The Terminator

1984, Movie, R, 108 mins

Review

TERMINATOR, THE
starstarstarstar
Back before Arnold Schwarzenegger's ascendence to his current status as Hollywood's designated Action Hero of choice, husband to Kennedys, and buddy of presidents, he was still willing to play villains. As such he made an indelible impression as the titular character of THE TERMINATOR. This was the film that demonstrated to the dubious everyone that the musclebound fellow with that outrageous accent might be more than just another passing blip on our pop culture radar screens. The sleeper hit of fall 1984, THE TERMINATOR is an intelligent, smoothly crafted, and stylish low-budget science fiction action movie that astounded fans of the genre. This was an enormous career booster for writer-director James Cameron (ALIENS, THE ABYSS, TERMINATOR 2) as well as stars Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton (TV's cult favorite "Beauty and the Beast" and TERMINATOR 2).

The movie opens in the hellish Los Angeles of the year 2029. We see a world destroyed by nuclear war and run by sophisticated machines that have decided to obliterate the weak humans who created them. The action then shifts back to Los Angeles in 1984. In two separate locations, two men--the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn)--materialize out of what appear to be small electrical storms and wander off into the night. The next day, after having stolen several deadly weapons and a car, the Terminator looks up the name "Sarah Connor" in the phone book. There are three Sarah Connors listed. The stoical mystery man sets off to kill each of them. Two of the women are killed, but the third (Linda Hamilton) has gone out for the evening. Noticing she is being followed by Reese, the nervous Sarah ducks into a nightclub aptly named Tech Noir and tries to disappear into the crowd. But the Terminator has traced her to the nightclub. Fortunately for her so has Reese. From him Sarah will learn about her destiny and that of the human race.

THE TERMINATOR is an amazingly effective picture that becomes doubly impressive when one considers its small budget. Looking better than most big-budget efforts, it contains dozens of impressive visual effects, including some very good stop-motion animation. For our money, this film is far superior to its mega-grossing mega-budgeted sequel. This is fresh, exciting, and surprisingly witty viewing. Like most genre films made post-STAR WARS, it alludes to many other works. However, this film went a bit further than most. The producers were successfully sued by cult fantasy author Harlan Ellison who claimed that significant chunks of plot and imagery were lifted from two of his celebrated teleplays for "The Outer Limits," a beloved science fiction series from the early 1960s. The two episodes in question are "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand." Anyone who has seen those episodes will readily agree that THE TERMINATOR took its homage a bit too far. leave a comment

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The Terminator
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