The First Scene of Terminator Salvation (2009)

Terminator Salvation is a sci-fi operatic war story that centers around a hero - John Connors - whose destiny is to save humanity from artificially intelligent machines. The story runs like an American militiaman's nightmare where personal freedom is lost at the behest of a terrible New World Order. Fighting Americans, scattered throughout, are glued to their transistor radio with the hopes that Connors will make Resistance dreams come true. Salvation views like a visually panoramic Mad Max film with cheesy Godzilla-like machine monsters that breath fire on its victims. So what's so horrible about the first scene? A plot device gone wrong.

Horrible would be an exaggeration. But anyone who loves stories and storytelling could see through screenwriters John Bracanto and Michael Ferris' plot device that's designed to give us information about Marcus Wright - cold, blooded murdered soon to be turned into fighting machine, introduced in the first scene. Obviously, Marcus is going to play a big role in the film. The first scene drops information - in such a contrived way, mind you - about how he's remorseful about what's he done and why he doesn't want to live anymore. That's all good and well, but here's how writers and fans can know this scene is really cheap in its own way.

The next sequence, right after the first one, takes place many years into the future. We never go back to Marcus' original time. As a writing team, Bracanto and Ferris really should have found a way to give Marcus' information throughout the story during Connor's time rather than insert it at the start of the film. It just isn't interesting or entertaining. What would have worked better is having Marcus appear with a mysterious past. Flashbacks could fill us in while adding mystery as to which side he's on. That's how we know this scene is a flimsy plot device. Bracanto and Ferris created it for a purpose, like a piece of a puzzle they had trouble fitting into the story.

They got away with it mostly because it appeared at the start of the film so it doesn't interfere with the rest of the story. Writers, on the other hand, might want to take note since it is a technical mistake in storytelling. A better way would be to bring Marcus into the future with flashbacks that left us questioning his true loyalties. These flashbacks could have been in the form of dreams or PTSD-like visions during battle. It would have worked better and even provide more entertainment value.

Terminator Salvation was a great film. The visuals were stunning. The action was superb. The American frontier battle was historic. But the first scene was weak in terms of storytelling. John Bracanto and Michael Ferris would probably say the same.

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