I have never been drawn much to science fiction and “techno-thriller” films. Not that I haven’t enjoyed them; I found all the films in the Star Wars and Star Trek series very entertaining. But I just don’t have the same level of passion for science fiction films as I do for historical and biographical dramas, crime dramas, sports movies, and war films.
One notable exception to my lukewarm attitude toward science fiction movies is a 1984 James Cameron film that I consider to be one of the very best of its genre: The Terminator, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Michael Biehn, is a very, very good film indeed. It’s intense, exciting, imbued with a highly original story line, excellent special effects (for their time), and pretty darn good acting to boot.
The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a cyborg – a cybernetic organism, a combination of man and machine, sent back through time from the year 2029 to the world of 1984. Its mission: kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a young Los Angeles woman of average means and ability.
Why would this pretty, carefree, single woman, with lots of friends and no obvious enemies, suddenly be “targeted for termination” by a cyborg sent from a world that won’t even exist until forty-five years hence? Because of the effect she will have on the future.
It seems that the world of 2029 is dominated by machines that have become humanity’s masters. SkyNet, the “granddaddy” of all machines, is a computer system that has evolved from a nuclear holocaust at the end of the twentieth century. It now controls the entire world and is engaged in a war to exterminate the human race. The greatest threat to SkyNet is the one man capable of organizing and leading a movement to resist the computer network’s worldwide domination. That man is Sarah Connor’s yet unborn son, John Connor.
The Terminator is sent back from 2029 to 1984 to kill John Connor’s mother. The Terminator immediately begins seeking out every person named “Sarah Connor” that he can find. This unstoppable automaton steals a cache of weapons from a local gun store and sets out to complete his assigned mission. The results are predictably bloody and deadly. Sarah Connor seems to be doomed from the outset.
Enter Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), another figure sent from the future, but with a completely different mission. He is sent by John Connor to protect Sarah from the Terminator. Reese is fiercely loyal to both John and Sarah, and singular in his determination to stop the Terminator, even at the cost of his own life.
Fifteen minutes into The Terminator and the chase is on! The film literally explodes with action as the Terminator relentlessly hunts his prey, catches up with her, and finds himself coming face to face with her protector. Watch the spine-tingling, non-stop action as Reese and Sarah constantly try to elude their predatory cyborg nemesis, and the Los Angeles Police Department gamely tries to figure out just what is going on. Will the Terminator succeed at his mission? Will the future be forever changed? The Terminator reveals all!
The Terminator is the creation of James Cameron, (Titanic, Avatar) who directed the movie and co-wrote its screenplay. It’s certainly an original and very well thought out idea! There have been other movies that have dealt with the concept of time travel and the potential effects of time travelers on future events; however, I can’t remember any other film that addresses the subject quite like The Terminator does. Sending a cyborg “hit man” to deliberately change the past in order to alter future events is a thought-provoking and chilling concept. It’s also a concept that translated nicely into a wonderful action movie! The story line is innovative, fascinating, and easy to follow, and yet full of enough plot twists to keep viewers constantly guessing what will happen next.
The acting in The Terminator is actually surprisingly good – certainly a lot better than I expected the first time I saw the movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the role that made him a box-office megastar, delivers a reasonably nuanced performance that proved, even at the beginning of his film career, that he had some pretty formidable acting “chops.” His physical acting is especially impressive; watch him as he shifts his eyes, changes facial expressions, fires his weapons, and runs and walks… all with a fluid, machine-like precision.
Linda Hamilton is also excellent as Sarah Connor. In Hamilton’s capable hands, her character gradually evolves from being an average American young woman with few cares and very little sense of responsibility into a woman of deep principles and a keen sense of duty.
Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese is excellent. He demonstrates a wide spectrum of on-screen emotions and, like Schwarzenegger, possesses a tremendous physical acting ability.
Most of The Terminator was filmed at night. That gives the movie a dark, brooding, almost sinister atmosphere that greatly enhances its tension and overall excitement. The Terminator also contains a great deal of graphic violence, moderate profanity, and a few “brief scenes of frontal nudity and implied sexual activity.” I would recommend that parents exercise caution before allowing younger children to view it.
MY VERDICT:The Terminator is a genuine masterpiece in the science fiction/ “tech thriller” movie genre. It’s a dark, brooding, always suspenseful, and frequently violent story that’s also highly entertaining, even now, nearly three decades after its initial release.