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Review: Terminator Genisys and the mind-bending world of alternative history

Alasdair Richmond, University of Edinburgh

Franchise reboots using alternative time lines are currently all the rage, blurring the lines between sequels and prequels on screens across the globe. JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek is both an alternative time line prequel to the original and a sequel to 2002’s Nemesis. Meanwhile, X-Men: Days of Future Past is something of a reboot of 2000’s X-Men, and a sequel to 2011’s X-Men: First Class prequel. This can get confusing. Lacking a catchy term for alternative reality sequels and prequels, let’s call them “alterequels”.

Terminator Genisys takes the alterequel to a whole new level. Having your alterequel deliberately contradict its original source is one thing: but Terminator Genisys lands slap-bang in the middle of its source, and blows it all away. After a prologue set in 2029, Genisys revisits the original T-800 Terminator’s nude landing in 1984. But this time around, another T-800 (played by an older and fully-clothed Arnold) shows up and biffs its past self. Rather than Kyle Reese rescue Sarah – as in the original Terminator film – this time Sarah rescues Kyle. Not the original Sarah, either, but an alternative Sarah who was orphaned by one Terminator and raised by another.

Much alterequel hullabaloo ensues. Skynet – humanity’s artificially-intelligent nemesis – now seeks birth in 2017 via the oddly-spelled (and vaguely-described) “Genisys” app. The usually formless antagonist even has its own body in 2029. A liquid-metal T-1000 – originally sent back to 1995 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day – turns up in 1984, while 2017 boasts a nanomachine-Terminator, which changes into fog when roused. Adding to the chaos, each of the settings – 2029, 1984 and 2017 – has its own time machine.

Time laws

Time travel fiction offers you three options: either you can have one constrained history, many histories or one contradictory history. In the first option, you can go back in time, but you’ll find that there are some things you cannot do there: for instance, you won’t be able to kill your grandfather, because that causes a logical paradox. The second option will allow you to travel to a time which is different to your own, but not necessarily back in time: so, instead of landing earlier in your own history, you’ll end up in an alternative reality.

Both of these options are logically consistent; one and the same world never contains anyone who is both alive and dead at the same time. In contrast, the third option allows you to travel back in your own history, over-write events and laugh at logic as you go. Inconsistent though it may be, this option seems to fit Terminator Genisys best. But fiction notwithstanding, it’s worth examining if any of this has a factual basis.


Terminator Genisys trailer.

Of course, ultimately, Genisys is fantasy with a light dusting of references to “quantum fields”. But physicists have actually speculated that later events can not only affect past events (consistently help make them what they were) but can even over-write them (inconsistently make them different from what they were). Unfortunately for Genisys, though, scientists overwhelmingly favour the “one constrained history” or “many histories” options.

The former received a big boost of support, following some remarkable results in “postselection” quantum tunnelling modelling, which eliminates problems like the grandfather paradox. And no less a person than John S Bell (of “Bell’s Inequality” fame) suggested that – if we accept the idea that there are many worlds with different histories – then “there is no association of the particular present with any particular past”. If this is the case, then perhaps no event is final or safe – in theory, it may all be flux.

Indiscriminate flux

Aspirant history changers beware though: there may be no way to control or predict what shape which any revised history takes. Human or cyborg, physics will likely treat you as just one more object in the flux. Unsurprisingly, time travel stories usually make their point-of-view characters the people who make changes to history, rather than those who suffer them. Try picturing what historical deletion might feel like for the deleted: it’s difficult to imagine what, if anything, is it like to be made such that you never were.

But once inconsistency gets in, it’s difficult to correct: maybe revisions to events never end, and everything is provisional. If you are (even partly) what befalls you, and what befalls you is fluid, maybe you’re fluid too. I devoutly hope that reality follows consistent rules, but perhaps history, identity and consistency are just local. A classic Zen parable suggests that when we see a flag blowing in the wind, neither wind moves nor flag moves – rather, mind moves. Maybe we should conclude that neither human moves nor T-800 moves but rather, mind moves: from Terminator to Zen via quantum physics?

Overall, this new incarnation improves markedly on the third and fourth Terminator films, which wobbled between graveyard slapstick and Christian Bale’s grumpy stubble. But alterequels threaten diminishing returns – as a shaky first weekend at the box office can testify. Genisys’ Skynet taunts its enemies that its existence is inevitable, and it may be right – at least, fictionally speaking. A slightly perfunctory mid-credit sequence ensures that Genisys well and truly clears the way for any future films. While cinema can remould fictional histories ad infinitum, audience patience may be finite. The worry is that history-changing franchises will start to seem (forgive me) interminable.

