With a new Terminator movie in the works and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to acting, now is as good a time as any to reexamine the original Terminator film. Join us as we fondly look back in time at this science fiction gem that started it all.
Before he was making millions as the director responsible for two of the highest grossing films of all times, James Cameron started his career off in special effects. He worked on numerous low budget science fiction productions, which gave him the skills and creativity he would rely on later as a director. His talents did not go unnoticed, eventually they allowed him to be chosen as a replacement director for the film Piranha II: The Spawning when the original director quit. Cameron was ultimately fired as director for that film, but it all worked out in the end. He fell ill following his firing, but this illness gave him a nightmare. That nightmare, featuring a time-travelling killer cyborg from the future, is what ultimately led to The Terminator. The rest is history.
In addition to being the break-out film for James Cameron, The Terminator was also a break-out film of sorts for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger had already been successful with Conan the Barbarian, but the blockbuster success of The Terminator meant that more people were introduced to the Austrian. Furthermore, Arnold’s performance in The Terminator is perhaps the most iconic of his career, and it confirmed his stardom. Simply put, this film has had an enormous impact on pop-culture. This is as much of a recognition of Schwarzenegger’s performance as it is James Cameron’s abilities as director. In many ways, The Terminator is yet another overblown action packed, B-movie, spectacle that was common in the post Star Wars era. It’s cheesy, full of gimmicks, and offensively violent. But never is the film defined by these faults. Instead, James Cameron works with what he has. He embraces those potential liabilities and uses them to make the final product more entertaining. He elevates the film to a level that few films like it ever reach.
Entertainment: Part of the fun of watching a James Cameron film is being blown away by his abilities to create wonderful special effects. Although The Terminator is incredibly dated, it still lives up to expectations. The special effects enhance the film. The foundation of what makes this film so engaging is the action. This movie is action packed. Right from the beginning, until the final climax, there is almost constant action. This really helps to engage the audience, and redirect their attention away from the lackluster production or simplistic plot. What’s hurting this film for today’s viewers is how dated it feels. If you can overlook that blemish then you will appreciate its other qualities. Good (4.5/5)
Story: I would define the plot of Terminator with one word: efficient. Overall, it is straight forward and geared towards creating exciting action sequences, but it is also effective at exploring interesting themes and ideas at the same time. There are only a couple twists, but the brilliant part of the film’s writing is the way that the story unfolds. To put it simply, the film is able to maximize the amount of action that occurs without spending too much time explaining a backstory or filling in the details. The movie uses a few different flashbacks (or would they be flashforwards?) to make up for this lost time. Finally, the film minimizes the number of important characters, and doesn’t stray too far from the main storyline in order to explore the setting. Both of these are great for audiences with short attention spans, but they can make the film feel rather one dimensional. Good (4.0/5)
Acting: Although he doesn’t have the largest role in the film, Schwarzenegger’s performance is what makes this film worth seeing. Despite playing the role of a robot, he is able to add a lot of subtleties that really make his character memorable. He’s not your typical “walking gun” bad guy; he’s a villain that you don’t really feel sorry rooting for (which is why he returns as a protagonist in the second film). Besides Schwarzenegger, the other two major characters in the film are portrayed by Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn. Hamilton is less convincing when we first meet her, but once the action starts to pick up she seems more comfortable and confident in her role. Biehn puts his brave face on but doesn’t seem like he has the charisma and connection with Hamilton to pull off the role completely. The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, but they don’t really add much to the experience. Okay (3.0/5)
Direction: The film is by no means a directorial masterpiece, but it does showcase the talents of James Cameron. First of all, he is able to make the action engaging and exciting. There are lots of car chases and gun battles, and never do the details of these sequences become obstructed by over direction. The film remains very focused throughout. Cameron uses dingy visuals and a fuzzy picture texture in order to make the film feel like it is constricting around you. This helps to make the action seem that much more intense, and the actions of the characters that much more desperate. Finally, Cameron gets the most out of his minimal budget. The special effects are no longer cutting-edge, but they give the film the extra shot in the arm it needs to make it a special experience. Good (4.0/5)
Production: Those special effects rely on stop-go animation, and robotic models to fill in for the Terminator once the action starts to take its toll on his fleshy exterior. There are some shots that are incredibly convincing, and others that look very dated. Part of the problem is the low budget of the film, and those limitations unfortunately show through. As far as the physical quality of the film, there are also some limitations. The picture quality is never as clear as you might want it to be. The sound track is also laughably dated, but has some memorable moments that enhance the scene. Overall, The Terminator is not a perfect film, but the way that it works with what it has to minimize its faults and maximize audience enjoyment is something special. It is a testament to hard work and focus on details, a lesson that today’s Hollywood could learn much from. Okay (3.0/5)
What's Bad: Dated, simplistic plot, low-budget is apparent in places.