Entry #27: Terminator (1984)

What can be said about The Terminator that hasn’t been said before? It, along with Back to the Future, is probably responsible for the modern time-travel film.

For those of you out there unaware of the plot of the film (or who’ve forgotten it over time), a murderous cyborg from 2029 is sent to 1984 in order to kill the soon-to-be-mother of the leader of the resistance, Sarah Conner. This Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in a break-out role, takes out everything in his way in order to kill Sarah. Her only hope, is a lone soldier Kyle Reese, also sent back thru time. Together they are the secret saviors of humanity.

There are many great things about this film. Even though it’s probably considered a science fiction film by many, it’s also a low budget horror flick, and an action film. It was James Cameron’s first real film (does anyone really count Piranha II: The Spawning?) and he did mostly on his own, for a very low budget. And it also paved the way for four more sequels, with the potential for at least two more that are in the works.

The Terminator as a horror film really struck me on my last viewing. He’s a great film villain in the vein of Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees or even Jaws. As Kyle Reese says, “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” That, is just terrifying, and Arnold portrays the creature in such a flat style, that some accuse him of not even acting.

The film doesn’t stop with a couple evading a killer cyborg. It’s got complex nuances that show Cameron’s dedication to his craft. Taking influences from horror films, and big budget sci-fi films, like Blade Runner, The Terminator plays within the genre, while creating it’s own unique brand, which would be often copied, but never duplicated (that is, until Terminator 2: Judgment Day.) I think the other great aspect of this film, is Cameron’s plot. It’s intricate and well laid out. It doesn’t break down on multiple viewings. As Dr. Silber says, “Most paranoid delusions are intricate, but this is brilliant!” The convoluded timeline, and the events all provide a unique narrative that is secondary to the plot, but also helps drive the action forward. It’s paradoxical, but fun at the same time.

With the impending release of Terminator: Genisys (T-5), it’s worthwhile to return to the roots of the franchise and see how well this film still stands up today. The effects are crafted to work amazingly well at the budget Cameron had to use. There’s a killer music score that sticks with you. And the film just looks great.

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