Review: The Terminator (1984)

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Did you know that Bill Paxton is the only person to pull off the modern sci-fi trifecta! He appears in The Terminator, Aliens and Predator 2!

Written By: James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd & William Wisher Jr.
Directed By: James Cameron

As the above little nugget should indicate, The Terminator was a part of my sci-fi childhood. This film ushered in a new wave of sci-fi awesomeness that has waffled and buckled over the years but is still around in patches. I was an instant fan of The Terminator the moment I watched it on a used up videotape in my best friend Mike’s basement sometime around 1990. Over the years critical analysis has revealed some flaws here and there, but even the most critical of analysis can’t take away the fun I had while watching this film or the visions it gave me of the future.

Let’s face it, killer robots are scary, when they are as big and as cold as good ole Arnie, they are even scarier. A future filled with nothing but big ole killer Arnie robots, I know they are cyborgs so back off fellow geeks of the world, is downright terrifying. This encapsulates the genius of The Terminator, it functions as a dystopian sci-fi story, a horror film, an action film and tries to fit in some romance, but more on that later. The story in The Terminator is simple, yet it’s not. It’s a basic bad guy versus good guy tale, but it builds a mystery in the beginning over what in the hell is going on and then adds in plenty of sci-fi elements so that it is far from a simplistic tale in its reach. Yes, if one stops to think too much about the time travel aspect your head will explode, but the movie very smartly avoids any deep discussion on time travel. Therefore only the most basic time travel paradoxes are left in place and those don’t effect the movie in any negative fashion. What the time travel does do is allow for for us to get a glimpse of a horrendous future, one we can’t really get a full grasp on, but one we want to know more about because it thrills us just as much as it scares us.

As far as the acting goes, there isn’t a single main I can fault. Arnie’s role may be the easiest in theory, but I reckon it’s not that easy to play a dead faced killer machine who inspires fear in all those around him. As we have discovered about Arnie, Arnold Schwarzenegger for those not happy with my nickname, over the years, he is a funny affable gent. Knowing that adds even more to his portrayal of the Terminator, because there is a bit of that dark humor in the way he asks questions and when he delivers his iconic line of “I’ll be back”. Michael Biehn has always been a great soldier character because he is a fit dude who is able to get the tough guy role down pat. But in The Terminator he has small moments where he is able to convey the hopelessness and death of the future, he really is quite good as the morose “psycho”. Linda Hamilton has become iconic for her portrayal of Sarah Connor, but this is all due to where she took the character in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In The Terminator, she is softer, very feminine and a perfect contract to the emotionless killer in Arnie and the incapable of stable emotions Biehn.

Where The Terminator made great strides was in its CGI, and most of it holds up to this day. There are certain moments, like when Arnie is digging out his eye and it’s an obvious fake head or when the Terminator is running in fast motion in full skeletal mode, that the effects used do come across a bit dated. But, they are minor moments and do little to detract from the film. As an action film, The Terminator is well put together. The invincibility of the Terminator creates new areas for the shoot outs and car chases to explore and it creates a permanent sense of ominous dread and you always end up waiting with baited breath to see if this will be the shot that finally takes the machine down.

The Terminator isn’t as much of a message movie as its successors would be, and maybe will be with Terminator: Salvation. But, it does contain the basics of the fragility of humanity, the horror of an unstoppable force, how valuable life is and some others. The Terminator is more of an action oriented film than anything else and thus it lays off of any heavy themes, although the dystopian future scenes always give you something to mull over.

That’s quite a few positive attributes I laid out, but The Terminator does have some flaws. There are some mishaps I previously mentioned in the effects along with some shady acting from some bit roles, like the cop Arnie kills outside of Tech-Noir or Rick Rossovich as the boyfriend Arnie beats the hell out of. That scene in particular features one gaffe in movie physics, as the incredibly heavy and metal Arnie is at one point pushed back when Matt tries to tackle him to the ground and that should never happen. The area where The Terminator most goes off the rails is in the love scene between Sarah and Reese. It wasn’t terrible, and it did serve a purpose in the plot, but it also felt very out of place within the framework of the film.

As you can tell by my thoughts I remain a big fan of The Terminator to this day. It isn’t on the same level as its sequel, but outside of some minor equivocations it’s a film I always have a great time watching. Even the music that I didn’t talk about in the review proper has a very synthetic and artificial sound to it for the most part that fits with the characters. If you are looking for a fun thrill ride of a film where coolness abounds and the sci-fi is easily understandable then The Terminator is the film for you. If for no other reason watch The Terminator so you can see Arnie lay waste to Brian Thompson, his B movie counterpart and a miniature Arnie in every sense of the word, in one of the earliest scenes.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

4 responses to “Review: The Terminator (1984)

  1. Thanks for this review. For me The Terminator(1984) is the best of the all Terminator movies !!!

    You can see my own Terminator (1984) page here:

    http://www.myfantasyweb.com/terminator/terminator/1984.html

    Full of wallpapers, screenshots,action figures,soundtracks and movies

  2. A great movie and I enjoyed what you wrote about it. One area where I’d disagree is Linda Hamilton’s performance. I think it’s no mystery why she never got any substantial roles beyond the terminator franchise: she simply can’t act. She looks like she’s acting all the time. Sigourney Weaver would show her how to project female power and authority a few years later in Cameron’s true masterpiece, “Aliens”. Still, Terminator is a first rate sci-fi/action film with little wasted dialogue, few (if any) unnecessary scenes, crisp editing and a story that’s painted in broad enough strokes that the average movie fan can grab hold of it in spite of its implausibility. Cameron realized that Ahnuld’s steely teutonic presence would lend an air of dread to the proceedings that could never be added simply with dialogue or special effects. Also, his decision to have Reese spouting exposition during chase sequences left the impression that the film never lets up. Just an all-around stunner of a motion picture. Thanks for the post.

  3. Fantasy – I’ll have to check out your page some time.

    Chris – I think T2 outdoes the first in a large way, and a large chunk of that is due to the acting of Linda Hamilton. I’ve never seen her in anything outside of the Terminator flicks, but I rather liked her in the first one and thought she was great in the second.

  4. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Horror Bonanza! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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