Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Terminator (1984) Review

The Terminator, more so than perhaps any film I've seen in my life, deserves to be called a thriller. It's a dark, frightening film about an unstoppable force versus fragile, human love. A pretty basic, done-to-death concept nowadays, but here, it's actually treated with respect. The whole film feels like everyone involved want it to succeed, to be the best that it can, instead of a lazy cash-in or fan fulfilment. It's a passionate, innovative production, amazingly well directed by James Cameron and with a wonderful, all-around solid cast.

Two travellers arrive from a dystopian future war, one from each side. They're both on a mission to find Sarah Connor, the soon-to-be mother of humanity's hero, John Connor. One of the travellers is Kyle Reese, a traumatised soldier sent by Connor himself to protect his mother. The other is the eponymous Terminator, a cyborg killing machine who is sent by Skynet to rewrite history and destroy Connor's resistance. Now, the war comes down to one simple conflict: one family versus a killer who will never give up fighting. Who will be terminated?

Once upon a time, in 1984, Arnold Schwarzenegger was the most terrifying thing on the Earth. A stone-faced, shades-donning hulk with a never-ending supply of awesome weaponry, constantly in pursuit, never giving up. As someone born in the late 90s, I was frankly shocked at how intimidating the cuddly Austrian really was in this film.

As a counterpoint, we have Michael Biehn as the slightly disturbed, but hopeful Kyle Reese, escaping the ravaged future to save the only light of his life, Sarah Connor. Reese is a great character, mysterious, desperate, yet also clearly gentle at heart, trying to find his purpose in life by saving Sarah.

Equally good is Linda Hamilton as everywoman(that can be a term, right?) Sarah Connor, who works as a waitress. I do think that she was a little quick to accept Reese's story, but otherwise, her terror and subsequent trusting of him was absolutely believable.

Apart from the iconic three, we also have an interestingly slimy performance from Earl Boen as the police station's incompetent psychiatrist, who has a great bedside manner, but intends to use Sarah as his ticket to fame. He's an interesting, unique character in that he's both very likable and comforting whilst also being rude and abrupt at the same time.

Finally, Paul Winfield puts in an authoritarian, intelligent performance as the police chief investigating the Terminator's rampage. It's kind of a shame that he got killed, as for a bit part, he was quite memorable.

Here is The Terminator's major drawback: despite the ingenuity behind it all, it looks very dated. Most notable examples of aged special effects would be the Terminator himself, when he has finally rid himself of all his flesh: the movement of the exoskeleton was accomplished via obvious stopmotion and whilst it does make the Terminator somewhat menacing in an unreal sort of way, it's also... well, unreal.

The other would be the scene in which the Terminator recuperates inside an abandoned apartment and removes his human eye. In order to accomplish the scene, an unconvincing Arnold puppet is constructed and it looks nothing like him, of course. To add salt to the wound, there's more stopmotion too.

Fortunately, the stuff that you would expect from other movies back in the day holds up perfectly. All the action, the chases, the car crashes etc. is terrific. Checking online, I also discovered that a fan had counted up that the Terminator kills exactly as many people on-screen as the police chief states work there. That's either amazing for the attention to detail or for the coincidence.

The Terminator is a stone-cold classic and I enjoyed every minute of it. It has a slow, atmospheric, but relentless pace that always keeps you on your toes, just like the villain would and has every cast member give 110%. It might look a bit cheesy on the effects side nowadays, but remains top-notch on every other angle.

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