lasts longer than they had planned. In the meantime CIA tracks Bourne and tries to kill him in his apartment in Paris. Bourne survives the assault and eludes the French police in a breath-taking car chase scene. Marie and Bourne decide to follow other leads they discovered at the apartment which leads them to an African politician who is assassinated shortly after. Then they decide to stay at the vacant house of Marie's relative in rural France, but the man and his children show up unexpectedly. They spend the night in the house, but another assassins attacks Bourne in the morning, which Bourne thwarts easily. Bourne sends Marie away with her relative and decides to fight back the people who had been following him. Using the dead assassins telephone, he reaches the CIA headquarters and arranges a meeting in Paris. He does not show up at the specified time. Instead he follows his enemies to their nest and attacks at night. There he learns that he was a CIA agent in a special and covert division. He remembers the events that led to his amnesia, but even after learning his real identity, he decides not to continue his former life, sayin "I'm on my side now." After a short but striking fight scene, Bourne leaves the safe house, wounded. He goes to a Greek island to reunite with Marie.

Character: Bourne is not an easy character to identifiy with. His loss of memory at the beginning of the movie somewhat evokes our empathy, but not much. But we grow curious, because of the way he was found, and the bank account number cut out of his hip. We understand that he is troubled, but we do not know why. We like him even better when he kicks the Swiss polisemen's ass in Zurich. As we watch him escape the American embassy, we realize that this in no ordinary man, and start to understand why CIA wants him dead. Although he is not good at showing his emotions, he shows great concern for Marie's relative's kids, which expresses the innocence Bourne re-attained as a result of his amnesia. At the end of the movie we see that Bourne failed his mission because of the children of his victim: when he saw his target with his children, he hesitated to pull the trigger, which allowed his victim's bodyguards to shoot him in the back.

Bourne is not a character that you can easily identify with, but he sure is interesting. Not becasue of the killing skills he possesses, but because of his humanity which hindered him from killing a man once he realizes that he's not only a politician but a father as well. (This is one of David S. Freeman's Character Deepening Techniques). And the romantic relationship between him and Marie is also very interesting. We feel a deep connection between these two misfits as they fight their way through the world.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Well-Laid Structure With a Soul

Idea: In the 19th century, an American ex-soldier hired to train Japanese soldiers is captured by the rebellious samurais and ends up understanding and loving them and fighting on their side against his ex-bosses.

I have to admit that this single logline makes the movie worth seeing it. It promises two big battles (one against the samurai, the other with the samurai), exotic settings (19th century Japan), and a tremendous character arc (a cynical ex-soldier finds love and meaning in the last place he would imagine - among his enemies). Plus the samurais! Being based on true events (the samurais have really rebelled against the government) the conflict inherent in the idea certainly increases the appeal of the movie.

Plot: We travel with Nathan Algren, who had fought against the Indians in some questionable battles, from America to Japan. Here he is supposed to train the new Japanese army against the rebellious samurai "whose sole occupation in the last thousand years had been fighting". We watch a very interesting battle between the new Japanese army, consisting of former farmers armed with modern guns, and the samurai, who insists on using only traditional weapons - swords, bows and arrows, and spears. At the end of first act, Nathan Algren is captured by the samurai and taken to their village. Through the entirety of the second act we witness Capt. Algren's transformation: The sardonic soldier becomes a new man who learns to appreciate life fully. There's also an implied love relation between Nathan Algren and Taka, the wife of the samurai whom he had killed. When his transformation is complete, so is the second act.

In act three, Katsumoto, the leader of the samurai, is rescued from his captors. And a great but unequal battle forms the climactic sequence of this act. We watch in awe as sword carrying samurai ride their horses to machine gun fire. The finale comes when the only survivor of this brutal war appears before the Japanese emperor and promises him to tell how Katsumoto lived.

Characters: There's no doubt that Nathan Algren is the protagonist here. He experiences the greatest character arc. The enbittered soldier comes to embrace life and the higher values of the samurai. Other minor characters experience transformation in their own ways too. Katsumoto and his entourage come to recognize the noble character of Nathan Algren, who was their enemy once. They even accept him as one of their own. Another great transformation is experienced by Katsumoto's sister, Taka. She forgives the American soldier for killing his husband, and even grows to like him. And the emperor Meiji realizes that abandoning his cultural values for technical improvements is a mistake. All these transformations take place in a very realistic manner, which gives great depth to the screenplay. Though many films fail to show us a single character arc, The Last Samurai manages to present us more than a few.