The Terminator (R)

10 Stars

Raise your hand if you’ve seen The Terminator.

Okay. You can’t tell but everyone on the planet has an arm in the air.

So, people of Earth, how many of you recall the last time you caught Arnold’s breakout performance?

Who were you with? Were you conveyed by carriage or dirigible?

Put your hand down if you can’t remember.

I only ask because revisiting’s worthwhile.

This was my first time watching the movie, so my Dad and I instant-streamed T1 via Netflix. And it’s glorious, lemme tell ya.

Soon as Arnold starts killing innocent people, my Dad says, “I don’t remember him being the bad guy.”

We realize he’s never seen the first installment before. He only thinks he remembers. And I bet that’s the case for many folks not raising their hand.

It’s been thirty years since release, but it holds up like you wouldn’t believe.

Seriously. The Terminator’s a smart movie. I’m glad I waited so long to watch.

Every character is watertight. Prominent or minor the acting’s often what retains the captivation in between gunplay and chase scenes.

The cops are Traxler and Vukovich, played by Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen (a.k.a. Bishop from Aliens), and have a humorous dynamic. Sarah’s roommate, Bess Motta as Ginger, is the sexy bouncy type, and her boyfriend’s a well-meaning dummy. Kyle Reese (played by Michael Biehn) is withdrawn and serious.

How about Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor? She’s such an ass-kicking delight, her likeness is still utilized twenty-four years later in Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The show ran for two seasons and stars the pinnacle of underrated actresses, Lena Headey.

Talk about a crowning accolade for Hamilton’s performance.

As a standalone, the story is very good and there’s almost no need for a sequel. Although the ending lends itself to continuation, it’s not necessary.

The movie’s greatest weakness is the same mistake made by other science fiction films like Escape from New York and Event Horizon; meaning a drastic underestimation in regards to the timeframe. The scenes that take place in the future are supposed to be set in 2029. There’s a number of technologies I doubt we’ll have within the next fifteen years.

Laser ammunition, synthetic skin cells and advanced artificial intelligence aren’t around the corner.

Oh. And there’s time travel.

But this is a silly topic of discussion, because the plot’s ‘self-contained’; the rules allotted to the story’s universe are adequate enough. An artificial intelligence develops in 1997 that learns at an exponential rate, making allowances for the suspension of disbelief.

The irony is, the film unfolds a lot like a horror movie. I’ll get more into that later on.

For now, all I’ll say is that The Terminator is a classic must-see film in the same manner The Great Gatsby’s a must-read novel.

Those without a hand in the air should stop reading here, because the rest of the review will contain spoiler-heavy analysis.

Nuance abounds in this movie, and it’s illustrative of the intelligence packed into every detail. Much of what occurs resonates thematically with the overall narrative.

For example, the recording on the girls’ answering machine states, “machines need love to,” which obviously foreshadows Sarah’s eventual encounter with the Terminator. It’s also ironically commenting on the relationship between man and machine, and the eventual fate of humanity.

Another detail akin to this is the name of the club where the Terminator finally locates Sarah. The name is Tech-Noir; which is a touch of self-referential humor. The filmmaking resonates with noir themes, and the subject matter’s heavily rooted in science fiction.

It’s self-contained because of the limits established by the timeframe. In 1984, a Terminator would indeed have to look through the phone book for every ‘Sarah Connor’ and kill them off to ensure its mission’s accomplished. It also establishes conceivable distance between the protagonist and the pursuing threat.

The audience can accept humanity’s resistance to obliteration against seemingly insurmountable odds when considering ideas like utilizing dogs to detect terminators.

As for the special effects, most hold up quite nicely. And there shouldn’t be any problem for a sophisticated viewer, given the context in which it’s made. There is obvious use of green screen on set, and some devolved CGI, but for the most part everything’s on the up-and-up.

Okay, let’s dive in.

Timeline A is the history Reese returns from, which includes all events up until 2029. Timeline B is the realm in which the film unfolds, Earth in 1984.

Presumably, the John Connor of Timeline A didn’t descend from Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, right? A terminator didn’t arrive in Timeframe A’s 1984 to attempt the same assassination?

I’m assuming Timeframe A becomes separate from reality; whatever that means. And Timeframe B will continue to unfold into an altered future.

There appears to be no residual effects from the changing of history yet. No chaos or collapse; which is nice.

I suppose the only real alteration this has on reality is the splitting of John’s lineage. He’ll now be fifty percent A and fifty percent B.

I wonder if the sequel will cover the issue of reconnecting the loop; specifically, when history B reaches 2029, even if there’s no such thing as terminators, will Reese have to travel back in time to impregnate Sarah again?

My brain hurts.

Anyway, the reason I say it unfolds like a horror movie is the impending doom that’s constant throughout. Sarah encounters terrifying scrapes with death around every turn. I don’t want to reiterate the whole plot, but consider the odds constantly stacked against her.

After escaping the police station and literally everyone dies, Reese blasts the membrane off the Terminator’s metal skeleton and dies to blow its legs off.

Yet its torso continues to crawl after Sarah and is only crushed by the pneumatic press as his fingers claw at her face.

The protagonist’s terror is stretched to the utter limit, time and time again.

For those of you still holding an arm in the air, feel free to lower it now.

If nothing else you burnt some calories today, and learned two things about yourself.

  1. You’re easily manipulated. And…
  2. You have exquisite taste in movie reviews.

Thoughts, perchance?

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