Turning successful films into television shows is nothing new for Hollywood. Classic films such as “Casablanca,” “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” have all been adapted into TV shows. Star Wars alone has seen six separate incarnations on the small screen counting its holiday special. The latest is Fox’s “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” which was, at best, a mixed bag.The show, which premiered in January, completely ignored 2003’s highly underrated “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and instead focuses on the events following 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”
It is debatable whether this was a good idea but one thing is for sure: “Terminator” without Arnold Schwarzenegger is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without peanut butter. Watching the show it is easy to tell that something is missing. The show centers around Sarah, played by “300’s” Lena Headey and Cameron, played by Summer Glau as they try to protect a teenaged John Connor from the evil supercomputer Skynet.
John, who is portrayed here by Thomas Dekker, is destined to save humanity from certain destruction by Skynet in the not so distant future. In an effort to prevent him from making it to the future, Skynet sends a handful of robotic terminators back through time to kill him. The cast is decent enough, the standout being Glau who manages to balance the fish out of water humor with coming off as a force to be reckoned with. John is constantly finding himself in dangerous situations and getting saved by his mom and his robotic protector, making humanity’s savior come across as sort of a baby.
The show had floundered along since its premiere, but hit its stride recently with the introduction of Jonathan Jackson and Brian Austin Green as the Reese brothers: Kyle and Derek. Kyle is of course destined to be John’s father as seen in the first “Terminator” movie and is only seen when the show cuts ahead to the future war with the machines.
It seems problematic though that the show is most effective when focusing on side characters as opposed to John and Sarah. Overall, “Terminator” never quite managed to escape the shadow of the movies it followed. This is of course true of most movies that get adapted into TV shows. Action movies are especially susceptible as the violence and language get edited down for TV audiences. This automatically puts them at a disadvantage to their film counterparts.
The over the top violence of the “Robocop” films was lost in the translation as the film was made into three separate TV shows. Those shows were entertaining to a degree but would never replace the movies from a fan’s point of view.
The “Blade” show encountered a ton of the same problems that “Robocop” before it did. The action was watered down into a never ending stream of martial arts battles that didn’t lead anywhere. The loss of Wesley Snipes didn’t help it either. This loss is comparable to “Terminator” losing Schwarzenegger. Once the story and the cast are altered for TV, there is often very little left for fans of the movie to hold on to.
However, all hope is not lost for “Terminator”. There are a few examples of successful movie to TV transitions.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Dead Zone” and “Stargate: SG1” are all examples of shows that have matched or even surpassed the movies that they followed.
“Buffy” ran for seven seasons and spawned the spinoff hit: “Angel.” The movie is now thought of as a mere footnote to the TV show. “The Dead Zone” lasted six seasons and while it never topped the film, which stared the great Christopher Walken, it revived the career of Anthony Michael Hall and provided some solid hours of entertainment.
Last but not least is “Stargate: SG1.” It ran for an astonishing 10 seasons spawned a successful spinoff and was named one of TV Guide’s “Top 30 Cult Shows Ever.” The trick to a successful transition is expanding and building upon the mythology that the movie introduces. It’s important for the show to go off in a different direction then to simply follow idly along the path of the movie.
Unfortunately for “Terminator”, however, the films it follows were all highly successful and there were three of them. Neither “Buffy,” “The Dead Zone” nor “Stargate” movies spawned a sequel or were that successful to begin with.
In the end there is no limit to what good writing and creative storytelling can accomplish. However, if “Terminator” hopes to outlast the average movie turned TV show then it is going to have to break out from the shadow of the franchise and blaze a more original trail.
The last few episodes of the season were a good start but more must be done, otherwise it may find itself atop the Hollywood scrap heap as it has not yet been green lit for a second season.
Colin McGlinchey is a third-year student majoring in English with minor in journalism. He can be reached at CM646588@wcupa.edu.