Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Terminator Salvation: Sand In The Gears May Be The Authorized Prequel, But It Still Bites.

The Good: Interesting general concept, Appropriate language for themes.
The Bad: Bland plot, Predictable character arcs, Mediocre artwork, Low sense of movement.
The Basics: The Terminator: Salvation Official Prequel Graphic Novel, Sand In The Gears, is a pointless adventure in the Terminator world set right before the latest film.

It seems that the graphic novel - or more accurately, the trade paperback anthology - is quickly becoming one of the definitive mediums for those in the film industry. Screenwriters make movies based on graphic novels and the comic books for major motion pictures seem to be written by members of the writing or production staff of some of the biggest movies of the summer. One of the prominent publishers of these comic book anthologies that are bound together from their original comic book form into trade paperback anthologies is IDW. IDW had a very good month in 2009 with their movie tie-ins. Their bridge to the cinematic Star Trek, Star Trek: Countdown (reviewed here! ) hit the bestsellers list. Repeating the rare coup of charting on the list with a graphic novel, IDW's Terminator: Salvation The Official Movie Prequel managed to get onto the list as well.

So, today, I sat and read the graphic novel, which is a prequel to Terminator: Salvation (reviewed here!). The trade paperback anthology includes both the four-chapter prequel story Sand In The Gears and the comic version of the first act of the film (basically up to the moment Kyle Reese introduces himself). And while Star Trek: Countdown had its moments of charm where there are character bits that allow fans to feel like they are saying a healthy goodbye to all they know, Sand In The Gears does not organically lead into Terminator: Salvation, nor is it any real bridge between the third film and the fourth. Instead, this is a comic book set in the Terminator world and, frankly, those have existed for years. There is nothing truly special about this one, save that the producers of the film want it to be considered canon with their new work.

In 2018, the Earth has survived the nuclear holocaust from Judgment Day and human resistance groups have formed all over the world. The world is largely trashed by the Skynet machines who are replicating themselves and hunting humans far and near. In the ruins of Detroit and in Arlit, Niger, two Resistance cells are teaming up for an ambitious mission which will hopefully deprive the machines of raw materials. In Arlit, Yusuf leads a team including a mechanic named Bem and a French medic named Lysette on a daring raid of a uranium mine. Operation Sand In The Gears is designed to cut crucial supply lines for the machines and destroying the uranium mine might deprive a whole generation of new Terminators of their power sources.

As Yusuf negotiates between the tensions rising between Bem and Lysette, in Detroit, Maric enlists the aid of the redneck, Jackson, who once worked at an automobile factory the Terminators have taken over for mass producing their units. Maric, a hardened Resistance leader, works to keep racial tensions at bay as her team fights their way to the factory where they might bomb it out of existence. The two missions meet with obstacles as their bases are compromised by machines and their months of planning begin to unravel at key moments and only human ingenuity will save them!

Sand In The Gears is, at its base, boring and a poor use of the medium and the concept. Star Trek: Countdown literally leads into the opening frames of Star Trek and the expectation of a graphic novel like the official Terminator: Salvation Prequel would be that it would have some bearing on the film. As it is, only Maric in this story even knows John Connor and there are no cameos here with Kyle Reese or other recognizable figures from the Terminator franchise. It is reasonable to expect prequels to have some relation on the storyline, but this story is simply fleshing out the universe of Terminator without advancing the story or the concepts of the film(s). It is analogous to writing a prequel to Return Of The Jedi and not having any sort of storyline with the Bothan spies who managed to get their hands on the plans for the second Death Star. Events mentioned in Terminator: Salvation are not fleshed out here. A far more interesting prequel than what is depicted here would have either been a Kyle Reese story, a story of how the ruling council of the Resistance (the officers on the sub in the movie) actually came to power (they pop in for a few frames in this book) or even a story that showed exactly what happened in the day or two after Judgment Day.

Here, part of the problem is that as the Terminator franchise has fleshed itself out with more programs and movies, they have contradicted themselves. However, because the films are the base medium, they are most reasonably what viewers ought to consider canon. Even Terminator: Salvation does not deny the events of Terminator 3: The Rise Of The Machines. Which means, the last time anyone saw John Connor, he and his girlfriend were in a bunker as the bombs fell. Other than looking at screens and swearing as humanity is nuked out of existence, what did they do? There is a huge leap between what viewers last saw on screen and the opening of Terminator: Salvation. The Terminator: Salvation Official Prequel Graphic Novel does not tell that story.

So, what does the book get right? Well, the language is intended for adults and the book explores interethnic relations with an adult sensibility. Bem resents Lysette for colonial influences of the French in Niger. Jackson is a survivalist who seems to object to the local tech guy in Detroit for no other reason than that man is black. In other words, Judgment Day did not clean up everyone's language and it certainly did not take away animosity between different peoples and that level of realism is good.

Moreover, the basic plot is not a bad idea. Humans attacking supply lines for the Terminators is a great idea. As well, the idea of telling a story not at all involving John Connor is not a bad one, but for a movie prequel it has to tie in somehow to the story we see on the big screen and this does not do that. The only other good thing about the book, something I did not like until I considered it later, is the artwork of Lysette. Lysette is depicted initially in such androgynous terms that she looks more like a prepubescent boy, and a tomboy at that. I liked this the more I considered it because in a war for survival, a woman in the desert would begin to shrivel up some and would not exactly be reading beauty magazines.

The thing is, as the book progresses, Lysette begins to get dolled up, later panels show her wearing nail polish and with a braided ponytail. This does not fit the initial look of her, nor does it fit the conceptual nightmarish reality humans are living in in this future. The artwork by Alan Robinson is problematic at best, though. The Terminator: Salvation story Sand In The Gears has a poor sense of movement in the visual aspects of the book. Robinson has more panels simply showing things like tanks shooting without any sense of movement or consequence. There are a lot of people shooting Terminators and the bullets simply bounce off them, but the images depict that all in a single frame. While this seems like it would keep the pace of the book moving forward, it does not. Instead, there are many panels that are visually confusing, where whatever movement is supposed to be happening is not obvious from the artwork.

In combination with a fairly lackluster story by Dara Naraghi, Terminator: Salvation The Official Movie Prequel becomes something only the die-hards are going to find indispensable and I suspect, many of them will still be disappointed by it. I know I was and I suspect it was largely hype that made this volume a bestseller.

For other prequels to movies in comic book form, be sure to check out my reviews of:
G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra Official Movie Prequel
Legion: Prophets
The A-Team: War Stories


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment