Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton & Paul Winfield
Reviewing old movies has its perks and problems. The perks are that I can watch and write about random movies from various time periods whenever I feel like it. The problems are that certain classics have their hordes of passionate fans who are ready and more than a little willing to rip the heads off anyone who dares disagree with their opinion. It should be noted right now that I did not grow up with TERMINATOR and therefore, I don’t have much nostalgia for it. As it stands, I only consider one film in the whole series to be great thus far and it’s not this one. THE TERMINATOR holds up as a cheesy, very 80’s sci-fi actioner that’s entertaining, but has its share of flaws that stick out to me.
Thanks to an artificial intelligence network known as Skynet, the future will be an apocalyptic wasteland. Thankfully for us, humans are winning the war against machines after rallying around celebrated resistance leader John Connor. Times are looking grim for the machines and it seems that time travel is their only option for stopping the humans. So they decide to send a death-machine (called a Terminator) back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, thus stopping John’s birth before it happens and effectively winning the war. This cold, calculating Terminator cannot be reasoned with and seems impossible to kill, but Sarah finds a savior in another time-traveler, Kyle Reese, who has been sent back to protect her. Sarah and Kyle engage in a deadly, explosive game of cat-and-mouse with the Terminator in hopes of destroying it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator. He plays the role of a heartless, emotionless killing machine convincingly. It’s Arnold after all and he isn’t exactly known for emotions (ba dum ching!). The movie isn’t necessarily about the Terminator though. Yes, he’s the bad guy and Arnie’s mug is plastered on everything regarding this series, but the protagonists are Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. While Sarah becomes one of cinema’s best female bad-asses in the second installment, she’s far from that in this first entry. Sarah’s character is a hapless waitress who is timid, shy and feels like she belongs in a romantic comedy as opposed to an 80’s sci-fi classic. This might be what sells her for most people in this first film, but I wasn’t buying it. She’s a bit bland and Kyle Reese is even more of a dull character than her. He’s the typical hero who’s been sent to save the day. When romantic chemistry forms between them, it all feels forced and bland…just like both characters. When Sarah changes from scared victim to brave heroine at the end of the film, her transformation feels far too rushed and unconvincing as well.
TERMINATOR is very much an 80’s movie too. It’s complete with a cool synthesizer score, an over-the-top cheesy sex scene, and silly dialogue (one character threatening to knock the Terminator’s block off is kind of hilarious). Though a majority of the film plays out like an elongated chase scene between man and machine, director/writer James Cameron doesn’t skimp out on the action scenes either. While one futuristic battle sequence drags for a bit too long (especially seeing as it was edited into the middle of a conversation taking place between Sarah and Kyle), the finale is truly something to behold. The special effects that constructed the Terminator hold up very well (save for one rubber Arnie head), especially what appears to be a blend of stop-motion and practical work during the final confrontation. The humanoid metal skeleton of the Terminator is still a rightfully iconic and terrifying image of something inhuman posing as one of us.
James Cameron seemingly created THE TERMINATOR as a little movie to help regain his career after PIRANHA II crushed his reputation, but this film defied expectations and became a bonafide movie saga that still endures to this day (with a fifth entry hitting in less than two months). Nobody could have predicted that TERMINATOR would wind up going where it did. There are definitely problems that I have with the film, but, again, I didn’t grow up with this series like so many others did. As it stands for me, the first TERMINATOR is cheesy 80’s fun that went on to spawn a far superior sequel. Obviously, you already know if you’re going to watch this. In all likelihood, you probably already have.