Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Essentials- "The Terminator" (1984)

The Essentials- #81
The Terminator
This week, I have been reading quite a bit about the new Terminator film coming out next year which will once again attempt to streamline the franchise. Still, at this moment, I am unsure of what to think of this film. I feel James Cameron told the entire story in just two films, and I am not sure if this story was suppose to continue past two entries. There was a grand conclusion before the credits began to roll after "Terminator 2: Judgement Day " that I felt there would never be another Terminator film in the franchise.
Boy, was I wrong.
With this new event on the horizon, I have been thinking of the original two films quite a bit this week. I am remembering just how much I treasure these films. Even though I feel T2 is one of the best sequels ever made, there is so much I love from the original Terminator, and I definitely feel nostalgic from it.
My dad likes to joke that when it comes to futures in movies, they are never happy, they are always revolve around dark, dystopian landscapes. "The Terminator" certainly does not end that streak, but it was definitely one of the first examples of the dark future that I ever saw. The title card which opens  the film, telling us about how the machines rose to prominence cast a big shadow on me. Add the instantly awesome, instantly iconic Terminator score by Brad Fiedel, and I had an experience that really captivated me. The robotic tanks driving over skulls, the technology of the machines and even the humans, it was all very cool. Sure, by today's standards it is fairly low-budget. But there is no denying that at my young age, I was drawn into this very dark world and I thought the glimpses of the future were quite cool.
After that though, I can really identify pieces of "The Terminator" that I found quiet frightening. The idea of a robot going back in time to murder the mother who will give birth to a human messiah is kind of scary to me. Especially a robot that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the 1980's, there was not a single action-star that was built or that carried themselves like Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger has always been an action hero first, and a great actor second. But I felt that playing the T-1000 may have been the perfect fit between actor and acting style. He was able to move, act and talk in a way that felt believable.
Then there is Michael Biehn who plays Kyle Reese and there is Linda Hamilton who plays Sarah Connor. Biehn I also felt was a good fit for Reese, he looks like an action hero and he delivered a performance which made the audience believe in him. Kyle Reese is sent back in time by the humans to protect Sarah, and make sure that her child is born. Little does Reese know that he will be the man who actually fathers the child who will rise to be the human leader against the machines. It is a great role, and I think Biehn did a great job with it. I always liked Hamilton as Sarah. Not only is a good performance by one of my favorite actresses, but her character also paved the way to women badasses. Women were not portrayed as strong individuals much during this time, in fact, the only other big female hero I can think of that came first was Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. Seeing another strong woman in an action movie was a big deal. I like that director James Cameron didn't necessarily create a damsel in distress. Her character was never a blank, never a female character we felt like we knew. Sarah Connor felt different, and that is exactly what this movie needed.
I think its interesting that the first Terminator film really wasn't a big action movie. It felt more like a monster movie than anything. Yes, there were big action beats within the entire movie, and those were quite the spectacle. But, most of the film is a cat-and-mouse game between Schwarzenegger's robot and Kyle and Sarah. I think its interesting that this movie feels more like a horror movie compared to the rest of the franchise. I like that, I don't need an entire franchise of films that works the same way. I don't need a series of films that feel like a copy of the first film. I don't know if James Cameron had a game-plan in mind when he made this first film, but he created something so confident that its hard not to love.

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