The Conversation

Alasdair Richmond is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at University of Edinburgh.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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From ads to Oscar winners: a century of Australian animation

Dan Torre, RMIT University

Australia has a rich history of animation production ranging from award-winning animated shorts and animated television series to feature-length animated movies, and a vast number of animated advertisements.

This year we celebrate the hundred years since, in 1915, artist and animator Harry Julius began producing his weekly animated series, Cartoons of the Moment. These were short animations that lampooned the news stories of the day – from politics and international affairs to contemporary fashion trends. They were designed to be shown in cinemas ahead of the main features and were screened all across Australia and throughout New Zealand.


One of Harry Julius’ Cartoons of the Moment (1915).

The Melbourne International Animation Festival(MIAF), currently underway, is this year highlighting a wide range of Australian animations. There are a number of sessions devoted to the celebration of Australian animation, including one in which I spoke about the history of Australian animated advertisements.

Animated advertisements have been integral to the development of Australian animation since its very beginning. Although we are currently celebrating the centenary, there were actually a few smatterings of animation that occurred in Australia several years prior to 1915. This included animated advertisements screened in cinemas.

Although Harry Julius is best known for his Cartoons of the Moment series, most of his animation work took the form of animated advertisements. His studio, Cartoon Filmads, made hundreds of animated advertisements from the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s promoting everything from soap to automobiles.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these animated advertisements was that many were screened in cinemas throughout much of Asia, and even in England. Some were made specifically for international markets while others were created exclusively for Australian audiences. From these earliest beginnings, advertising proved to be an important component of Australian animation history.

Since then Australia has gained major successes in all areas of animation, producing many award-winning short films, a number of acclaimed television specials and series and, more recently, a respectable number of feature films.

It has scored some notable international successes with a number of Academy Award Oscar wins, including: Bruce Petty’s short film Leisure (1977), Adam Elliott’s Harvie Krumpet (2003), and Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2010). George Miller’s feature Happy Feet (2006) won the Oscar for best Animated Feature.


Trailer for Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2010).

Some other noteworthy animated feature films have included the brilliant Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981); the popular Dot and the Kangaroo (1977); Australia’s first animated feature, Marco Polo Junior (1972); the more contemporary The Magic Pudding (2000); and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010).

Over the decades, the Australian animation industry has undergone some dry periods during which very few animations were being made. But during even the bleak times animated advertisements were being produced for both cinema (in the early years), and then television following its introduction to Australia in 1956.

Historically, two of the most prolific studios to produce animated advertisements were Eric Porter Productions and Artransa, both located in Sydney. These two studios collectively produced literally thousands of television advertisements – a large number of which were animated.

In Melbourne, Fanfare Films and later Alex Stitt’s Al et Al studios produced a large number of animated adverts. Fanfare Films also created Australia’s first animated television series, Freddo the Frog (1962).

Because advertising is generally directed towards the sale of a product (cars, toothpaste) rather than being the product (a film that people pay to see), it has provided an important outlet for many innovative, creative, and even experimental animation productions.

Even the remarkably eccentric surrealist artist, Dusan Marek, for a number of years ran an animation company called Animads, producing a great number of animated advertisements in his Adelaide studio.

When we come to assess the best of Australian animated advertisements, a couple of productions are prominent. One is Eric Porter’s Aeroplane Jelly ad, with its animated aeroplane singing the famous jingle: “I like Aeroplane Jelly – Aeroplane Jelly for me!”


Eric Porter’s Aeroplane Jelly ad (1942).

Another iconic ad was for Mortein in which the character Louie the Fly reluctantly promoted the insecticide, Mortein.

More recently, there have again been countless hours of animation created in the form of advertisements, made both by large studios and by independent animators. In many respects, advertising has functioned as a backbone for the continued production of animation in Australia.

Without doubt, animated advertising certainly “ads” a lot to the rich history of Australian animation.

The Melbourne International Animation Festival runs until June 28. Details here.

The Conversation

Dan Torre is Lecturer in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Why do fans love Schwarzenegger? His terrible one-liners, of course

Matthew Sini, University of Melbourne

It’s been just over three decades since The Terminator (1984), wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger first declared “I’ll be back”. In the latest chapter in the franchise, Terminator: Genisys (2015), he continues to make good on his promise. He’s back (again) – and he has a new catchphrase: “I’m old, not obsolete.” Not his most menacing one-liner, is it? Even Bill Shorten could do better! Doesn’t it sound a little pathetic, even laughable?

But laughable, ridiculous one-liners have always been part of Schwarzenegger’s Hollywood career. He came to prominence as a prolific world champion in bodybuilding. His impressive physique was his ticket to stardom.

