IMDB #162 The Terminator

PREVIOUSLY ON THE IMDB COUNTDOWN: I had to review the sequel to Kill Bill LONG before Kill Bill itself- it was awkward.

But the countdown smiles benevolently on us today, as The Terminator is ranked lower than T2, so we can process everything in the right order. Phew.

What about T3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, you ask? Good news! We don't even have to think about them, because they're both pretty terrible!

The Key Players:

James Cameron once was a self-taught special effects supervisor from Canada. But then on one magical day in the early 80s he did ten gallons of coke and wrote 873 screenplays at once (Aliens, The Terminator, and Rambo II: First Blood wer among them), hopped on a unicorn and stormed to the top of the film industry.

Subsequently he only made films as excuses for various obsessions, like his desire to see the wreckage of the Titanic, to invent a new 3D camera (Avatar), or to see Jamie Lee Curtis partially nude (True Lies). Does he seem like an insufferable jerk every time he speaks publicly? Of course! But that's the cross he has to bear, consoling himself with his mansion of frozen orphan tears and his diet of liquified Euros died to look like food.

Beginning with The Terminator, Cameron magnanimously took several actors along for the ride with him. Lance Henriksen and Micheal Biehn would both also appear in Aliens- Biehn in The Abyss, too.

Linda Hamilton will always be known primarily for her role as Sarah Connor, though Cameron did cast her as his fourth wife in the late nineties.

Finally, I have a theory. We all know James Cameron to be a man of science- he even had a plan to fix the BP spill. I propose that nearly thirty years ago he invented a time machine. High on the thrill of discovery, he went to the future, only to discover that he'd traveled too far, and found the human race just beginning to divide in twin races of pure intellect and brute physical strength. He befriended one of the latter, a huge but affable giant, and took him back to our time. But due to the future proto-man's slightly devolved intellect, he could only get work as Hollywood movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It makes a lot of sense, I'm sure you'll agree.

Click for More...

The Story:

We've all seen it, so I'll be brief- AHH-nold plays a killer robot that looks like an Austrian dude sent back in time to kill Linda Hamilton, who will one day be the mother of the resistance leader in the war with machines we all know is coming. Biehn also shows up from the future, sent by her future son to protect her. Cool?

The Artistry:

Somehow I ended up seeing The Terminator at a very young age, maybe eight or nine. My memory is hazy- was it on video? At a friends house? In any case it was the first rated R movie I'd seen, and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

So I never really gave it another watch for a long time, and can't honestly say I've watched the whole thing through until doing so for this project.

Turns out it's no so scary, but still fun. I don't need to tell you how iconic the lines and images of the franchise are- though in the first installment, only Biehn's "Come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back" made it everywhere.

And Cameron is of course a master at building suspense, even working with a terribly dated score and familiar cliches like the roomate who doesn't hear impending doom because of her headphones.

Unsurprisingly the effects, while impressive in scope, are a little dated- notably the lasers in the future war bits and the Terminator's obviously fake head when he was removing his left eye.

The script is a little leaden, especially on a human level- I never really found myself invested in the inevitable romance (really? You 'loved a lifetime's worth'?). But the performances carry it as well as they can, Biehn especially. I liked his PTSD flashbacks to the future, and the way he spoke in jargon from his own time, naming the model number (101) of the Terminator as if it would mean something.

The real basis of the appeal, and the reason so much of The Terminator has become cultural shorthand (it's probably the most popular of any "robot war" speculation), is that it taps into the innate foreboding that the future seems to hold. This will get a lot more explicit in T2, but it's easy for someone born in 1984 himself to forget that The Terminator came out during the last years of the Cold War, and even mentions the rise of the machines coming in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.

In the face of the bleak stormclouds comes the idea that we can be meant for greater things, like unassuming diner waitress Sarah Connor. What were her ambitions before this all went down? Other than being stood up on a date, her personal life is hardly mentioned. But she becomes the key to the entire future out of nowhere, perhaps simply because she exists is a world of recurzive paradoxes- she's plucked from the everyday into a harrowing trial of fire until she wins the first battle against an apocalypse rapidly approaching, and it happens seemingly for no reason at all.


Speaking of causality: The Terminator franchise is nothing but chicken-egg paradoxes- John Connor send Kyle Reese back in time to become his father, so he can be born and live to send him back. What? We'll see later that the presence of the Terminator the machines send back leads to their eventual creation as well in T2.

I found myself pondering these loops as the movie went along. There were three Sarah Connors in the phone book, so the Terminator (with less information than Reese) killed the first two before he gets to our Sarah. But what if he had started from the bottom of the list? Maybe Sarah Conner becomes the Sarah Connor precisely because the other two got killed?

The other big irony is that the machines create John Connor instead of preventing his existence, because now his mother knows to prepare him to lead a war against machines in the future.

Also, I have many technical questions about time-travel itself (which the film skirts around by having Reese be a soldier unconcerned with the physics of it all). Why does Reese show up a little after the Terminator? Why can only the two of them come through (he implies no one else can come when interrogated)? Why not find some way to transport future weaponry in organic material, like the machines did? You could wrap some guns in a pig carcass or something.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Oh, I like it where it is, really. We'll see in a bit how T2 found a way to preserve the spirit while raising the stakes, gravitas, and action to higher levels.

The Legacy:

Careers launched, a franchise spawned, NFR inclusion already, and so on. And did you know "I'll be back" has its own wikipedia page?

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Literally nothing. But this unembeddable featurette includes the following pearl of wisdom:

"I think the love story is really what made it work." - Linda Hamilton

Leftover Thoughts:

-Would a polaroid photo really last 40 years in that condition?

-A quick inflation calculation informs me that this was made for the equivalent of $13 million, which makes the FX all the more impressive.

-the internet would have me believe that Cameron initially met with Scharwzenegger to discuss playing Reese, which would have been a ludicrous idea.

-One of those punks was Bill Paxton? Huh.

Coming Up...

161. Amores Perros

160. The Graduate

159. Groundhog Day

0 Response to "IMDB #162 The Terminator"

Powered by Blogger