The Terminator (1984)

3 08 2010

As b-movie as this looks, it is just as good!

by NiceDino

I wanted my first post to be something positive, so here is a text about my favorite movie of all time. Enjoy.

I don´t remember how old I was when I watched this movie for the first time, but I still remember how impressed I was by it.

Since then many years have passed. I have to admit that I intentionally avoided to see this movie again as an adult. I was afraid that doing so would destroy my fond childhood memories, since you are much easier to impress when younger. The, meanwhile more than a quarter of a century old, special effects where something I was afraid of too, since your are used to a lot more sophisticated stuff nowadays.

But in the end my curiosity was victorious, which was mostly due to all the new sequels of the franchise, and I watched this movie not too long ago. After all there were two new cinematic releases in the past years, “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “Terminator Salvation”, as well as a TV-Series which consisted out of two seasons.

To my own surprise I came to realize that I still liked the first of the Terminator movies very much. I even liked it more than back then. A fact which I don´t have that very crappy sequel “Terminator Salvation” alone to thank for, but the fact that I wasn´t capable of realizing how well made and unique this movie really was, when I was a kid.

So here is my very personal glorification, why I like this movie that much.


Plot

What shall I say about this? It is really good. For a long time I tended to describe the plot of terminator as simple but solid, but I have to correct this statement right now. The plot is not just good, it is very good. Al least for a motion picture. I´ve seen many movies since then and most other plots are much more scraggy.

It´s a common phenomenon that plots of motion pictures, especially action-movies, are satirized and judged unfairly. Too unfairly. As far as I can tell, this problem originates from the fact, that many people compare movie plots to the plots of books, which is why the first ones always do so poorly. But you shouldn´t do this. After all these two are entirely different mediums. This should always be considered. And for a movie-plot, even more an action-movie-plot, the story of Terminator is really good.

It goes like this: In the future a computer-system called Skynet decides to eradicate the human race because it is a potential threat to him. To do this Skynet triggers a nuclear war. After most of humanity has been killed by this war, the survivors are hunted down by killing-machines, so-called hunter-killers. Skynets plan almost works. However when all hope seems lost a man named John Connor appears. He manages it to bring about a rebound. He saves humanity from extinction and ends the reign of the machines.

But just before Skynet could be beaten it sends a single terminator to the past. The objective of this killing-machine is to kill John Connors mother before he is born. If the terminator succeeds there would be no one to stop Skynet in the future and it would be victorious. But the humans manage to send one of their soldiers back into the past, too. His mission is to protect Sarah Connor, John Connors mother, from the terminator and thus save humanity.


Zeitgeist

Perhaps this is the most important point of all. I don´t know any other motion picture which nailed the spirit of his time so completely like „The Terminator“. Bullseye. If younger people can not appreciate this movie, this could be because they weren´t even around in 1984 and have no knowledge of the situation back then. This is why I will tell you about it right now.

Which problems were there in the mid-eighties, or rather which were not? First of all nobody had to worry about his job. This wasn’t necessary because there were enough available. The economy was healthy. Very healthy. No one had to worry about that at all. Lack of resources wasn´t a problem either. Of course there were statistics that stated that the oil would be gone at some point, but nobody cared about that. For the moment there was enough of it. More than enough. That stuff was considerably cheaper than today, viewed in comparison to an average salary, and everybody could heat or drive around in his car as much as he liked.

My point is: Nobody had to worry about his job, so the people were worried about other things. Since all of us are always worried about something, this something could be something else. A nuclear war for example. Such a thing wasn´t that unlikely back then. The Cold War was still on. The superpowers had filled their nuclear weapons arsenals to the top. Terminator took advantage of that fear and used it very effectively by integrating the scenario of an unlimited nuclear exchange into it´s storyline. Although in Terminator it was the machines which triggered the apocalypse, in the end this doesn´t make any difference.

The second fact, which benefited Terminator, was the appearance of the personal computer which found it´s way into the homes of ordinary people in these days. Of course computers existed even before that time. But not until now they appeared in larger numbers among the common people. For the general public computers were a new technology. Something they had not known before. At least not from personal experience. Yet, as always when something new appears, some people were skeptical, some mistrustful and some even a little bit frightened.

Terminator combined those factors and used them to create a vision of the future, which was very impressive and since the film itself was very good too, this combination was very successful.


Cast

The cast is really very good. All actors are very convincing and embody their parts almost perfectly. But the biggest plus factor is, without any doubt, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The very idea to let him impersonate the terminator, was ingenious. He is the perfect choice for the soulless killing-machine. If someone else would have been cast for this part, this film would never have been this successful.

Even though Schwarzenegger is not considered to be a good actor (which of course he isn´t), this is not really a problem in this movie. What qualifies him for this role are his facial features and his stature. He wasn´t allowed to show emotions anyway. He played a machine after all. At first they wanted a totally different actor (Lance Henriksen) for the part of the terminator. But this one looked far more unimpressive than Schwarzenegger. Within the plot of the movie this makes perfect sense, since the terminator is meant to be an infiltration unit. But ultimately they decided to give it to Arnold, probably because they hoped he would have a more lasting impression on the audience, which he did.