It landed him his first big role as Conan the Barbarian in 1982 and then as the Terminator two years later. Schwarzenegger was one of several muscle-bound action stars to emerge in the 1980s. The dominant physical profile of the action hero – tall, slim figures of grizzled masculinity such as Clint Eastwood or John Wayne – gave way in the 80s and early 90s to a more muscular frame.

Film scholar Susan Jeffords – in her 1994 book Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era – links the emergence of these “hard bodies” to the socio-cultural climate of the time. The Reagan presidency, American ascendancy in the wake of the crumbling USSR, the reputed weakness of the previous Carter administration and popular obsession with fitness all contributed to Hollywood heroes transitioning into big, muscular metaphors for a reinvigorated United States.

While his bodybuilder’s physique was important for embodying larger than life, “All-American” action heroes, what made Schwarzenegger distinctive was his peculiar vocal performances in those roles. American action films often employ the wisecrack, the one-liner, or the pun after dispatching an enemy in a particularly creative way. But the vocalisations are invariably performed with an American accent, delivered with the confidence and fidelity of a native English speaker.

Where do we place Schwarzenegger in this tradition? Film and Women’s Studies scholar Chris Holmlund – in her book Impossible Bodies: Femininity and Masculinity at the Movies (2002) – suggests Arnie’s accent ensures a perception of “foreign ethnicity” that “is a plus in a country where, for the first time since 1930, one in ten people is now foreign born”. But one wonders whether this can fully account for Schwarzenegger’s mass appeal, particularly outside of the United States.

His heavily-accented delivery of snappy, pun-filled dialogue is often not quite right, just a little askew. The cadence or the inflection is frequently off. This, coupled with his generally low register, constantly reminds us we are watching Schwarzenegger rather than the character he is supposed to be playing.

This paradoxical demand to be the quintessential American hero while sounding “less American” than any of the other contenders is part of what endears him to his fans. It’s a sort of unintentional subversion of the Hollywood action hero. This appreciation for that artificiality is especially evident on the internet, where Arnold’s cumbersome vocal performances can be enjoyed with a kind of camp appreciation.

To be clear, camp, first popularised in Susan Sontag’s essay Notes on Camp (1964), is a term that suggests an ironic devotion to heightened, over-the-top style or artificial emotion – cultural product that is just “too much” or excessive, not measured or austere or subtle.

It has historically been associated with pop cultural icons adored by gay men (think Judy Garland), but the internet has enabled camp to become a far more common way of approaching culture. Many memes, quizzes, listicles, and “content” encourage an ironic perspective on celebrity and pop culture that’s awfully close to camp. Perhaps because of the association with homosexuality, camp has rarely been applied to action film, a notoriously heteronormative genre. But Schwarzenegger’s films tick all the boxes: over-the-top, heightened and artificial emotion, “style” over substance. So it’s no wonder this sensibility carries over into fandoms online.

Online fan activities that engage with Schwarzenegger’s vocal performances can be grouped into two broad tendencies: imitation and reiteration. Imitation is obvious enough. People on YouTube, and other platforms that allow recording, produce their impersonations of Arnold. There are even tutorials on “how to do Arnold”:

Reiteration is where most of my research has been focused, and includes video montages of Schwarzenegger’s greatest quotes as well as soundboard pranks. These are prank calls that are made using a selection of voice clips recorded from movies onto what is known as a soundboard, which the prankster uses to interact with a victim on the other end of the phone line.

These soundboard pranks are accompanied by a montage of images from Schwarzenegger’s films and other media stills, usually with him pulling an amusing facial expression or looking ridiculous:

Much of the “comedy” of these pranks derives from taking Schwarzenegger’s dialogue out of its cinematic context and re-purposing it to bizarre ends. These pranksters find a kind of nefarious joy in subjecting people on the other side of the phone to the strange directions Arnold’s recorded responses can take the conversation.

Another practice that can produce strange results is the phenomenon of Arnold-themed Twitter accounts. One of the most interesting was an automated tweet bot from a few years ago that scanned all of Twitter for account names that began with or included “Sarah Conner” or some similar variation.

The entire Twitter feed of this account was the bot simply asking every one of these accounts “Sarah Conner?”, referencing the first Terminator film where Schwarzenegger’s character goes to the house of every Sarah Conner in the phonebook and executes each woman after asking for them by name.

Twitter

In his book Texual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (1992), American media scholar Henry Jenkins described this kind of behaviour as”textual poaching.“ Fans appropriate aspects of their favoured texts and will redeploy them in various interesting ways. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s online fans have his prolific filmography to play with, but seem especially preoccupied with textually poaching aspects of his vocal performance.

