It’s Friday (thank merciful Jesus) and it’s been a tough and trying week (for me at least), so today I am going to talk about one of my favourite films of all time…and then I’ll have an excuse to go home and watch it (again) tonight.
Probably one of THE BEST MOMENTS in the history of film. That’s a big call, I know…
That’s right, fellow sci-fi lovers, we’re talking about the powerhouse that is James Cameron’s Terminator.
I love this movie (I’ve written about the franchises repeatedly on here, so check the archives if you’re a newbie, and will probably write about it plenty more, so sorry in advance returning readers. Actually, no, if you’re not down with Terminator, get off this blog!). I love everything about the original Terminator. I think it’s a damn near perfect film… you know, if we distance our brains from the quantum mechanics of time travel and messing up timelines and all that drama and just focus on the present… which is actually the past… because we’re now in the future.
The first time I saw Terminator I was about 4 (and up way past my bed time) and it scared me witless, but in the 28 years since then it’s become something of an obsession. It’s hard to say why I feel the way I do about it, but there is something in the plot that speaks to me. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old. Clearly I am not alone. It’s hard to imagine a B Grade sci-fi horror film creating 4 additional films and a television series if it weren’t talking to a lot of other people out there as well.
So what do I love?
The Tech-Noir scene in which Sarah, Kyle and the Terminator finally connect is an amazing moment in cinematic history. (See the link at the start of the post) I would rate is as probably my favourite movie scene of all time, it still gives me chills when I see it. James Cameron nails great direction here, it’s perfect in just about every aspect – except for the extra in the orange. In fairness, it took me over 30 years of watching this film until I picked her up, but now that I have, I can’t not see her. If you don’t know what I am talking about, do yourself a favour and don’t go looking for her.
To fully enjoy the Tech Noir scene, I suggest putting yourself in the position of someone who is watching this for the first time. Keep in mind, at this point, you still have no idea who Kyle is, you suspect that he is probably the hero, but he is still pretty creepy. You don’t know what the T800 wants Sarah for and you don’t know if Kyle is actually going to save the day. The tension, when Sarah looks up into the mirror over the bar and, seeing Kyle, has that moment of dread, thinking that he is going to kill her, when all the while her assassin is approaching from her blind side and she doesn’t notice him until he is lining up his sight with the middle of her forehead… It’s so damn good it makes me sick with adrenaline!
Of course this is also the scene where you’re first introduced to: Come with me if you want to live, which has made an appearance in all of the sequels and is almost as identifiable as I’ll be back.**
After the car chase between the T800, Kyle and Sarah, the audience finally gets the back story about who Kyle is and why he is there. The truth about the Terminator is also revealed in this excellent bit of dialogue:
Listen and understand. That Terminator is out there. 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.
Kyle is so direct and to the point, I appreciate that about the character and for the fact that it moves the plot along speedily, so as to not detract from the tension.
The secondary romance between Kyle and Sarah is a thing of beauty. Rather than being heavy or melodramatic, it’s natural and realistic, desperate but filled with a deeper meaning and sense of destiny, without being sloppy. It’s Kyle that you’re really hoping for, which changes the dynamic of the partnership I think. It’s really him that is invested and in love with Sarah (I’m not being harsh, but seriously, as far as she is concerned he is just dome crazy dude in a trench coat and stolen pants). As I’ve said in previous posts, the bitter sweet event of Kyle dying adds that final punch in the guts that instantly makes Sarah Connor the heroine of later installments.
(I’ve spoken at length about Kyle, so I won’t rehash it here, now, in this time, otherwise we might be here all day).
The score. Talk about 80’s simplicity. To my mind, the score for Terminator is a lot like the score for Jaws. It’s no frills, basic sound and because of that the theme sticks with you. Plus the opening titles at the beginning, which look like the old DOS systems of old, always make me laugh inside (anyone who experienced the joy of Where is the World is Carmen Sandiego? will know what I am talking about)
The comedic timing: It’s not all cyborgs and love scenes, there are also some funny moments as well (not traditionally funny, perhaps, but they give me a laugh:
– ‘Wash day tomorrow, nothing clean, right?’
‘Nothing clean. Right.’
Sorry but the woeful punks in the reboot had nothing on Bill Paxton and that other dude who later went on to be the alien bounty hunter in the X Files.
