Dir. James Cameron
Runtime: 1 hour 47 mins
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight…
Released in 1984 this might be an oldie, but it’s definitely a goodie. It features an iconic baddie, who in later films becomes a goodie! “The Terminator” is an absolute classic of a film and it’s a film that not only started a franchise of films off, but spawned a concept that’s spilled into all areas of modern cultural entertainment too – from comics to video games. On it’s release it was loved by fans who flocked to see it, and it was deemed one of the most original films of it’s time – albeit slightly on the brutally violent side. Made with a budget of around $6 million, this went on to gross more than $78 millions at the box office, and further more went on to being one of the best selling home video releases of the year. Since then it was recognised as a cult classic and remains a firm favorite in my film own library.
In the future, machines have risen up as the dominant force on planet earth. Humankind has almost been wiped out – killed by their own inventions – killed by machines which were supposed to serve but became self-aware. Small cells of freedom fighters and rebels are living out the hardest of times, being hunted down and surviving in relative poverty. A survivor of the war by the name of John Connor has become the saviour of mankind and leads the human resistance against the machines. John Connor was more prepared than others so he is the best person to lead the resistance, somehow his childhood was shaped in preparation for the future he finds himself in. With people scattered all over the place though, protecting mankind is a difficult job – a job which is due to get more arduous with the next master plan that the machines have come up with.
To change the course of the human versus machine war, Skynet, the main artificial intelligence that governs the machines, sends an assassin cyborg back in time to kill John Connor before he can lead the resistance. By killing the unborn leader’s mother before he is created, it has been calculated that Skynet can win the war unopposed. In order to counter this bold move by the machines, and make sure that he is born, John sends a freedom fighter back in time to stop the assassin robot. The freedom fighter, Sergeant Kyle Reese, Tech-Com DN38416, is one of John Connor’s most trusted and loyal fighters. It will be up to him, if he survives time travel, to save Sarah Connor.
This is where things get tricky, certain actions from either the machine or Kyle could detrimentally affect the future and have a butterfly effect on the way things turn out – the future may not end up being the future while the past is in flux. Does that make sense?? (I tried explaining this to a friend in the early 90’s and it just garnered blank expressions!). Little does Kyle Reese know, but actions that he is part of in the past, definitely will affect the future.
The cast in this film is absolutely brilliant, everyone delivers a top class performance. The standout star in this film is undoubtedly Arnold Schwarzenegger. While he only has a few lines in the film, that’s all he needs because his mannerisms and demeanour are enough to portray a brick-wall dominance and intimidation. It’s probably fair to say that had he been given more lines, then this film may have been slightly spoiled, his English accent at the time wasn’t brilliant, and the use of little dialogue lends well to portraying an emotionless machine intent on bringing death. With only getting a few lines, and letting Arnie look scary, it uses what he is good at rather than looking him use his less developed skillset.
Props also need to go to Michael Biehn who acts as the story teller and the vehicle for the films pace. He is the freedom fighter sent from the future to protect Linda Hamilton’s character, who is going to be the mother of the human resistance. A lot of people really got their big break in this film; from Arnie, Biehn, Hamilton, and even the likes of Bill Paxton and Lance Henrikson – some of who, carried on their relationship with director Cameron in other movies.
The look and feel of the film and the general cinematography is splendid. It’s mainly filmed at night or in dark locations, and set in urban areas too. This gives the film a dark and moody film. There are flashbacks (or flash-forwards as they are about the future), that juxtapose the urban landscape with the war-zone future that’s yet to come.
The CGI and special effects in the film are fantastic, they might look slightly dated compared to some modern releases nowadays, but at the time it was revolutionary work and helped to make it all look haunting in places.
James Cameron does a brilliant job knitting together a great story with a top cast, great effects and fantastic visuals. With “The Terminator” he broke the mould, making Sci-Fi bigger and better than ever before, bringing the future to the now – or at least the 1980’s. Previous Sci-Fi films tended to already based in the future, or even in space. The man-made creation that is intent on fulfilling it’s goal is reminiscent of a lot of monster features, and it’s easy to compare the terminator as a character to the likes of Frankenstein. This one however is clinical, lethal, and focused on completing it’s mission to the very end. Even when it’s own existence is put in jeopardy, it’ll find a way to keep going. It’s like the boot that keeps on stomping on your head until you submit, but then it keeps stomping some more.
This smart but lethal, almost Orwellian, action chase film is an absolute masterpiece. Despite being a relatively low budget film it broke a lot of records and conventions – and spawned sequels, prequels, comics, TV series, as well as inspiring other parts of modern entertainment. Easily one of my favourite films of all time 10 out of 10.