Monday, January 26, 2009

The Terminator

Countdown From Judgment Day - Part 4

All right readers, this is it - the last entry in our wildly popular (at least with the writers) Terminator Omnibus, appropriately titled Countdown From Judgment Day. In case you missed any of the action, you can catch up on our First Impressions of Terminator Salvation, thoughts on television's The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and reviews of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator 2: Judgment Day at the links provided.

The Terminator
Co-Writer/Director: James Cameron
Starring: Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger

This was the one that started it all for James Cameron. The film was remarkably low budget in today's terms, only costing $6.8 million to make but earning $78 million at the box office. Trivia: Arnold was originally up for the role of Kyle Reese, but after meeting with Cameron they decided Arnie would be a better fit for the villain.

The film, made in 1984, has no shortage of then-contemporary-but-now-ridiculous costumes and set designs, mostly neon colored. The 80's mentality is best encapsulated in Sarah Connor's best friend and roommate Ginger, who displays a "go with it" lackadaisical attitude and is quickly killed by the Terminator before the halfway point in the film. At one point in the movie, Sarah hides out in a club called Tech-Noir; this name was created by Cameron specifically to define this new style of film he had contributed to.

If for some god-awful reason you don't know the plot of this film, you should go rent or buy it immediately - but for recap's sake, I'll give you a brief rundown. In the year 2029, a group of artificially intelligent machines have taken over the world after they instituted a nuclear war against the humans. The machines are run by a computer system known as Skynet; when the machines realize that they will eventually lose the war, they desperately make a last ditch effort to stop the human victory. By sending a "terminator" back to the year 1984, they attempt to kill Sarah Connor before she can birth the leader of the resistance. But the humans discover their plan and send one of their own, Kyle Reese, back to protect Sarah from the terminator. Thus concludes one of the coolest premises in science fiction history.

More than any other character, The Terminator is about Sarah Connor. This is our introduction to her, and she is the conduit through which the audience watches the film. She is the relatable one, the person who can't believe this is happening to her, the innocent woman caught in a plot way too complicated for her to understand. She starts out as a normal woman, but is changed into a warrior by the end thanks to her relationship with Reese. She realizes the magnitude of what she has to do, and accepts that responsibility to train her son and prepare him as best she can for the upcoming war. Sarah's transformation is interesting to watch as the movie progresses and, while some may argue a couple of points about it (she moved on pretty quickly after her best friend died), Linda Hamilton did a solid job inadvertently laying the groundwork for her performance in Terminator 2.

One of the coolest aspects of this movie is its ability to blend the horror and sci-fi genres together. Schwarzenegger shares some qualities with the horror icons Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers - a hulking physique and an inhuman determination to kill his female prey - but appearing as a cybernetic organism provides just enough separation so we're not constantly reminded of those other characters. I could spend some time talking about Schwarzenegger's acting abilities, but we all know that this was an early role for Arnie and he wasn't exactly at the top of his game here. (I'm not saying that he's a "good actor," but his improvement over the years can't be denied.)

Michael Biehn's performance is believable and urgent, a welcome human juxtaposition to Arnold's metallic personality. Sarah's character is reminiscient of Jamie Lee Curtis' character in Halloween; like JLC, Sarah becomes the "final girl" who confronts the antagonist as the only person left alive in the scenario and lives to tell the tale. Sarah's adoption of this role is taken to new extremes in T2, where her character shifts from innocent bystander into hardened warrior. Strong female characters are common in Cameron's work, ranging from Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens to Rose (Kate Winslet) in Titanic.

The Terminator was recently entered into the National Registry as a work of cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance, and it's easy to see why. The film inspired a new generation of science fiction, jump-started the careers of both its villain and director, and (most importantly) - it's just a freaking cool movie. Little did James Cameron know that the story he created would be living on for years after his involvement ended.

That's it - we've reached Judgment Day, and I want to thank everyone for coming along for the ride. Remember to keep checking back here at Ben's Movie Reviews (we just started The Fast and the Furious omnibus) for more reviews, daily news at Ben's Daily Movie News, and every other pop culture need over at The Solar Sentinel. Until next time...


Alan Trehern said...

We didn't reach Judgment Day...we've arrived at the beginning of the countdown to Judgment Day.

Ben Pearson said...

Good point. Touche.

Sweet poster, huh?

rebuttal said...

Bad ass