AI – Interpretation

As a fan of SF with an extraordinary affection for AI, or alternatively robots, you have a tough time. At least if you hope to find your steel-made favorites within tv-shows or movies. The two best known SF-franchises worldwide, STAR WARS and STAR TREK, tend to ignore this subject almost completely. STAR WARS even goes that far to exclude the very concept of AI entirely. They always have a bunch of droids running around, but it is stated very clearly and at many occasions that they are not really intelligent, but relatively crude constructs. Of course STAR WARS belongs to the SF-sub-category of the Space Opera and therefore a serious debate about this subject should not be expected. But it is a pity none the less.

Even if you come across a movie or series including robots, these are typically displayed with at last one of two basic bugs. They are a: either dumb like a potato or b: simply plain evil. Often enough both.

Bad news for everyone of us who likes these adorable tin cans. And since you have to choose between the two I normally prefer b, because stupid artificial intelligences are just to inconsistent for me.

Now the terminator comes into play. Although a killer-robot this one at least is an intelligent one. It never leaves you under the impression that it is a retard. It is logical, efficient and displays result-oriented actions. It does what it has to do. Nothing more. It is no standard movie villain. It doesn´t steal sweets from little kids simply to annoy them and it doesn´t tell anyone about it´s master plan before killing him. Why should it even consider to do something like that? This would be stupid anyway.

Even though the terminator does not understand most human traits that doesn´t make it look stupid but rather alien. Alien and inhuman, which of course it is. Although sometimes used as an element of humor it is also a very effective element of horror. Never tell a terminator “only over my dead body” because it is going to kill you in the process.

Twenty-six years after this movie has been released it is still one of the few of the genre which displays an AI in a plausible way. That speaks in it´s favor. Even today.


Director

The Terminator“ is an author’s film. This means that almost all artistic aspects of this movie were essentially crafted by the director and that he can be viewed as the exclusive author and owner of it. And who was that director? No one less than James Cameron. Do I have to say more? I don´t think so. But I will mention an example I like in particular and which shows how a good writer can establish a certain flair and add to the message of the movie even by using seemingly trivial words.

While the terminator is searching through the apartment of one of it´s victims a telephone call is coming in. An answering machine activates and plays the following message: “Hello? Ha, fooled you! You are talking to a machine! But it´s okay, don´t be shy. Machines need love too!” THIS is simply ingenious. It perfectly fits the theme of the movie and is none the less an authentic answering machine message. Even more since these machines were relatively new back then.


Soundtrack

The Terminator” was a low-budget-movie. Considered by the standards of it´s time and even more so by today’s standards. Cameron had only 6.4 Million Dollars at his disposal to produce this flick. This is why the entire soundtrack (by Brad Fiedel) was made on a synthesizer. Cameron simply couldn´t afford an orchestral soundtrack. Ironically this benefits the movie a great deal. Because the music of this motion picture is so obviously artificial and hard in tone it fits the subject-matter perfectly and even intensifies it´s effect on the audience.


The cyborg-issue

The only thing which used to bug me a little bit about terminator was the fact that the terminators always referred to themselves as cyborgs, which they are not. Of course such a thing can only matter to a fan of SF. Others wouldn´t even recognize it. Of course you could argue about the specific definition of the term “cyborg”, but for me the classic definition of Isaac Asimov is mandatory. The terminators are robots. It´s as simple as that.

However I can imagine that Cameron didn´t refer to the term robot intentionally. Since it is associated with diverse b-movie-robots. You know what I mean. The “destroy-destroy-shouting-type” which are also very slow and stupid. Perhaps this is why he picked the term cyborg. Be that as it may, this little word doesn´t make the movie better or worse anyway.


Conclusion

Even though “The Terminator” is my favorite movie I can´t recommend it without restrictions which is due to his action and special effects which, by today’s standards, must be referred to as obsolete. Needless to say this is caused by the films age and to be expected, but especially the special effects, thanks to the high quality of DVD-playback can be quite disappointing for younger audiences.

The special effects used were, for the most part, models, blue-screens, and stop-motion. Anyone who can´t take something like that should stay away from this movie. For me this was never a problem since the effects are made with much devotion to detail and I have enough imagination left to support them.


Thanks for reading. And don’t miss out on the Part II.

NiceDino ^^

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6 responses

12 10 2010
Colossus – The Forbin project (1970) « This would be more awesome with lasers

[…] is however one reason to watch this film. As I stated in my text about the first Terminator movie I´m a huge fan of AI´s. I also said that they are usually portrayed as either stupid or […]

21 04 2011
Judgement Day! « This would be more awesome with lasers

[…] The Terminator by NiceDino […]

20 05 2011
20 05 2011
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) « This would be more awesome with lasers

[…] there, this is NiceDino again. Last time I wrote about the first Terminator movie and for the moment I´ll try to be a little consistent, so here is a text about the second […]

21 05 2011
Just terminate those plans for now! « This would be more awesome with lasers

[…] Terminator 1: Judgement Day will happen. The question is if some survive afterwards. […]

13 06 2011

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