– ‘It’s very important that you live,’ well, gee wizz Kyle, I’m glad you think so…
– ‘Sarah Connor?’
Seriously? Why would you even say yes? Surely you’d take one look at him and say ‘no, she lives next door,’ and then you’d run.
– Traxler and Vukovich:
How do I look?
These pair are the buddy cop comic relief and I love their chemistry. My only regret is, as you’ll see on the DVD extras, at one point Traxler was going to come over to Sarah and Kyle’s way of thinking, he was going to believe that Kyle wasn’t insane and that a cyborg space traveler really did want to reach through him to rip Sarah’s heart out. Ultimately that footage got cut from the final version and I wish it hadn’t. Still, if you watch closely, the scene where Traxler, Silberman, Sarah and Vukovich are watching Kyle’s video interview, there is a moment where belief comes across Traxler’s face. It’s tiny, but it’s there.
Speaking of the cop duo, here’s some trivia for all you lovers of trivia: Did you know that Lance Henrickson was initially being considered to play the T800, while Arnie was approached to play Kyle? Once Arnie read the script though, he decided that Kyle really wasn’t the role for him (how were they going to explain away that accent?) so he told Cameron he would do it, but only if he could be the villain.**
Sorry Lance. It’s okay though, you got to do Millennium and that was a sweet show.
A lot of people would argue that T2: Judgement Day is a better film than Terminator. When people compare sequels to their predecessor, specifically those which are better than the original, it is among the most cited example of something which in itself is largely a rarity. The main reason for this, I think, is due to the special effects. Yes, the T1000 is pretty impressive (like that scene where he rises up out of the lino and stabs that dude in his eye), and yes, Eddie Furlong is a cutie patootie as John Connor, and of course, the Linda Hamilton transformation is just, wow, but that doesn’t make it ‘better’ than the original. It makes it equal perhaps, it makes it a worthy sequel, certainly, but it does not make it better.
Despite being laughable by modern standards, the 1984 effects in Terminator still hold up quite well when considered within the context of the overall look of the film, which is gritty and dirty. I still find the scene where the T800 takes its own eyeball out with the craft knife stomach turning, even if it is mostly a plastic robot doing the eye gouging.
If you haven’t seen the original Terminator, I hope that you’ll feel compelled to go and give it a watch after reading this. I was actually speaking to a co-worker not long ago who expressed his sadness upon hearing that some of the students at his college dorm thought that Terminator: Genisys was a stand alone film. That made my heart sad, but did prove what I have always feared – that there are people out there who have not seen this movie. It’s not going to be a visually spectacular as T2, but what it lacks in special effects it more than makes up for in story and mythology… plus…Kyle.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that there are no flaws with this film, that would silly. There are more flaws in the quantum time line than you can poke a stick at (not to mention, how does Kyle know the road rules and how can he navigate down town LA? Come to think of it, when did Kyle find time to learn to read? How does he know what a phone book is? And why does no attention get paid to the fact that he would smell, bad, so bad that it would be near impossible for him to attract Sarah at all, let alone get her to love him. I mean, we get to see that the rotting flesh on the T800 is attraction flies (the scene with the cigar smoking janitor) but we’re too polite to acknowledge that Kyle is wearing the pants of a homeless man and hasn’t had a hot shower, like, ever. And of course the age old question: was Kyle always John’s father… that one is too big, it makes my brain hurt, so we are just going to leave it alone) Anyway, there are flaws, but they’re relatively easily to trade off for the overall awesomeness of this concept and the delivery of the film, so just shut up about them and enjoy this 1984 cinematic b-grade marvel for what it is. Glorious.
Remember, the battle for humankind won’t be fought in the future, it will be fought here, in our present, so maybe you’d be best served by brushing up on your cyborg fighting strategies… tonight…
** Any Terminator fan should know that Arnie and James Cameron has a major argument over what has now become ‘the’ catch phrase of the franchise and (arguably) of Arnold’s career. Arnie felt that a machine would never make a retraction and thus, he should say ‘I will be back,’ Cameron was having none of it though and pretty much told Arnold to just deliver the line and move on. Good call.
** I got that from the extras on the DVD – yep, I’ve watched them all.