“He’ll find her! That’s what he does! That’s ALL he does!”

In the year 1984 a cybernetic organism is sent back from the future on a mission to kill a present-day diner waitress named Sarah Connor who will play a major role in the development of a war between man and machines in a post-apocalyptic future, because her son leads a rebellion of soldiers on the cusp of destroying the machines once and for all. The mentality is that in order for the machines to save their existence they must erase Sarah’s son John Connor from ever having existed and so they send back one of their own in order to kill Sarah before she can give birth to John.

Sent back by John to protect his mother from the cyborg is Kyle Reese who stands as Sarah’s only hope for survival against a tireless killing machine that will not stop until she’s dead and the future of mankind along with her.

Why We Love It

Do you remember when James Cameron’s name wasn’t associated with mammoth-budgeted Hollywood pictures geared towards satisfying the masses? Not that there’s anything wrong with making [shitloads of] money, but there’s always something that feels a little more sincere, rebellious and free from expectation when a filmmaker is first starting out and trying to earn their keep.  Cameron started out very raw, fast, lethal and rugged, and injected more clever concepts and attitude into his earlier projects (like Piranha 2…*snicker*) than films of that variety, for the time, typically deserved.  Then, as he neared the 1990s he gradually became a more mainstream action filmmaker. Again, nothing wrong with that, but when I really want to kind of “feel” James Cameron I don’t watch anything post-Aliens; and more often than not I pop in The Terminator. It may not be the James Cameron that is, but I preferred it when he was the James Cameron that was. He’s like my Metallica of filmmakers.

I really don’t think Cameron has ever done anything more impressive than what he was able to accomplish with The Terminator. He took a picture with a relatively small budget (it cost $2 million less to finance than Footloose released that same year, which was about 1/5th the cost of Ghostbusters) and capitalized on the inclusion of a handful of relatively nameless and faceless talents (Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Rick Rossovich, Brian Thompson to name a few) to make a film that’s conceptually just as ambitious as some of the large-scale pictures released around that time, and their success at pulling it off would give them all known names and recognizable faces from that point forward. It’s actually quite remarkable the number of people involved with The Terminator , even in very small roles like the few I mentioned, who hadn’t done much until then that would go on to do much more over the course of the next ten years and some still into the present day – most notably special effects guru Stan Winston (may God rest his soul) and Cameron.

However, it’s Schwarzenegger’s terminator and the arc of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor that really sets this picture apart from the rest of the films in the series. With each additional installment save for Terminator: Salvation the terminator villain has gotten increasingly more dangerous and advanced technologically than the terminator from the film before it, but seemingly at the cost of the character actually being terrifying. Say what you will about Arnold’s T-800 losing a fight to either of the other terminators, but if I saw each of them next to each other chasing after me the one that’s gonna make me shit myself is Arnold and it isn’t just because of his imposing 6’3’’ figure of steroids spiked with mountain rock enveloped in flesh – it’s also the way he plays the character and wears the Winston make-up. If you compare the look on the face of Schwarzenegger compared to Robert Patrick and Kristanna Loken his is the only one that has a distinctive change whenever he locks on to a target. Patrick and Loken pretty much just slightly drop their heads and look up through their foreheads, whereas Schwarzenegger’s eyes widen and he looks like a sadistic, frightening killer; and as his skin begins to tear away and the stench of dead flesh becomes relayed to us his presence gets increasingly more menacing.

His portrayal mixed with some slightly grotesque make-up work from Winston and some interestingly intense camera shots and angles from Cameron occasionally elevate The Terminator from being an action/sci-fi pic into a realm of genuinely terrifying horror.

Moment We Fell In Love

Although it isn’t my favorite scene personally the Tech Noir shootout is the first of my favorite scenes. The slow motion walk of the terminator through the club dancers once transfixed on Sarah Connor to the moment he sets his laser-sighted hand cannon in the middle of her forehead is fierce; and then it’s alleviated by the sexiest gunshot sound byte I’ve ever heard in a film as Michael Biehn unloads his shotgun. The two trade gunfire momentarily, Sarah Connor tries to get away, the terminator walks her down and just as he’s about to complete his mission again once he reloads Biehn jumps out from around the corner and unleashes sexy powerful shotgun sound after sexy powerful shotgun sound until the terminator is propelled back out through the front window.

It’s some very arousing violence.

Final Thoughts

Though lacking in budgetary commitment compared to Cameron’s other pictures The Terminator is just as high concept (if not more so) and manages to succeed in making a believable cross of representation between intelligent science-fiction, fast-paced chase sequences in the vein of some of the premiere action films of the 1970s, and elements of horror. It’s a film that’s smarter than the action genre demands, more intense than the science-fiction genre demands, and more terrorizing than either demand and all done by a cast and crew of largely unproven personalities at the time. There will be more Aliens, True Lies, The Abyss, Terminator 2,and Avatar’s – probably even a couple this year and the next – but, all things considered films like The Terminator made under the conditions and confines from which it was made and involving so many talents at that young stage in their careers (a couple of which are arguably amongst some of the best in their field of all-time) occurs only a few times every couple of decades – if that.

I didn’t even mention the score….

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