The Terminator

The Terminator, While relegated to ‘only a SciFi flick’, this move created a venue for this popular genre to mature and become a major force in Hollywood

Every so often a film comes along that changes the movie industry and alter the way people react to films. Back in 1984 such a film graced the screen with its action, drama and intelligence. The film was the Terminator. While relegated to ‘only a SciFi flick’, The Terminator created a venue for this popular genre to mature and become a major force in Hollywood. By now there are only a few small tribes of people in the middle of nowhere that do not know the story.

In the not too distant future a super intelligent defense computer becomes aware and decides that the greatest threat to mankind is man himself. The computer creates various robots of mass destruction to wipe mankind out. Among these death-dealing machines is a form of cyborg called a terminator. This machine covered with human flesh and blood was intended to infiltrate the small pockets of human resistance and kill the people. A leader rose up among the doomed race of man, John Connor. He lead the remnants of mankind to the point where they are on the brink of crushing the machines. The computer in charge sends back a terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to kill the mother of Connor, Sara Conner (Linda Hamilton). This young woman is living a typical life, working as a waitress, living with a roommate and trying to make it on her own. Soon she finds herself hunted by a powerful, indestructible machine bent on her death. In order to save his mother, back in the future Connor sends his a trusted solider Reese (Michael Biehn) on the suicide mission of protecting Sara.

The Terminator never lets up it always delivers. The Terminator is more than just a vehicle for the action sequences; there is a real plot and character development here. There is enough back-story to flesh out the characters and make them real to us.

The cast for The Terminator is by now thinks legends are made of. Hamilton plays Sara not as the usual damsel in distress but as a young woman with previously untapped inner strength and resourcefulness. Without warning she is pulled from her mundane life and placed in the most unusual and dangerous situation possible. Even a small army of police cannot stop this terror yet she must trust her life to a lone stranger. More than that it slowly dawns on her that there is more than her life at stake. She has suddenly become responsible for the fate of mankind. Biehn, a favorite actor of director James Cameron for good reason, he knows how to play the role before him. Reese is a man born to a nightmare world. Every moment of his life has been a battle against inhuman machines out to kill everyone he knows. He admires John Connor, always looking up to him as a savoir, larger than life. He also finds his life changed in a moment. Pulled back in time to save the future mother of his hero he finds himself falling in love with her. Perhaps it is her strength that reminds him of John or the inner qualities that such stress brings out but his suicide missions becomes something very personal. There can be no other actor that could have played the terminator but Schwarzenegger. Here is a man that started out as a body builder and worked in cheap, low budget films that faces the challenge of playing a machine. While this may sound like an easy role, take a look at other on screen cyborgs. They usually play to one extreme or another. Here Mr. S. goes right down the middle, a robot that must pass as human. While his interaction with people often betrays something that is not quite right, the people are usually too preoccupied to notice. He brings drive and power to this role. Even the ancillary cast is perfect. Veteran character actor Paul Winfield as the policeman in charge of finding a serial killer who is murdering women named Sara Connor. Winfield is the human touchstone for the flick. An average man facing the unimaginable. Then there Lance Henriksen as Winfield’s assistant. He has also appeared in several famous Cameron films for the simple reason, he is great in almost every role I have seen him in.

This was director James Cameron’s first big picture. He paid his dues in many jobs on the sets of films including a matte artist on Escape from New York. Here is a man that knows how to blend special effects with a real story. His characters are not two-dimensional; they are real to the audience. This is so important in a thriller where if the audience cannot relate to the characters in danger and care about them the film will be a gigantic bomb. With The Terminator Cameron build a solid base upon which he as built some of the biggest and most popular films ever. His direction is always novel. The scenes are framed to provide not only focus on the characters but the rich feel of the backgrounds. His lighting plays with the scene to always maintain the desired mood for the moment. He does not risk the human story for the fantastic special effects. Instead the effects crate a new world for the characters, one that is completely believable yet at the verge of our imagination. He encourages the performances to shine through the technology of the effects department. So many actors repeatedly sign on for his films it must give testament to his skill and humanity.

The Terminator disc could not possibly measure up to the DVD of the sequel. It doesn’t try to but it does succeed in giving the buyer great value. The audio is in the original mono for purists and Dolby 5.1 EX for those that want a little extra. While the remix is excellent the sub woofer is underused at several points. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is exceptional, especially for an older film. There are deleted scenes, commentary, a making of featurette and a retrospective interview with Cameron. Get The Terminator and enjoy.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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