The Terminator (1984)
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn.
Plot: A robot disguised as a human, is sent back in time to the year 1984 to murder Sarah Connor in an attempt to stop her son, the future leader of the human resistance in a war against highly intelligent machines, from being born. Meanwhile a soldier from the resistance is sent back at the same time to protect her.
In the future, after nuclear bombs destroy much of the earth’s population, highly intelligent machines begin to rule the planet, wiping out what remains of life on earth. Humans learned to fight back and stay alive, all thanks to the leader of the human resistance, John Connor. As humans begin to win the war and gain the upper-hand, SkyNet build a time-machine which they use to send a robot back in time to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah (Hamilton) before he his conceived. Skynet hopes this will prevent John Connor’s birth and therefore stop the human resistance from progressing. Luckily, the resistance are able to send back a soldier, Kyle Reese (Biehn) soon after to protect Sarah from the terminator (Schwarzenegger).
The success of The Terminator has always been an impressive feat. With the movie’s draft being purchased for only a dollar, it was never expected to go anywhere nor was it expected to be particularly successful. The Terminator was the victim of a lot of scheduling and financial problems, not to mention a number of licensing and permit issues which were only exasperated by a lack of support from the studio who produced the film. It went on to be a highly successful film that grossed over five times its budget and even went on to spawn further films and TV adaptions, making The Terminator one of the most successful and well-known science-fiction series of all time.
The film is traditionally seen as a Science Fiction film, but I’d suggest that this is actually rather questionable, with the film having strong elements of various other genres. Horror is one of the main genres people tend to associate with The Terminator, which isn’t hard to understand given that the film was initially designed to be a typical 80s horror/slasher. Despite the shift in genre there are still aspects of the terminator’s character which seem very typical of a slasher villain, such as the unstoppable, intimidating and violent nature that is shared with slasher villains such as Michael Myers and Freddy of Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street respectively. Also, like his slasher counterparts, the terminator hunts down a female victim who he attempts to murder throughout the film. There is also a prominent romance theme which wasn’t intially intended for the film, but came at the request of the studio, to which Cameron decided to incorporate into the film.
Schwarzenegger, whose style of acting suited this role, plays a rare villain and does a superb job. The ability to create fear and intimidation came naturally for his size and physique, but it’s how well he portrays a robot that makes the film as much of a success as it is. Every small and subtle action is done to perfection, making sure every movement and action is done as unnaturally as possible to give off that ‘robotic’ aura. Critics have stated that Arnold’s impressive representation was simply down to his naturally bad acting and monotone speech, and while it’s hard to write off those claims completely, I’d like to think that a lot of it was still down to hard work and dedication. Arnold spent months perfecting his gun handling and reloading, which he’d practice blindfolded until he had an almost robotic routine. Whichever way you look at it, Schwarzenegger was made for this role and he has now been immortalised for it.
Brad Fiedel, the film’s composer, did an outstanding job not only creating atmospheric music, but personifying it and using it to give life to the characters, particularly the terminator. The instantly recognised sound of four quick thuds which serve as the terminator’s theme bear similarities to a fast heartbeat or pulse, only more menacing and malevolent. The calm tempo and consistency of the ‘heartbeat’ also emphasises the artificial nature of the terminator’s pulse. It’s also interesting to hear the sound of various metal bangs and thuds along with machinery-like noises, as they act to really emphasise the robotic and machine-related themes of the film. Fiedel has given the rest of the film a distinct ‘eighties’ vibe with use of trance for most of the soundtrack.
Cameron would later go on to expand on the Terminator franchise with a second movie seven years later in 1991, which came to be just as popular. Since then, the franchise has been revisited on a number of different occasions, most recently with Terminator Genisys which tried to put a different twist on the series and had mixed reviews, but I’ll talk about it more thoroughly in a couple of weeks time, because over the next few weeks I will be looking at all of The Terminator films. I will look at each Terminator film, comparing each one in terms of success, eventually determining whether or not the franchise should have stopped a long time ago with fans wondering just when the next adaption will be.