Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: "The Terminator" is Still a Bad Ass (Happy B'day, Arnold Schwarzenegger)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 3 (of 2002) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Terminator (1984)
Running time: 107 minutes (1 hour, 47 minutes)
DIRECTOR: James Cameron
WRITERS: Gale Ann Hurd and James Cameron, with William Wisher
PRODUCER: Gale Anne Hurd
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Greenberg (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Mark Goldblatt
COMPOSER: Brad Fiedel


Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton

The subject of this movie review is The Terminator, a 1984 science fiction and action film from director James Cameron. Essentially an independent film, The Terminator was not expected to be a success. Not only was the film a commercial and critical hit, but it also spawned three sequels, a television series, and other spin-offs, including several comic book series. Of note, author Harlan Ellison received a screen credit on later releases of the film to acknowledge his work as a source for the film.

In the future, an artificial intelligence named Skynet, a kind of super computer, rules the planet and wages a total war on the small bands of human who survived Skynet’s initial genocidal campaign against mankind. When the human resistance reaches a point that it has defeated Skynet, it sends the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill the Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the woman who would one day give birth to John Connor, the leader of the successful human resistance. One of John Connor’s most trusted fighters, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) volunteers to follow the Terminator into the past to save Sarah, the woman Reese has secretly loved since the day he first saw an aged photo of her.

Directed by James Cameron, The Terminator was one of the last low budget science fiction movies to have a measurable impact on filmmaking. Short on funds, Cameron relied on story and well executed action sequences to keep the viewer on the edge of his seat. It is a far cry from the bloated SFX extravagances that Cameron would go on to shoot.

Cameron reveals just enough of the bleak, burnt out future to simultaneously whet our appetites and to then leave us begging for more. He aims the camera close in to the actors and uses quick cut editing to heighten the sense of drama and tension. Layers of shots from several angles strengthen the dramatic impact of the story; you simply can’t ignore this film. It is a simple story – a man has to save the woman he loves from a relentless killer. However, Cameron uses his directorial prowess to up the ante when it comes to the chase; the pursuit is one long, unrelenting, bloody hunt.

In one scene in particular, the Terminator arises like a broken phoenix from its funeral pyre, still alive and still following its program. Before the magic of computer generated imagery (CGI), this scene had to be shot in stop motion glory. An evil leer made of silver metal teeth spread across its face, the machine marches on to terminate its target. These few moments of filmmaking reveal the savvy of mind that can create his vision despites restraints of budget or technology. Cameron was good a long time before CGI.

The Terminator was a career defining and career changing moment for Schwarzenegger. The machine he portrays isn’t simply a cold efficient killer. It’s part specter and part machine – magic and science. His portrayal combines the coldest sci-fi villain with the scariest horror movie monster – Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey meets Michael Myers from Halloween. As he storms through Los Angeles looking for his target, he examines his environment with the cool detachment of scientific device and stalks Kyle and Sarah with the hell born determination of masked slasher.

Biehn and Ms. Hamilton are very good in their parts. Reese is the consummate soldier, a sinewy runt, his body marked with gross scars. He has the single-minded determination to follow his commander’s orders and to successfully conclude his mission even at the cost of his life. Ms. Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is a dumped on young woman, whose comeliness hides behind a fa├žade of homeliness and humility. The real woman in her waits the day when she can emerge fully formed and ready to throw off her waitress’s apron and kick butt.

Largely forgotten in the age of computer-enhanced movies, The Terminator remains as visceral, as funny, as exciting, and as poignant today as it was then. By no means perfect, it was more entertaining movie magic than thoughtful movie making. However, one cannot deny how effectively this movie delivers the thrills. Think of it as a B-movie made by an intelligent filmmaker steeped in the slums of maligned genres like horror, science fiction, fantasy, and comic books. This is the groundbreaking work of art that came from that ghetto.

8 of 10

2008 National Film Preservation Board, USA: “National Film Registry”


1 comment:

  1. Great review - and I have to add that Terminator was one of the first movies to depict webcams :) A real classic!