I'm going to tell you straight up, I am a sucker for a good time-travelling science fiction romp. So it's with a certain amount of bias that I review The Terminator, the film that launched a franchise that consistently failed to live up to its potential after Judgment Day, as well as putting a certain Austrian bodybuilder on the map.
Speaking of Schwarzenegger, what if he actually is a killer robot sent back from the future to destroy the world? Frankly, I have seen nothing in my lifetime to convince me of the contrary.
Anyway, the films opens with a profoundly naked Arnold popping into existence in 1984. You can tell it's 1984, because the early 1980s threw up all over everything. This leads into the most inexplicable scene in the entire film: Arnold walks up to this group of three LA punks (it's important to clarify that at this point, he is still very nude).
These three jabronies see a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger in peak physical condition and think, "Yes. This is a man I should pick a fight with." Use your head, Bill Paxton!
So here's the deal: Robot!Arnold has traveled from a dystopian future to kill Sarah Connor, the woman who will eventually give birth to a robot-killing Jesus Christ (John Connor's initials are not a coincidence). And Kyle Reese, one of John Connor's most trusted lieutenants, is sent back to protect her. And also to knock her up, but I don't think that was actually in his written instructions.
Normally, I would say that telling someone you barely know that you fell in love with an old picture of them and you're basically a fanboy who traveled through time to get a chance to meet them is epically creepy. But then again, this is vintage Michael Biehn we're talking about, so I guess I can make an exception.
No but seriously he's adorable.
The Terminator uses the phone book to systematically kill all of the people in the greater Los Angeles area named Sarah Connor, which simultaneously makes the film feel very very dated (imagine how much easier all of this would have been if the robot had access to electronic records?) and proves that having an unlisted number was always the way to go.
Luckily for Sarah, she and Kyle have the help of the police department to protect themselves against the Terminator. Unluckily, it happens to be the most inept police department ever committed to film. Seriously, they're awful, and the Terminator cuts through them like tissue paper.
Eventually, when all is said and done, it's just the Terminator against Sarah. And with her final actions in the film, she earns her place as one of the most bad ass female characters in film history. After only a day or two, she comes to terms with the knowledge that she is going to give birth to humanity's last hope. Oh, and manages to kill the pretty much invincible robot version of Arnold Schwarzanegger. Not bad, Sarah, not bad at all.
On the surface, this seems like it might be just another generic action film. But there's actually a lot to like here, and it's easy to see how it spawned a series of sequels and reboots. (It's just a shame that most of them were terrible.)
Schwarzanegger doesn't have much to do, to be totally honest, but this is just one of those prime examples that less is more. Linda Hamilton is really solid, managing to nail the transition from wide-eyed waitress to stone cold bad ass while still making both versions of the character feel like an authentic person.
But what really elevates The Terminator above most of the other sci-fi action films that were coming out in the 1980s with bad special effects and synth music is the story. They create a fully developed universe that feels as though it existed before the film opens and continues on after it ends. The hellish futurescape is particularly well-done, with interesting touches like the little kids gathering around the television only to have it be a makeshift fireplace.
It really feels like we're just scratching the surface of everything this universe has to offer, and we're only hearing a tiny piece of a much larger story. It's just a shame that the rest of the story had to suck so bad when it was brought to the big screen (I'm looking at you, Christian Bale and Terminator Salvation). That said, The Terminator is a film that works equally well as an origin story for Sarah Connor and a standalone movie.
At this point, I bet you really thought you were going to be able to get through this review without having to see an image of the beyond disgusting scene where Terminator cuts his own eye out. Come on now.
What can I say? I'm a fan of Un Chien Andalou.