Film Review: The Terminator
In 1984, James Cameron released The Terminator, based off a nightmare he had where a robot hitman was sent to kill him. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Bess Motta, and Rick Rossovich, with appearances by Bill Paxton and Franco Columbu, the film grossed $78.4 million at the box office. Ranked 42 on the American Film Institute’s top 100 Thrills list, the film won the Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Makeup and Best Writing.
When two men emerge from electrical storms, one stays low and out of sight and the other starts killing women named Sarah Connor. Meanwhile, a diner waitress also named Sarah Connor hears about the killings and begins worrying that she’s next. And then they both find her.
The Terminator is one of those films that remain great throughout the years, withstanding the test of time. At its core, the film is more of a suspenseful monster thriller rather the pure action movies that came after it and its sequel, where the titular cyborg is the monster. Not only can practically nothing stop it from coming, with powerful shotgun blasts simply knocking it down and impeding it, but being an unfeeling cyborg, it doesn’t even change expression, even when it takes a scalpel to its eye and arm. Further, it rarely speaks, providing an atmosphere of dread that when it does open its mouth, something bad is on its way, like a car through the front door or a punk getting killed. And as stated, it doesn’t stop coming, even with the amount of punishment it gets. Rather, it becomes more and more frightening as it is stripped down to its metal corpse. And while it was getting weaker, including walking with a limp and being reduced to a torso, it was still suspenseful because Sarah and Kyle kept getting hurt too. It showed that while they could do things to affect the Terminator, it could still kill them at any moment. Even then, the only way it was defeated was by being crushed by a hydraulic press, not any of the weapons that Sarah or Kyle had wielded.
And with Sarah activating said hydraulic press, where she delivers a one-liner, it shows just how much character development she went through. At the outset, she’s a meek waitress dating a complete jerk who doesn’t respect her and by being thrust into the plot against her will and coming to believe Kyle’s story due to the events at the police station, she grows to become a survivor. And unlike other films, her romance with Kyle feels natural because of that scene and her coming to trust him, that and the Florence Nightingale Effect where she notices his gunshot wound and bandages his arm. And what follows is a sex scene that isn’t simply added for simple titillation, but is actually the most plot-critical sex that has ever been in film.
It’s also interesting to note that even though she becomes a survivor, she’s clearly broken, making it realistic as something so traumatizing would clearly have an effect on someone’s psyche. She’s so emotionally and psychologically wrecked that she can’t even touch the dead Terminator’s arm.
The film also has some well-thought out moments that provide a bit of realism, or as much as a film that involves a killer cyborg from the future can have. Most of them are by the police who actually respond to events that happen in a way that paints the cops as not being incompetent. For one, when they receive death certificates from the first two kills they put out a bulletin to warn anyone else with the name and keep officers on the lines in case any call in. And then there’s when the correct Sarah is in the police station and the Terminator comes calling. They open a crate of M16s and create a wall of guns. They’re not useless and would actually have made the film incredibly short had this been the standard slasher scenario that they believed themselves to be in rather than having been up against an implacable cyborg from the future.
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