Terminator, The (1984)
Release Date: October 26th, 1984 MPAA Rating: R
Director: James Cameron Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Rick Rossovich, Bess Motta, Bill Paxton
f all the important science-fiction films of the ‘80s, “The Terminator” is perhaps the most outstanding in sheer entertainment value alone. With striking special effects, an inventive story involving the always-problematic time travel element, and genuine suspense paired with adventurous mayhem, “The Terminator” is also one of the most influential projects of the decade. While most movies are unable to juggle the complex plot points accompanying traversing the dimension of time, writer/director James Cameron skillfully makes sense of all the twists and turns (or gets viewers so caught up in the escapism that they overlook the loopholes) for a rollercoaster B-movie that has the effectiveness and scope of a mega blockbuster.
In the near future, the Cyberdine Corporation will unwittingly release a self-aware computer defense system called Skynet, which creates an army of cyborgs to unleash nuclear Armageddon against mankind. But a human Resistance is formed to counter the mechanical killers. Desperate to win the war, the cyborgs utilize a time portal to send a single soldier, a deadly T-800 half-man-half-machine (Arnold Schwarzenegger), back through time to murder Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the rebellion’s leader. They will reshape the future by changing the past, and their weapon of choice is an unstoppable Terminator. Fortunately, the Resistance also sends back a lone warrior, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), to protect Sarah. Her life must be saved to ensure that her eventual child, John, will grow up to guide the rebellion. But can a mere human stand up to the likes of an automated assassin?
Moviegoers who believe Schwarzenegger can’t act are undoubtedly correct. However, never has a role been so perfectly sculpted for the Austrian bodybuilder, who possesses an unbelievably fitting, powerful screen presence with little more than his menacing silhouette. Limited lines of dialogue and even fewer expressions escape his chiseled visage, but the character development is striking – an irony considering that every one of his brief deliveries is quotable. Cold, calculating, and uncompassionate with the torturous logic of a machine, he’s a killing tool designed for a single purpose – and his personality and stilted accent nicely match the job. And the role would propel the actor to even greater stardom.
The fascinating story introduces audiences to a bleak future – the decimated, postapocalyptic wasteland of 2029 – a popular interpretation of pessimistic, ‘80s science-fiction. Lasers pierce the sky and machinegun fire dances across the charred bodies and scorched rubble that clutter the streets. Superb practical effects embellish this nightmarish vision, from the glistening metal exoskeletons of robotic hunters to a stomach-churning eye-patching scene, courtesy of the unequaled Stan Winston Studios. Following the motif of David Cronenberg’s works and the recent trend of slashers, flesh is easily manipulated and mutilated, especially in contrast to unforgiving, penetrative alloys. The violence is strong and frequent but mesmerizingly serious and incredibly stylish as it complements the pulse-pounding action sequences. It’s just one of many qualities that subsequent features would tweak to the point of cliché, but here it decorates an uncommonly thrilling cinematic experience, brimming with bold ideas and an intensity that few other filmmakers could muster.
– Mike Massie