Monday, August 10, 2009
The Terminator: A Review
The Terminator is a rarity in films today: an action/sci-fi film that is both entertaining and intelligent. James Cameron probably did not imagine that when he co-wrote and directed the film that it would spawn an ever-expanding franchise. Despite being a bit dated The Terminator still holds up extremely well, thanks to excellent performances and a logical story.
Two beings are sent from 2029 to 1984 Los Angeles: The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). The former is a cyborg sent on a mission to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the future mother of the leader of the Resistance, John Connor. The latter is a soldier sent by John to protect Sarah.
Sarah becomes terrified when two women with her same name have been murdered, unaware of the danger she is in. As both Terminator and Reese continue struggling for Sarah, including a massive battle at the police station Sarah has taken refuge in, we get twists and turns as the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.
This is the film that made Arnold a one-name star, with just three words to put him in a league of his own. Contrary to myth and impersonators, "I'll be back" was, to my ears, pronounced rather normally, albeit robotic which was the correct interpretation. I didn't hear "Bach" but "Back", but that somehow has entered into the American lexicon.
His performance was pitch-perfect for the character he plays: he's suppose to be a machine, and he speaks his lines like a machine. In the movie, he's a terrifying force: an unfeeling, unreasoning killing machine that won't be satisfied until it destroys what it came to destroy. His relentless pursuit and inability to be reasoned with is what gives the film the extra sense of terror: nothing apparently can stop him.
Linda Hamilton makes her first turn as Sarah Connor a vulnerable woman, caught in circumstances she can't possibly understand but realizing that she has to live, to survive. This is at the heart of the picture: her unwillingness to be killed versus the Terminator's inability to let her live.
Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese brings both strength and a hint of sadness to the role, fitting for someone who has lived his whole life in a post-apocalyptic world.
I've had my issues with Cameron (Titanic being a major source of consternation), but when it comes to science-fiction films, he is among the best. The plot makes sense, and the performances both large and small such as Paul Winfield as a cop investigating the killings of the Sarah Connors, are effective and efficient.
Also, the special effects still hold up quite well despite the advances of technology. The visual effects also do something that a lot of films with more elaborate effects cannot: they serve the story rather than showcase the technology itself.
The world of the Terminator has taken on a life of its own. There are now Terminator-based television shows and even a Universal Studios experience. It's tapped into the fear of the future many people have, of technology run amok, but also into the belief that the future is not written and can be changed.
The Terminator, as a film, does its dual jobs well. It tells a fascinating story well and in an entertaining manner. It may have started a franchise but divorced of that expanded universe The Terminator is still a strong action/science-fiction film that stands on its own merits.