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Catching Up with Classics: The Terminator (1984)

How are we all doing? Nearly seven months into the year and it feels like we’re all just waiting for the next bizarre, could-only-happen-in-2020 thing to happen. Hey, maybe a race of indestructible cyborgs from the future will pay us a visit soon…

After melting Nazis, visiting Middle Earth, fighting off a killer alien, saving a princess, and busting some ghosts, we’re now running away from The Terminator, the 1984 sci-fi action flick directed by James Cameron. Being his second attempt as director (the first being 1982’s Piranha II: The Spawning), this certainly solidified Cameron as one to watch.

June’s pick: The Terminator

If, like me, you’ve managed to see the latest in The Terminator series (2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate) ahead of understanding any of the backstory, let me fill you in!

We open in 1984 Los Angeles, were the promise of futuristic technology hangs in the smoggy air – quite literally. On one side of town a crack of lightening produces a large, naked man (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from the sky. After sourcing clothing and weapons, he scans a phone book and rips out a page – he’s looking for someone.

The next morning we follow Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) on her way to work. While busy serving diners, she’s called into the break room to watch a news bulletin – Sarah Connor has been killed. ‘You’re dead, honey,’ smirks one of her colleagues. Shaking it off, Sarah returns to serving, then home to get ready for a night out with her roommate.

When news surfaces that a second Sarah Connor has also been murdered, the local police force desperately try to contact our Sarah. By now, she’s out on the town, unaware she’s being tracked by a Terminator, as well as Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human soldier sent from 2029 to protect her. After both men (can we class a Terminator as a ‘man’?) ambush Sarah in a nightclub, she escapes with Reese, the Terminator hot on their heels. By jacking a car and swerving in and out of LA’s dirty alleyways, it seems like the pair have escaped, but Arnie doesn’t give up that easily.

Hiding out together, Kyle tells Sarah he’s been sent from the future to stop her being killed. She’s destined to have a baby, John, who will lead the resistance against artificial intelligence when the bots become self-aware and initiate a nuclear holocaust. But if the Terminator kills her, the future of the human race will be in trouble.

Inspired by a dream Cameron had one night, the story was initially dismissed by his agent (who he then dismissed). That dream, with a budget of around $6 million, went on to make a very cool $78 million worldwide. Both Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson were offered the leading role but turned it down, and even Arnie wasn’t that bothered by it to begin with. Various interviews from the time report that he was convinced The Terminator would be a small-time, indie feature, so wouldn’t have too much of a negative impact on his career if it were to flop. Hey, if he hadn’t of taken it, we may have been watching O. J. Simpson instead (Cameron didn’t think he’d make for a convincing killer…).

While Schwarzenegger had a lot to say about the film pre-release, turns out he was making up for lost time, as his character only utters 17 lines of dialogue throughout, fewer than 100 words. And while he may have struggled with the now-legendary line ‘I’ll be back‘, Cameron has said that Arnie’s accent added an extra layer to the character, giving him a ‘strange, synthesised quality‘.

Has it aged well?

When talking to friends about The Terminator and that I was excited to finally watch it, so many of them told me it’s the worst in the series, with some even stating I should just go straight onto Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But as I’ve got to follow the self-imposed rules of my own monthly feature, I had to start at the very beginning.

As with previous entries in my Catching Up series, the 80s visual effects haven’t aged well, but I imagine at the time the bright blue lighting strikes were out of this world! The use of stop-motion to reveal the Terminator’s endoskeleton and laser eye was simultaneously hilarious and impressive, a feat in special effects creativity.

Hindsight is 2020

I came out of my screening of Dark Fate, jaw on the floor, full of admiration for Linda Hamilton. At 63 years-old, she kicks ass – I can only wish I’ll be as fit as her in 40 years time! And you can see the flickering of her badassery starting to flame in The Terminator, not backing down even when the remains of its body back her into a corner, risking being crushed to death.

With that being said, the sex scene between Sarah and Kyle was…surprising? I knew that (SPOILER) he would father her child, who will then go on to save the planet, but wow. I truly wasn’t expecting to see full-on nudity (on Hamilton’s part), and had presumed they’d ‘done the deed’ earlier on in the story, it being eluded to by the pair waking up together, Sarah draped in Kyle’s jacket.

Much like in Ghostbusters – concluding that the sexiness was a little unnecessary – I feel the same way about this particular scene. The extended shots of Hamilton and Biehn rubbing up against one another feel like filler; if Cameron had cut away just as they started to kiss, we’d still get where things were heading.

Classy or classless classic?

Maybe a bit of both? Overall, I enjoyed the fast-paced action and the thrill of the Sarah Connor chase, but the sex scene took me out of that world – if I were being hunted by a superhuman robot from the future, the last thing I’d want to do is get it on.

However, I am now looking forward to filling in the rest of the gaps in my Terminator knowledge, so I guess that’s a win for Cameron and his team.

My Catching Up with Classics series returns in July with The Truman Show

2 thoughts on “Catching Up with Classics: The Terminator (1984)

  1. Pingback: Catching Up with Classics: The Truman Show (1998) | critical popcorn

  2. Pingback: Catching Up with Classics: The Shawshank Redemption (1994) | critical popcorn

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