Terminator HUD

October 9, 2008

Like many males of a certain age, I’m a fan of the Terminator franchise. Or at least, I’m a fan of some it, particularly the intense first film (which I saw at the British equivalent of a “sleep-over” as a teen, after its 1984 release). Many argue Terminator 2 (1991) was the better film, but making Arnie cute was a mistake, and frankly, T2 is a feature film constructed around special effects. Cameron, the great technological innovator, was so keen to show off the advances he’d been making with early CGI, after the trailblazing water tentacle in The Abyss (1989), the story – to my mind – was compromised. Indeed, the whole franchise was compromised by the very presence of the mercury T-1000, a Terminator model completely at odds with the pistons-and-plating hardware of the T-800 101 (the Arnie model), as designed by the late, great Stan Winston. If Skynet can produce T-1000s, why even bother with more traditional robotics? Maybe a true Terminator geek can explain that too me – maybe the T-1000s require impractical amounts of resource and energy to just roll off the Skynet production line.

Anyway, that’s not what I meant to write about. There’s something else that’s always really bugged me about the Terminator franchise, about the world of Terminator. I can handle (though not necessarily get my head around) the sundry paradoxes thrown up not just by the time travel theme, but also by the very fact that time was passing between each movie installment, requiring tweaks to the timeline. I can even get my head around the divergence after T2 into the lame T3 and the frequently excellent Sarah Connor Chronicles. Heck, I’m even excited about T4, as finally it’ll get us into the world after Judgment Day. I wrote a big preview of T4, aka Salvation, over here. At this stage, my excitement about seeing armies of T-600s and newly created T-800s and whathaveyou stomping on the bones of humanity is overriding my anxiety over it being in the hands of McG, the man who made the execrable Charlie’s Angels movies.

No, the thing that’s been bothering me is the Terminator HUD. It’s been bothering me for years, but after watching the latest Sarah Connor episode, my brow furrowed again. Look, here’s my point. A Terminator, a real Terminator, not that T-1000 liquid nonsense (sadly revived for the series – bah), is a robot with a computer brain. The data it would receive through its visual sensors, basically some sort of sci-fi camera lenses, would immediately be converted into binary and read by the computer’s central processor. So why then do we have these ridiculous Terminator POV shots where there’s an interface, with scopes and on-screen text? “TARGET IDENTIFIED: JOHN CONNOR. TERMINATE”. It’s ike that on the head-up display of a fighter pilot or gunner, or even like the UI of a computer game. It just doesn’t make sense because, as a digital entity, all the data received by a Terminator would be integrated and processed pretty much simultaenously in the form of binary. Even if you take the justification from within the fiction that the original Terminator designers in the US military needed a UI, surely Skynet would have phased these out?

Sure, it’s fantasy, the HUD is an effective dramatic device and all that, but seriously, it’s silly. The Terminator isn’t using a screen, its lenses are gathering data to be interpreted by its CPU. Robots don’t need a HUD or a UI for crying out loud! The presence of a HUD or UI in the Terminator POV is almost as daft as having them move a cursor around with a mouse.

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