The Terminator

The New York Times has a report about Terminator Salvation, the fourth, and hopefully, last film of this widely popular franchise.  It’s being filmed throughout the summer in New Mexico despite the very real possibility of another needless and potentially crippling labour dispute, this one involving The Screen Actors Guild.  Their most recent contract expired two days ago and so far, despite an offer already put on the table, no deal has been set.  Let’s hope for a swift resolution here.
 
After screening the dreadfully unnecessary Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines five years ago on DVD, I’ve had no desire to see another sequel in this series.  When you end the third movie on a note of pessimism rather than the optimism of the earlier chapters, not only are you insulting the intelligence of the audience you’ve pretty much destroyed the credibility of James Cameron’s work.  Quite the accomplishment.  Curiously, Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t be appearing in Terminator Salvation.  If he wasn’t the Governor of California, would that still be the case?
 
Since last year, I’ve been posting reviews of movies I screened between June 1992 and March 1993.  During that tumultuous period of my life, I tried to write my own Roger Ebert’s Home Video Companion which I called The Movie Critic: Book One.  After 152 pieces, I abandoned the project.  For the most part, the reviews are awful.  Contradictory opinion, sloppy grammar, too much plot summary and not enough solid criticism.  We’re talking way-off-the-mark material here.  After I finished watching a film, I would whip through an assessment without looking it over and making the necessary changes to finish it off properly.  A regretful error on my part.  Although I did try to rework a few assessments at the time, for the most part, this stuff is pretty much unpublishable in its original state.
 
However, six such articles have been rescued for the purpose of being showcased on this website.   If you go to my Movie Reviews section, you’ll find my revised takes on Batman Returns, Housesitter, Under Siege, The Silence Of The Lambs, The Crying Game and Scent Of A Woman.  You can now add The Terminator to that list.  Next year, the film will celebrate its 25th anniversary.  (Terminator Salvation, by the way, is scheduled for a Memorial Day weekend release in 2009.) 
 
Although this review is far different than the original rough draft, it retains my thoughts and feelings about the film after screening it on tape in the summer of 1992.  As usual, some of the original lines have been maintained, other parts have been tightened up and new lines have been written in.  Add it all up and it’s a much better piece than the sloppy original.
 
 
THE TERMINATOR
Restricted
105 minutes, 1984
Starring:
Arnold Schwarzenegger–The Terminator
Michael Biehn–Kyle Reese
Linda Hamilton–Sarah Connor
Lance Henriksen–Ed
Paul Winfield–Police Lieutenant
Earl Boen–Dr. Silberman
Produced by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd
Screenplay by Gale Anne Hurd
Music by Brad Fiedel
Directed by James Cameron
 
The year is 2029.  The location:  Los Angeles.  A full-scale war continues to rage on between a defiant band of rebellious humans and the unstoppable killing machines.  It’s not been a good year for our heroes.  Millions of skulls and other bones fill our field of vision.  But they still fight for freedom and refuse to give in to technological oppression.
 
This is the opening sequence of James Cameron’s The Terminator, a flawed but thoroughly engaging thriller that all but assured the ascendancy of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the throne of 80s action movie stars.
 
He plays a cybernetic killing machine programmed by his brethern to return to L.A. in the year 1984.  His mission is simple.  He must kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the future mother of John, the leader of the human resistance.  The good news for the villainous cyborgs is that she’s not yet pregnant.  Extinguishing her in the past before John is even conceived, in their minds, will alter the future for their benefit.  How this can be remotely possible is ultimately irrelevant.  It’s a compelling idea that invites us to go along for the ride.
 
The Terminator makes his presence felt immediately when he arrives in 1984.  Stark naked (who knew time travelling could be so kinky?) and appearing human, he runs into a small band of punks who offer him nothing but comic derision.  They say things like "Nice night for a walk!" and "No clean clothes!".  Big mistake.  After repeating their insults, he firmly demands their clothing.  When they refuse to comply, it’s an ugly scene that instantly establishes how much of a psychotic menace Sarah Connor is up against.
 
The good news is that Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) has also done the time warp.  He has volunteered for the mission to protect Sarah (Linda Hamilton) from this relentless assassin.
 
When we first meet her, she’s having a very bad day working as a waitress at a family restaurant.  She mixes up orders, she spills some food on a customer and a little kid dumps a scoop of chocolate ice cream right down her apron.  Her day is about to get worse when she watches the TV.  A 35-year-old mother of two has been killed.  Her name?  Sarah Connor.  With only two other women with that name in Los Angeles, it won’t take long for the ruthless Terminator to track her down and fulfill his deadly assignment.  If only the puzzled Sarah could figure out why all of this is happening.
 
Stripped to its barest essentials, The Terminator is a horror movie that’s all about the thrill of the chase.  There are some tense-filled moments here like the famous scene at the police station, a gripping sequence involving Sarah’s sexy but oblivious roommate or the moment where Sarah is shocked to discover a red laser on her forehead that gives her only seconds to process a situation she never asked to be thrown into.
 
Written by longtime comic book fan Gale Anne Hurd, the film does a good job of quickly establishing the characters and the basic premise.  Linda Hamilton earns our sympathy throughout her ordeal.  Being an overworked waitress in a busy restaurant ends up being a strong training ground for the far more serious ordeal involving her possible assassination.  I liked her chemistry with Michael Biehn who helpfully fills us in on important elements of the plot.  He is an effective action hero.
 
But the movie truly belongs to Schwarzenegger who wisely decided to tackle the role of the heel.  Like Clint Eastwood, The Terminator is a man of few words.  His presence alone is menacing enough.  You frequently wonder how in the hell our heroes are going to stop him.  It’s an iconic performance.
 
That being said, the special effects in the opening sequence look too fake.  Budget restraints hurt its conviction.  And, as expected in movies like this, there are dumb authority figures like Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen) who are slow to understand the dangers that Sarah and Reese are facing.
 
As for the possibility of changing the future by changing the past, that’s an old science fiction convention impossible to explain authoritatively.  The Terminator doesn’t have near enough time to even pause for a philosophical discussion about it.  And quite frankly, why should it?  As I said, it’s all about the chase and that’s reason enough to see it.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
10:39 p.m.
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Published in: on July 2, 2008 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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