The Terminator is a landmark science fiction achievement for first time director James Cameron. Okay, he did direct one movie before this, but the less said about that the better. The Terminator is when he really made a name for himself. Cameron was once a struggling filmmaker just trying to get by. Until he had a fever dream that changed everything. He dreamed about a metallic skeleton with piercing red eyes that emerged from an explosion carrying kitchen knives. And thus the Terminator was born. It was a risky idea, but what better year to release it than 1984.
The Terminator franchise was actually one of my top obsessions growing up. Even if my viewing of them was kind of out of order. In a way, Terminator sort of encapsulates a lot of what I enjoyed as a kid. Arnold Schwarzenegger performances, James Cameron directed films, and hyper-violent R rated action movies that I was probably too young to see. I have my parents to thank for that, since they told my brother and I how groundbreaking the movies were. With plenty of toys, comics, and video games, there was no escaping this killer robot from the future…
The Terminator offers a dark look into the distant future. By the year 2029, an A.I. defense network known as Skynet seeks to wipe out humanity in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. James Cameron does a fine job of keeping the threat a mystery in the first half. While it was intended to make the Terminator look like everyone else, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the obvious choice for the role. His bodybuilder physique made him an intimidating threat. Plus playing an emotionless robot covered up his limited acting experience. The studio originally wanted football player O.J. Simpson for the part, but Cameron ironically didn’t think he could play a convincing killer.
In order to insure a victory, Skynet sends a Terminator to the year 1984. Where it first kills a young Bill Paxton and then makes its way through a phone book after picking up a few weapons. “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.” The T-800 Model 101 is an unstoppable killing machine. Living tissue over metal endoskeleton. Since this particular time machine only allows organic material to pass through. Meaning you have to be naked.
Future resistance fighter Kyle Reese played by Michael Biehn is sent back as well. The mission is Sarah Connor. An unassuming waitress who’s more important than she thinks. Her unborn son John is the future savior of mankind. Sarah is at first weak and timid, but Linda Hamilton brings out her inner soldier by the end. The second half is an intense game of cat and mouse where the Terminator relentlessly hunts down Kyle and Sarah. Mowing down an entire police station and imitating people to get close to her. In the end, an explosion strips the machine down to its endoskeleton. It continues to pursue until Sarah finally crushes it with a hydraulic press.
The Terminator became an instant icon with its black leather jacket and shades. Made even more memorable by Arnie’s ability to make ordinary lines stand out. The Terminator birthed the immortal catchphrase “I’ll be back.” The first Terminator is definitely the most R rated. The kills are more brutal and the nudity isn’t just during the arrival. It’s also in the scene that reveals Kyle Reese to be John’s father. Still not sure how that works exactly. Although the makeup doesn’t always hold up, the film still creates an atmosphere, and a monster that does hold up. In fact, the movie still retains a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Terminator was way ahead of its time.
Followed by: Terminator 2: Judgement Day