This would seem to suggest that for most fans of Arnie, and despite much commentary focused on his “hard body,” his voice is paramount. For many of his fans, it doesn’t seem to matter how old and obsolete his once fantastic body becomes. He’ll be appreciated and celebrated as long as he can say things like “I’ll be back,” or my personal favourite, from Commando (1985):

I eat Green Berets for breakfast and right now I’m VERY hungry.

The Conversation

Matthew Sini is Lecturer in Media and Communications at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Amy: a moving portrayal of the struggle to cope with celebrity culture

Nathalie Weidhase, University of Roehampton

I don’t think I’m going to be at all famous. I don’t think I could handle it. I would go mad.

So said Amy Winehouse, following the release of her debut album, Frank. Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy goes on to show how wrong she was about the first part of that statement, and how right she was about the second.

Over her short career, Winehouse released two albums, won a range of awards (including five Grammy Awards for her 2006 release Back to Black), and pave the way for a wave of talented female artists, from Duffy and Adele to Lady Gaga. Yet her exceptional talents as a singer and songwriter were regularly overshadowed by photographs of her frail body, condemnations of her public alcohol and drug abuse, and gossip about her volatile marriage to (and eventual divorce from) fellow drug addict Blake Fielder-Civil.

Making Amy

Only a year after her untimely death in 2011, Winehouse’s record company Universal Music approached Asif Kapadia – director of Senna (2010) – with the idea of a film about her life. Kapadia went on to conduct over 100 interviews with Winehouse’s friends, family and colleagues, in order to reconstruct her story and find reasons for her demise.

But amid the chronicles of chaos and suffering, the other aim of this film is to show Winehouse for the extraordinary artist that she was. This is arguably Kapadia’s biggest achievement. This film is worth seeing for anyone interested in Winehouse’s music; not only because of the variety and amount of previously unseen footage, but also because of the way it values her lyrics as poetry. Winehouse’s words roll over the screen whenever she sings, marking the reclamation of Winehouse as a songwriter – not just a remarkable voice.

Although Kapadia clearly admires his subject, Winehouse’s family have distanced themselves from the documentary. Once you’ve seen it, this will come as no surprise. Winehouse’s mother Janice remains largely unheard, while her father, Mitch, seems all too present.

A family feud

According to the film, Mitch left the family when Winehouse was nine but featured heavily in her adult life – and not always in a good way. Mitch himself has publicly criticised the way he was portrayed by Kapadia. In the film, when Mitch speaks about the onset of Winehouse’s alcohol problems in 2005, he appears to say “she didn’t need to go to rehab”. But Mitch claims that the quote has been edited, and that he really said “she didn’t need to go to rehab at the time”. He is portrayed as protective, but also opportunistic.

Winehouse and her father.
Beacon Radio/Flickr, CC BY-SA

One wants to believe that he genuinely cared about his daughter’s well-being. Indeed, he is often depicted guarding her from the paparazzi’s lenses. But one cannot help thinking that any negative impressions of him are not just down to unfair editing. In one particularly uncomfortable scene from 2009, Mitch Winehouse tells his daughter off for not being friendly enough to tourists who ask for a picture with her. In front of the camera, Winehouse is seen pleading with him to be nice to her.

This scene takes place in St Lucia, where Winehouse fled to escape the press attention and drug culture surrounding her in Camden. It seems to capture their relationship perfectly: Winehouse is obviously unhappy about the additional media attention her father brings into her life, but ultimately craves his affection and approval.

Up for grabs

But this film goes far beyond Winehouse’s relationship with her father, offering a harrowing account of contemporary celebrity culture. The avalanche of tributes which followed her death often neglected to address the ways Winehouse was treated by the media. After the release of Back to Black, she was regularly hounded by paparazzi. This is stressful to watch unfold, even from the safety of a cinema seat; it’s hard to imagine what it must have felt like to have them outside the front door every day.

Winehouse was turned into a particularly cruel media spectacle: she became one of the myriad female “train wreck” celebrities, alongside Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Her ailing body was ruthlessly mocked, and her personal misery was seen by the tabloids as fair game for public scrutiny.

But what ultimately makes Amy such a moving experience its its ability to show how every aspect of her life – whether professional or personal – was always up for consumption. The cameras never stopped rolling: from footage of a teenage Winehouse singing “happy birthday” to her friend, to the filming of her funeral. A more stable person may have been able to resist this exploitation, but as she herself said, she just couldn’t “handle it”.

