The Terminator kick started Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting career and James Cameron’s directing career. There has been no film quite so thought provoking, engaging, frightening and thrilling. It spawned the infamous “I’ll be back” line, a blurred haze over our own personal safety and the very real threat which modern robotic technology can potentially cause.
Opening in 2029, the film follows artificially intelligent machines who are out to destroy the remaining traces of human life. Mankind’s only hope for survival is a human resistance, led by John Connor. Instead of pursuing Connor in real time, they aim to outdo him by sending a murderous cyborg assassin (Schwarzenegger) back in time to terminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), John’s mother. To combat this seemingly indestructible menace, the human resistance sends Kyle Reece (Michael Biehn) back in time to protect Sarah.
Brad Fiedel’s film score was used very effectively and given plenty of time to send audiences into a frightening plea to get the terror over with. When the cyborg turns up to one Sarah Connor’s house, the eerie score begins playing as a large laser is shone straight on her forehead. Cut to a low angle shot with Connor retreating helplessly as Arnold storms through the door and the frightening thrill builds. Cameron brings the thrill back again, with a multi-cut tracking shot of the targeted (Sarah Connor) next to Kyle Reece in a berserk car chase through downtown Los Angeles.
Made on a shoestring budget, Cameron faced an uphill battle to bring audiences a realistic sci-fi film. Like Star Wars there were constant setbacks during filming and post production. The cyborg skeleton looks antiquated; but put yourself in Reece’s and Connor’s shoes; it’ll provoke very real, panicked responses if some piece of scrap metal comes clanking after you.
Hamilton and Biehn have an intentionally awkward on screen chemistry. Their characters never quite click but you can always sense they trust each other enough to move together in small steps. Hamilton provides a fine 3D performance as a vulnerable woman who learns to be strong, even in the face of adversity.
But, the star of the show is Arnie. No one else was going to leave such a lasting impact on the screen. Everyone remembers him as the terrorising menace who stops as nothing to achieve his goal. From the creepy endoskeleton makeup to the creaky movement, there’s a sure sign the seven time Mr Olympia prepared well. The terminator will stop at absolutely nothing to achieve his goal. Even when the police refuse to let him see Sarah Connor at the police station, he utters the famous lines “I’ll be back,” and doesn’t he just come back?
While it is trapped in the weird, mysterious time known as the 1980’s, everything about The Terminator works just right. The energy, passion and dedication to telling a story carries this film to a level so high that any sequel would struggle to match it.