“The Terminator” Movie Review

Yeah, that’s right. Avatar isn’t the only Cameron flick we’re talking about in preparation for the re-release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I’m going to be reviewing both of the first two Terminator movies (The only ones that matter), as well as possibly Titanic and Aliens. But for now, let’s talk about the movie that put this man on the cinematic map. This groundbreaking sci-fi action thriller from future Academy Award-winner James Cameron was released on October 26th, 1984, grossing over 11 times its small $7 million budget. Following his disastrous debut with Piranha II: The Spawning, Cameron apparently came up with the brilliant idea for this film in a dream. It’s also said that he sold the rights to producer and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd for just a single U.S. dollar, which included rights to a potential sequel. The now-iconic plot centers on a humanoid cyborg called a Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is sent from the bleak future of 2029. In that future, a man named John Connor is poised to save humanity from slavery or annihilation by the machines. The Terminator is sent to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, in the 1980’s. However, John Connor also sent his soldier Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, to stop this from happening, resulting in a tense cat-and-mouse chase. To say that The Terminator had a big impact on the film industry would be a severe understatement. Before it came out, lines of dialogue like, “I’ll be back” weren’t catchphrases, and Hollywood blockbusters were just burgeoning into existence. It also managed to launch the careers of every single person involved in the production and created many iconic images, not the least of which is the iconic design of the titular robotic exoskeleton. It began a trend of darker tones in science-fiction stories, not just limited to movies. Sure, not all of it has aged that well, but there’s still so much to like about this classic. Arnold Schwarzenegger may receive flak for his acting abilities, but the role that made him famous is quite impressive and brilliant. Speaking only 16 lines of dialogue total, his sheer physique and imposing relentlessness create one hell of a menacing villain. At least, for the first movie. Linda Hamilton, Cameron’s future wife, admittedly feels like she doesn’t have enough to say and do, but is still awesome as Sarah Connor. She comes with a very 80’s hairstyle and shows a pluckiness and resilience that wasn’t commonly found in female characters at the time, with the exception of Ellen Ripley. But she still shows that she is still susceptible to fear and terror as the titular threat is never more than a few hours behind. Michael Biehn may be there mostly just to give us the exposition on the future, but damn if it isn’t fascinating stuff. You get the idea that Kyle Reese has seen some dark days, especially in a flashforward (not flashback since it takes place in 2029) that shows what some Terminators did to his fellow soldiers. Other recognizable players include early performances from Lance Henriksen and the late Bill Paxton. On the technical side of things, even with a limited budget, it’s a pretty impressive movie. Adam Greenberg’s cinematography uses great examples of Steadicam with highly detailed close-up shots. This mixes beautifully with Mark Goldblatt’s careful editing job, contrasting with wider shots of the scene. This makes things easy to follow and creates an aurora of slow-building tension common in James Cameron’s films. But some of the stop-motion effects show the film’s age. Meanwhile, Brad Fiedel’s powerful musical score is perfectly symbolic of the pacing. It is heavily synthesized and often trades in with pulsating electric drums. This is truly evocative of the metallic killer’s presence no matter where our heroes are going. You may not agree with me here, but I firmly believe that The Terminator is a horror film. I mean, why not? It came out at the peak of the slasher genre’s popularity, and like some of those most popular films, this one was produced on a small budget. Plus, it has an unstoppable villain who, no matter how bullets hit him, refuses to die. He’s got Kyle Reese spooked, for sure. In a car after a getaway, Reese hastily tells a frightened Sarah Connor, “It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t know pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop.” Oh yeah, and the cherry on top? An explicit sex scene between our heroes late in the picture that felt completely out of place. Although it does make sense for the plot later on, for now, it just felt odd with the way the rest of the movie was playing out. But thankfully, the movie itself, overall, is such an original, thrilling film with 100 minutes not wasted once, that I can easily overlook this issue as trite and petty. Although it wasn’t quite as entertaining or game-changing as its sequel, The Terminator is a relentless piece of high concept thrills and an iconic premise. Watching it again recently, I found much more to appreciate about it than I did my first time. I feel like most people, at first glance, will dismiss it as another simple action film of its era. I urge you to give it a try at least once.

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