Back in the early 80s Jim Cameron was a relatively unknown director. He had shot only one movie to date, a movie that would far from turn the industry on its head, a movie that would make Jaws: The Revenge look like a modern masterpiece, a movie that could bring a tear to a glass eye and all for the wrong reasons. That movie was Piranha II: Flying Killers, nd as expected it took a sharp nose-dive at the box office. So when Cameron began looking for financial backing for his Terminator script it is safe to say the studio heads were less than eager to support his venture.
Cameron’s fortune eventually changed when independent production company Hemdale agreed to hear his pitch. Cameron had his old friend Lance Henriksen dressed in a leather jacket, with gold foil around his teeth and open wounds on his face, act as the Terminator. Henriksen arrived at the meeting early, kicking open the office door and then sitting in a chair, eyes glazed and fixed on the anxious executives. Cameron arrived shortly after to relieve the staff of Henriksen’s act. This bold and unconventional pitch resulted in the project being greenlit along with the help of HBO and Orion. Now all he had to do was find his Terminator.
A meeting was set up by Orion, who wanted Cameron to meet Schwarzenegger for the role of Reese. Cameron reluctantly agreed, but had devised a plan to sabotage the appointment. Cameron saw the Austrian oak as too huge in size for the role, as well as an actor whose previous two films had been dissapointly received at the box office. An actor whom to the general public was little more than a joke, a mumbling bulk whose grasp of the English language and acting ability left a lot to be desired.
However, upon meeting Schwarzenegger, Cameron was charmed, entertained, and excited about the way he talked about how the villain should be played. As the story goes Cameron went on to begin sketching his face on a notepad, asking Schwarzenegger to stop talking and remain still. After the meeting, Cameron returned to Orion stating Schwarzenegger would not play Reese but that “he’d make a hell of a Terminator” and the rest as they say is history.
The film opens with two naked men who emerge at night from a torrent of voltage.
One: a herculean beast of a man who goes on to dispatch a squad of delinquent punks to obtain their clothing. He is “The Terminator”, a colossal cyborg assassin sent through time to kill “Sarah Connor” a woman who will eventually become the mother of the future leader of the resistance in a post-apocalyptic world where machines rule. After regaining his orientation we see him in his freshly stolen attire, attire that incidentally should definitely not fit this massive hulk of a man.
Two: “Kyle Reese” who has chased the terminator back to 1984 and must prevent it from carrying out its mission, protecting Sarah at all costs for the sake of the human race. He doesn’t have the same hulking presence or immunity, but has the vigilance, speed, and taut physique of an animal, stealing clothes and pinching guns under the nose of the local law enforcement.
This movie itself is much like the Terminator; a relentless juggernaut that rarely allows you time to breath before throwing you back into its unyielding onslaught of thrills and nail-biting set pieces. Even after crucial exposition or the enormous info-dumps that “Michael Biehn” is laden with, Cameron superbly manages to sustain tension throughout. However, the genuine strength of the film is in its intelligent, well-drafted plot, which deals with intricate mind-bending paradoxes of time travel that, if pondered on for too long, will likely see you down at the local mental health clinic.
The main cast all give relatively strong performances despite the screenplay’s at times unconvincing and cheesy dialogue. Some of the acting in the smaller supporting roles on occasion feels laboured, wooden and as robotic as the T-800 itself. That said, this is Schwarzenegger’s film, his presence onscreen is formidable in every scene, representing a constant threat of impending doom and total relentlessness which is why he remains one of the most iconic and fearsome characters in movie history.
The appearance of the film is a quintessential snapshot of 80s L.A.The style can be felt in every scene, from hairstyles and clothing to the music in both the soundtrack and mixing. Influences of John Carpenter films and the obvious nod to the Michael Crichton movie Westworld, which the The Terminator owes a lot to, can been seen throughout. The cinematography is dark, gritty, and atmospheric, which adds to the drama and tension of the film.
The visual effects, now over 28 years old, appear dated. The use of rear projection doesn’t quite blend with the foreground or the actors and miniatures in various scenes, whilst the stop-motion animation feels jerky and at times sticks out like a sore thumb. The physical effects also suffer with age; in the infamous scene were the terminator removes his eye the profile shot cuts from Schwarzenegger’s head to a close up of a model head that can be best described as something you could pick up down at your local Walmart on Halloween. That said, it is easy to pick holes in SPX that are nearly 3 decades old, and despite them being rough round the edges they still manage to pack a punch and charm that is rare for a film of this age.
At its core The Terminator is a tale filled with irony that plays on our love/hate relationship with technology. This is evident throughout. In the scene were The Terminator executes Sarah’s flatmate the answering machine clicks to life, announcing “machines need love too.” Another example would be in the scene were we see how tedious Sarah’s life has become, with her co-worker articulating that “in 100 years, nobody will care,” the irony being that in 100 years Sarah will be the sole reason mankind still exists.
Although technique and visual effects have moved on a lot in the last three decades, it’s this film’s storytelling, tension, and iconic characters that remain ageless and unmatched. A true science fiction classic.
Take a Drink: every time Reese says “Terminator”
Take a Drink: whenever you see from the Terminator’s perspective
Down a Strong Shot: every time the Terminator goes on a killing spree