By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henrikson, and Earl Boen
It’s easy to think of James Cameron as an innovator of special effects filmmaking. A man who has always had everything at his disposal in order to fulfill his directing needs. After all, this is a man who has turned the most expensive films ever made into profit. It’s hard to think of him as an individual who didn’t have all the tools required in getting his vision carried out. If The Terminator, which Cameron made for the miniscule budget of $6.5 million, isn’t the most layered science fiction thriller of his entire career, it’s certainly the most scary. Made right in the thick of the 80s horror/slasher craze, you would be hard pressed to not see that influence. When you dig deep into the 1984 science fiction film’s story, it tells the story of a young blonde woman trying to avoid getting killed by a man she has never seen before, yet nothing she does seems to stop him. Sound familiar? Jason Voorhees has nothing on The Terminator.
Taking a look at The Terminator again after all these years, it’s hard to not see how crisp Cameron’s direction was even then. Certain decisions add little arcs to the film’s overall experience. The way Kyle Reese (Biehn) has nightmares of the apocalyptic war he is trying to prevent, and then wakes up in a construction yard, is scintillating. When he asks a cop what year it is, the cop is just as confused as the audience. How Reese meets our protagonist Sarah Connor (Hamilton) is blazingly paced, with a red dot on Connor’s forehead giving Reese the herring he needed to know that she is who he should be protecting. The car chase in a tunnel is some of the best action the mid-80s had to offer, and the danger that comes with the thought that even a police station isn’t safe is a haunting cogitation. All of these situations have built up plot devices, as it is tough to not agree with the rationale by police officers being told the story of what is
going on that it’s the result of PCP and bullet proof vests. Cameron makes it impossible to not feel the helplessness that Connor is experiencing.
Certain things placed in the script keep you on your toes the longer film moves along. For example, the name of the club where the chase begins in Tech Noir, a perfect outline of what kind of film we are watching. Portions of The Terminator’s beginning theme echoes what the heartbeat of a machine would sound like. And scenes of The Terminator killing Sarah’s roommate & her boyfriend play out like a well-directed Friday The 13th film. When we first meet Sarah, it is in one of the only day scenes of the entire film. Sunny. Happy. On her way to work. It’s a sly foreshadowing of this being the last normal day of her life.
Thirty years later, The Terminator is still a magical film viewing experience. The movie is framed like a horror film, and plays out like a science fiction filled nightmare. Think about how scary it would be to find out an impossible to stop force is killing everyone who has your name, until he gets to you. Sure, the film’s effects seem slightly primitive by today’s standards. But the innovations special effects make-up wizard Stan Winston are certainly there to marvel. The title role made Ah-nold’s career, and was carbon proof that his presence is his best weapon.
I leave you with a final what-if scenario: James Cameron was VERY close to casting OJ Simpson as The Terminator. He stopped just short of placing him in the boots of the killing machine for the simple fact that Cameron did not think the public would believe Simpson was capable of killing people. My review is now terminated.