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Nathalie Weidhase is PhD Candidate at University of Roehampton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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‘Magic Mike’ the big stripper is back in ‘Magic Mike XXL’

Male stripper ‘Magic Mike’ is back for a second bite of the cherry in ‘Magic Mike XXL’ directed Gregory Jacobs. Three years on Mike, played by Channing Tatum, owns a furniture business and is gradually lured back into strip-tease when his troupe, the Kings of Tampa, hit the road to Myrtle Beach to put on one… Continue reading

Terminator Genisys Review: Arnold (but little else) is back

Thirty-one years and counting, and the Terminators keep rolling off the assembly line like new iPhones, upgraded with shape-shifting abilities, rebooted Sarah Conner assassination levels and, one presumes, better selfie cameras. “Terminator Genisys,” directed by Alan Taylor (“Thor: The Dark World”), is the fifth entry in the series begun by James Cameron and a naked money… Continue reading

Does Inside Out accurately capture the mind of an 11-year-old girl? A child psychologist weighs in

Jane Timmons-Mitchell, Case Western Reserve University

Pixar’s new film Inside Out provides an interesting spin on how to understand what’s going on in the mind of an 11-year-old girl. The bulk of the action takes place inside protagonist Riley’s head, where a group of emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger) work together (or not) to direct her behavior.

The film’s primary conflict is a compelling one: it depicts Riley’s response to a major, life-changing event – a cross-country move. But from the perspective of a practicing clinical child psychologist with 30 years of experience, it’s only partly successful in accurately depicting why children react the way they do.

Most tweens would have difficulty with a cross-country move at the start of middle school, and Riley is, understandably, sad, angry, disgusted and fearful. She loses interest in things she used to like to do. The fact that her parents are also stressed, making it difficult for them to pick up on her angst until it is almost too late, also rings true.

Riley’s life appears to be run by her emotions. The character Joy is chief among them: it’s a core part of who she is, and a great deal of energy is expended to keep her feeling and acting in positive ways. Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger all have roles, and their order of appearance makes sense, developmentally.

Joy not only tries to keep the other emotions in check, but she’s also in charge of making sure that the core memories – which seem to define key areas of Riley’s functioning – are intact. A lot of time is devoted to trying to keep Sadness away, since she could taint these happy memories.

Joy is Riley’s predominant emotion, and she expends a lot of energy keeping negative emotions, like Sadness, at bay.
Disney/Pixar

But the notion that memories can be preserved unaltered is not in line with most current research thinking. Childhood traumatic events can be remembered accurately or inaccurately, while the field of eyewitness testimony is rife with examples of memories that are moderated by perception or time.

Furthermore, the emotions and behaviors of Riley are depicted using the same framework that adults often use to interpret their emotions. This misses the mark.

Children aren’t simply little adults; as developmental psychologists like Urie Bronfenbrenner have noted, it’s important to take into account the extent to which children are embedded in systems like family and school, where parents and teachers play a huge role in teaching children Riley’s age how to mediate their feelings.

Most 11-year-olds can tell you that they have feelings – and can name a few (though most would not name Disgust) – but more often than not, these feelings can overwhelm them. Adults, then, help them understand and make sense of their feelings, which is a gradual process.

In the end, the different characters for the emotions are altogether too mechanistic. It might be a nice way to show children that they have feelings, but it’s not really the way feelings work.

The film does have some signature strengths. The most authentic aspect of the film was the portrayal of conversations among Riley and her parents. Seeing her mother’s and then her father’s “inner emotions” react (like Riley, the parents also have characters assigned to their emotions) was a wonderful mapping of the kind of patterns that we see whenever families interact.

For example, at the dinner table, Mom gives Dad a look that’s intended to signal that he needs to take her side during an argument with Riley.

Dad’s emotions frantically discuss what she might mean. (“I wasn’t paying attention.” “Did we leave the toilet seat up again?” “Wait for her to do it again.”) Meanwhile, Mom’s (annoyed) emotions decide that she would have been better off with a former suitor. The humor with which it was handled was truly refreshing.

Similarly, one of the best aspects of the film is that Joy realizes that she must work with Sadness to enrich Riley’s emotional life. This is an age-appropriate realization; increased empathy in girls, especially, occurs at around Riley’s age.

Riley has a lot of experiences coming her way, as evidenced by the installation of the new control console at the end of the film with a red button labeled “puberty.” Like most adolescents, she will experience highs and lows, as her friends become more central and she discovers romantic feelings.

And it also sounds like groundwork being laid for a sequel centered on Riley’s pubescent years.


The trailer for Pixar’s Inside Out.

The Conversation

Jane Timmons-Mitchell is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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