johnlink re-ranks THE TERMINATOR (1984)

I watched THE TERMINATOR two and a half years ago for this blog with the intention of getting through the entire series again. Well, I never followed up. And now that T2 has been on my mind lately, I couldn’t well just go ahead and watch it without seeing the first one again.


I watched THE TERMINATOR (1984) on 5.19.15. It was my fifth viewing of the film, and first since late 2012.

Parts of THE TERMINATOR age beautifully. The story still works. We meet the evil cyborg Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) right away. We also meet his (much smaller) foe Reese (Michael Biehn). Both have come back through time for Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The Terminator wants her dead, and Reese wants to save her. The simple story works, and it plays the appropriate beats wherein the police think Reese is crazy for saying he is from the future only to learn – the hard way – that he is telling the truth. The scene in the police station, with a young Schwarzenegger dismantling dozens of cops, is one of the reasons this movie is still considered an action classic.

The special effects still hold up pretty well, surprisingly, more than thirty years later. Some of the animatronics late in the film show their age, but the early bits with the Terminator removing its eye, revealing the red glow behind it, is a wonderful use of practical effects to bring a moment to life with no loss of believability.

The themes of technology taking over the world also still resonates, even if some of the concepts of ‘futuristic’ computers feels outdated. But hearing Reese lament the increasing need for artificial intelligence by mankind is as much valid in 2015 as it was in 1984, maybe even more so.

What holds THE TERMINATOR back, then, is stuff that Director James Cameron seemingly had control over. It is hard to fault him for his use of synthesized music in 1984, though plenty of movies used more traditional scores, but nothing says 1980s schtick like a pulsating synth score. While the main theme remains justifiably memorable, many of the action sequences feel exponentially less intense when accompanied by such jarring music.

Even less explicable is the performance of Michael Biehn. Reese, as written, is tough but cynical. I think of what contemporaries like Bruce Willis (think DIE HARD) or Kurt Russell (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) might have brought. Heck, even Biehn’s performance a few years later in ALIENS would have sufficed. But, in THE TERMINATOR, Biehn’s Reese comes across as whiny and annoying. His intensity is often placed in a higher register which makes him sound like he is always complaining rather than fighting. When Sarah Connor sleeps with him it feels more like pity than love. And, to be sure, this isn’t the sort of movie trying to revolutionize what it means to be an action hero. Reese, as the script sees him, is a prototypical male hero, albeit a slightly smaller one when put up next to the monstrous Schwarzenegger.

And, to be sure, it is easy to see why this film helped launch Schwarzenegger to stardom. He is asked to speak and emote minimally, but his presence makes every moment he appears feel truly dangerous. While the false demise of his character is a true inevitability of an action flick of this movie, the skinless robot which emerges is much less menacing. It took Schwarzenegger a few tries to get the hero thing right, but he gets the scary villain correct from the start. It is too bad he didn’t go this route more often during his career. He may still have a big heel turn in his future, it would be great to see.

While THE TERMINATOR does hold a spot in sic-fi/action history, I can’t imagine I’ll be rushing to revisit it any time soon. Twice in a span of a few years is enough, and I can probably give this title a rest for another decade or so.




FINAL SCORE: 6.25 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on May 20, 2015.

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