We begin the “Terminator Franchise Retrospect” with “The Terminator.” The last time I saw this film was back in High School and I really enjoyed it. On a second viewing it is still good, but I wouldn’t call it truly great. It has a few things working against it both in the looks of the future and in how some character exploration occurs…the main three characters are done really well though.
The film was directed by James Cameron who also wrote the screenplay along with Gale Anne Hurd, who also produced it.
The story involves a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) being sent to the past to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she can give birth to John Connor, the revolutionary who is turning the tide in the war against the machines in 2029. John Connor sends by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect his mother as Sarah Connor tries to make sense of it and survive against the powerful threat.
The Pros: The Premise – A.I. taking over the future and turning on humanity isn’t a new idea but it is presented really cool in this. We see advanced tech. that the Terminators possess versus the rebels who are just holding onto their lives. In this way the time travel plot to prevent or save this future is given power since we know the stakes from the idea.
The Opening – The premise of A.I. (Skynet) taking over in the future and the rebels fighting back and being enough of a threat for Time Travel to be a weapon to end the movement before it starts was really cool. I was drawn in immediately.
The T-800 – The Terminator is a great threat and Arnold Schwarzenegger does a good job of making him feel like a threat. You see it try to blend in but also it’s complete disregard for life and single driven purpose to destroy Sarah Connor. Even after it’s organics are destroyed the robot fights on and is only stopped after it is torn in half and Sarah Connor crushes it.
Kyle Reese – Michael Biehn does a great job as Reese. His Kyle Reese is a man who grew up during the apocalypse and was given hope by John Connor as he grew up in a labor camp before he was finally saved. From here he became friends with Connor and we learn later becomes John’s father when he and Sarah Connor fall in love as they face off against the threat that is so much more powerful than either of them.
Sarah Connor – Sarah Connor’s arc is the arc that drives the series. She is the one in denial over what is going on and over the future but after she is saved by Kyle and saves him on multiple occasions she comes around and after the T-800 kills Reese she vows to live and prepare her son for the coming apocalypse. She goes from someone who was passive and a pushover to someone ready to fight and risk everything for a future where humanity has a fighting chance. It’s a pretty solid arc. Linda Hamilton does a great job.
Okay/Pro: The Action – The action is kind of hit and miss, there are times it is really good like when the T-800 raids the police station and slaughters everyone, and other times where it drags like when they think they’ve defeated it and the robot skeleton is revealed. This part was so chaotic it was hard to know what was going on until the very end when Sarah finally ends it.
Okay: The Script – It is an 80’s action film so there are a lot of catch phrases and one liners so that got a bit annoying after a while, Arnold’s delivery helped but by the end I was laughing over some of the one liners because it took away from the action and made the film feel stilted.
The Soundtrack – The soundtrack was either really good rock n’roll or synthetic sci. fi. sounding music that didn’t always work. For this reason I cannot put the soundtrack as a pro but I won’t put it as a con either.
The Cons: The Police Department – The Police Chief is useless and the police are too as they target Reese and are unprepared for the Terminator at all. They put up a fight at least but they felt expendable, so a waste of characters.
Certain Future Scenes – There were some scenes where the rebels were fighting the Terminators where I didn’t know fully what was going on. I think that they made it too dark and didn’t really keep it focused all the time, which was a detriment as when things were clear it was really cool, especially Skynet’s Tanks and Planes.
This film is a classic and it is well worth checking out if you have never watched it before. Arnold is great as the threatening T-800 and Linda Hamilton is wonderful as Sarah Connor. A lot of the issues can be tied to this being one of James Cameron’s earlier works so him being raw as a director and that it was just him and Gale Anne Hurd working on it, which means there weren’t eyes to flesh out the ideas and writing fully, given that it was just them. I still really like the premise though and can understand why this world turned into a Franchise.
Final Score: 8 / 10