"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 Reese
It’s been about six years since I last watched The Terminator, and I guess what led me to watch it again was partly the fact that I enjoyed the hell out of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s screen return in The Expendables 2 last week, coupled with the fact that I’m looking forward to reading his autobiography when it comes out shortly. That and the fact that my T23D t-shirt, bought from the theme park ride at Universal Studios Florida finally made it back to the top of the "t-shirts I haven’t worn on God knows how long" pile.
I loved this film back in the eighties, I have fond memories of seeing it at the local flea pit having read about its making in Starburst. In my mind, although I had seen and enjoyed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s screen feature debut in Conan The Barbarian ( no, I’m not counting Pumping Iron - a documentary, nor Hercules in New York where he was billed as "Arnold Strong" because it’s just.....wrong) I’ve always considered The Terminator to be the film that really "made" Schwarzenegger and assured his future mega stardom.
Although a big fan of his from the early eighties, I’m under no illusion as to Schwarzenegger’s limited acting skills. His range of performance really depends on a relicance on his behalf to pick and choose roles that might not particularly stretch his ability as an actor, but he’s canny enough to choose the parts that use his talents to their best effect. Case in point, The Terminator. The Terminator is, as everybody knows, a ruthless, unstoppable killer cyborg from the future. He has no feelings, only his programming, and is practically indestructible. I have to hand it to James Cameron, who could possibly play that part better than the Austrian Oak?
In fact, there was a whole wealth of talent which came together for this movie. Not only was James Cameron behind the camera for the first of many lucrative science fiction movies and collaborations with Schwarzenegger, but also an early in her career Linda Hamilton who would later co-star with "Hellboy" Ron Pearlman in the Beauty and the Beast TV series, she would buff up considerably in T2: Judgement Day and more recently have a recurring role in TV’s Chuck. Another usual Cameron go-to actor, Bill Paxton has a brief role as one of the punks encountered by the Terminator in an early scene and of course Stan Winston provided the frankly still amazing make up effects. Just try watching the self administered eye surgery scenes without flinching. I failed.
And that’s something that struck me very early on in the film - just how incredibly good the film looks today. It’s hard to believe that it was released in 1985, an incredible 27 years ago - a time before CGI effects. Even the opening shots, depicting a post apocalypse Los Angeles where flying hunter-killer robots are hunting down and blasting renegade humans while their ground attack consists of automated tanks grinding the skulls of the fallen in their wake still have an impact and they were achieved with models, not computers. As ever, the film’s shortcoming is in stating the year as then present day 1984, the film was therefore a historical document of past events very shortly after its American release on October 26, 1984 and was already out of date by the time it made its way to our shores on January 11, 1985. But maybe I’m just being nit-picky and overly obsessive.
Still, the story is a classic one and one which I’m sure we all know. A killer cyborg from a dystopian future where the machines have taken over comes back in time to the present day in order to kill the mother of the man who will one day lead the resistance movement against the machines, thus preventing his birth. (Maybe what’s scarier is the realisation that the future from which the cyborg has come is only twelve years away). But the resistance has similarly sent a soldier through the same time portal in order to defend the mother from assassination, and so enter Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn).
I distinctly remember feeling that I’d seen something like this before when I saw the movie back in ’85 and I wasn’t the only one with that notion. A few years earlier I had been watching late night reruns of the sixties anthology series The Outer Limits and one of their episodes was titled "Soldier" and told of a soldier from a far distant future being accidentally thrown back in time to the then present day (this was the 1960s) and trying to come to grips in a fish out of water scenario with suburban life, not knowing that a soldier from the opposing side had also been transported and was now tracking him. Like the Terminator movie, it’s established that domestic animals are also used in their was. Where the Terminator’s resistance movement uses dogs to identify the human-like cyborgs, Solder’s troops use cats with a telepathic link for reconnaissance. Famous sci-fi novelist Harlan Ellison wrote Soldier, as well as another time displacement classic TV episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" one of the greatest of all Star Trek episodes. In that one, Kirk and Spock follow a deranged McCoy through a time portal, landing in depression era New York. There, they meet local charitable do-gooder Edith Keeler (Joan Collins). Kirk falls head over heels for her, but Spock discovers that she must die, and to prevent her death would mean that she would work to prevent American entry into WW2, with the Axis powers eventually taking over the world.
It’s easy to see how these two stories can be seen to intermingle to create strong elements in James Cameron’s script - and so Harlan Ellison did what Harlan Ellison usually does - he sued. (Over the years, I think that Ellison, far from being the literary enfant terrible of sci-fi has ditched his bad boy image always pushing boundaries, and become instead a grumpy and tiresome litigious son of a bitch. Maybe he should spend less of his time in court and more of it writing.) This has resulted in Ellison receiving a hasty credit at the end of the movie.
It’s a great sci-fi action movie, with very little that I can criticise. Okay, so the notion that the street punks that the terminator robs of their clothes when he arrives in present day L.A are the same size as Arnold Schwarzenegger because they fit him perfectly is a little hard to swallow, and the fact that the tanker truck blown up with a pipe bomb near the film’s end is obviously a not too detailed hollow model replica aside, it’s a classic. It gave Schwarzenegger not only a career as an enduring screen legend, but it also gave him his signature catch phrase, "I’ll be back"
And he was.
Click on this link to be redirected to Amazon where you can get your hands on The Terminator on DVD at a ridiculously low price if you so wish.
Copyright © 2010 - 2012 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.