The Terminator (1984) 4.53/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 92.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 107 mins
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is just a regular unassuming young woman living a normal life oblivious to the fact that her future son is destined to lead a human resistance against an army of sentient machines. When the machines send a seemingly unstoppable cyborg (Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill her and her unborn son, the resistance send back their own soldier (Michael Biehn) to protect her.

One of the very best science fiction films, The Terminator has it all: timeless special effects, an unforgettable score, sublime action, an excellent cast, and a story that re-defined what science fiction was all about. Hamilton and Biehn have never been better with the latter’s contribution often going underrated as the wily yet traumatised soldier whose performance is just unhinged enough to give us a terrifying sense of the future he comes from. Nothing about his acting seems false and it easily rates as one of the great sci-fi performances (check out that interrogation scene). However, in retrospect everyone seems to have been overshadowed by Schwarzenegger who was indeed born to play the role of the remorseless machine. There’s not another actor who could’ve played that character as coldly and as clinically as he does and it has rightly gone down in history as his defining role.

The Terminator stands apart from most other action sci-fi’s in both the sophistication and inventiveness of its writing. Not only do writers James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd incorporate the initial killings of the other “Sarah Connors” into a fascinating sub-plot of a police investigation into a “one-day pattern killer” but they also offered a far more intense and thoughtful play on the time-travelling concept than we had previously seen from the sub-genre. Furthermore, technology modern to 1984 plays an extensive if subtle role in the film and, thereby, accentuates the central theme exquisitely. Answering machines, pagers, a punching clock, a walkman, laser sighted guns (for a cyborg who shouldn’t really need one), drills, the radio advertisement for CD’s (referred to as the latest in sound technology), motor bikes, petrol tankers, techno music, & the Tech-Noir club (with its electronic decorative theme) all heighten the relevance of technology to the story. The film opens with a shot of a dumpster truck, builds up to a finale in an automated factory where the present day machines play their most overt role, and closes with a polaroid (which itself has the most direct links with the future of all featured contemporary technology). Sure many of these things are every day items and feature in many films from that era but never as prominently and indeed as conspicuously as they do here. They act as Cameron’s central device in foreshadowing the future the Terminator hails from by quietly illustrating how machines have crept and continue to creep further into our lives. Insidiously so.

However, in the final analysis, the highest praise must go to Cameron the director, whose work in this film is among the very best to bless either the sci-fi or action genres. The pinnacle of which, the Tech-Noir sequence, where Connor first encounters the Terminator and where Reese’s role is finally revealed is a suspenseful master class in multi-layered staging and editing which explodes into the most ferocious and focused action ever filmed. Pure Genius.

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