The Terminator, 1984.
Directed by James Cameron.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn.
A human-looking indestructible cyborg is sent from 2029 to 1984 to assassinate a waitress, whose unborn son will lead humanity in a war against the machines, while a soldier from that war is sent to protect her at all costs.
With the impending release of Terminator: Genisys, cinema goers are being treated to a brief re-release of the very first film. James Cameron’s iconic cyborg action/horror comes out June 23rd, just over a week before the fifth instalment arrives.
So for the un-initiated, what is The Terminator? Well, Cameron’s film was conceived in the aftermath of a vivid nightmare he suffered. It was a pet project for Cameron. The film was courted by several studios, including Paramount, but Cameron was not wanted as the director. He stuck to his guns and eventually Orion made the film. The film was never expected to gain the notoriety or iconic status it has over the years. It was seen more as a B picture, coming out in a slew of similar (but inferior) films in the VHS boom.
The Terminator’s success lies in its efficiency. The plot is simple. A Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time by his Cyborg masters to kill the mother of the (unborn) leader of the human resistance who have turned the tide in a war raging between man and machine in 2029. The humans send back a warrior to protect her. Then it’s a game of cat mouse as Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) must convince Sarah Connor of her imminent peril as well as her long-term destiny as the cyborg killer hunts them down. The film barely stops, relaying the story through the chase and passing at a swift and perfectly paced 107 minutes. It remains Cameron’s most svelte, streamlined and effective film.
The film would mark a breakout for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’d hit the public consciousness with Conan the Barbarian (and previously a select audience with Pumping Iron) but there was a danger of him becoming typecast as a Barbarian and the 80’s were rife with Barbarian flicks. Initially Schwarzenegger was eyeing the role of Karl Reese, but James Cameron saw him as the perfect cyborg killer. As soon as the immortal line “I’ll be back” was uttered, Schwarzenegger was a star. The role was perfect for him and it’s something not as easy to play as many might assume. You could almost hear the mechanisms shifting and cranking from within. Arnold’s robotic performance is so perfectly delivered, that it probably remains his best performance. Playing a cyborg is deceptively difficult and many since have tried and paled in comparison.
Linda Hamilton’s role can never be underestimated. She’s the central character of the first movie. She would of course see significant development in the films first sequel, as we see her transform into a hard-edged warrior woman. However her beginnings as an innocent young woman thrust into a nightmare still make her a very interesting character. The arc of Connor in the first film from beginning to end is fascinating. She’s put through the wringer and comes out the other side a steely survivor, ready to bring the future of mankind into the world.
Many movie lovers who grew up in the 80’s will remember Michael Biehn with great fondness. To many this guy was the very definition of cool. Of badass. He almost plays second fiddle to a couple of strong female characters in both his most iconic roles (as Reese, and Hicks in Aliens) but his great presence, and particularly as Reese, committed performance really made you buy into him as a likeable action hero. He wasn’t the typical muscle guy of the era. Biehn was smaller and wiry. For The Terminator to work, we put the onus on Reese. Sarah Connor has to buy what she’s being told. Furthermore so does the audience. When Reese tells us about the future we have to feel it, and we do. Biehn is superb.
With a low-budget, a world away from the scale in which Cameron works now, the film feels remarkably broad in scope (whilst simultaneously, effectively claustrophobic). The set pieces are excellently constructed. There are some excellent car chases, whilst the Police station massacre remains a brutally effective sequence. In addition Cameron’s cohesion with his cinematographer Adam Greenberg, means that despite the small budget, The Terminator looks fantastic. Intentionally shot predominantly at night, it allowed Cameron and Greenberg to control the light as they want. The film is dark with great contrasts and the occasional injection of neon. It looks glorious. The interior sequence of the Tech-Noir night club is particularly effective. The T-800 stalks the club looking for Connor, leading to the infamous slo-motion shot as he pushes through a crowd of dancers to find Connor helpless at her table. It probably remains the best sequence in the whole franchise. Impeccably done before breaking into a punchy action sequence.
Another one of the films strengths is the iconic music. The theme in particular is one of the most memorable in cinema. The score as a whole feels very apt. Coming at a time when synthesizer scores were very much in fashion, Brad Fiedel fully utilises the strengths of the medium. The robotic, mechanical, yet pulsating music fits in well with the cyborg theme.
So for any fans of the first film, or for any still yet to see
it, it is well worth checking out on the big screen. It would be well worth the trip to watch the film as intended. The relentless nightmarish pursuer, thrilling action, committed performances, and some good dry humour injected in places, mark this film as a classic. Just ignore the dodgy Arnold puppet.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★