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He came back.

The Terminator is one of the truly perfect films in the science fiction genre. Sure, there are temporal paradox/causality loop issues, but you have to handwave that and go along with the premise. And why not? If you’re going to tell a time travel story about what happens when the singularity occurs — and it turns out AI cyborgs decide to eradicate Man — it doesn’t get better than this. Argue all you like, Asimov fans. 😉

This is heart-pounding action with a bit of sweet, wistful romance, some humor, magnificent chase scenes, a great urban 1980s setting, fatal mistakes by a rookie Sarah Connor, sardonic wisdom from the young, war-hardened time traveler, and a really scary unstoppable killing machine.

Everyone showed a spirited commitment to their unlikely roles. There are some interesting early ‘cameos’, like Bill Paxton as a young punk. I still have a crush on Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese (who played the equally awesome but essentially same character in the fantastically-scary-but-delicious Aliens film), and Linda Hamilton will always be my Sarah Connor. Finally, Arnold, as the Terminator, was a revelation (his entire acting and subsequent political career really kicked off right here).

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Some lines might be hokey to modern ears, but I love it all, after all this time, and quote them in daily life. (Here’s three quotes, offhand: “Come with me if you want to live.” “That’s what he does! That’s ALL he does!… And he absolutely will not stop…ever, until you are dead!” And, of course, “I’ll be back.” Duh.)

There’s also an interestingly mechanized score by Brad Fiedel, with the subtle thrumming theme of the Terminator lingering as an iconic sound, recognizable through the entire franchise. (We can debate the various merits of the other Terminator movies/TV shows in the comments section below.)

When the exoskeletal version of the T-800 rises from the flames, it’s a horrifying moment. (Although, if you were aware at all of James Cameron movies, you would expect his signature ‘fake-out’ endings. But hey, they do work.) The scene where a wounded Sarah kills the crawling death robot is gripping, chilling, and deeply satisfying. (“You’re terminated, f@cker.” Yeah.)

The final moment in Mexico is superbly understated, ominous, frightening, and strangely hopeful. “There’s a storm coming.” “I know.” And now I have goosebumps. An enduring film, worthy of RunPee’s Classic Movie Hits List.

Movie Grade – A+

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4 responses to “Movie Review – The Terminator”

  1. This movie is a visceral, pounding, introduction to the Terminator universe, as well as the talent of James Cameron. What stands out to me is that this is a low budget, no stars, and no support production that blew people’s minds away. I saw an interview with Cameron, years after this movie came out, and he said that at night he was sleeping on his friend’s couch — the writer/director didn’t even have his own room.

    Remember that scene where the Terminator punches the car window, gets inside, and steals the station wagon? That scene came about because during editing Cameron discovered that he needed a few more scenes to tie the story together. They didn’t have any money left to get permits for filming, so they snuck out to a parking lot and quickly threw the scene together and then ran off before anyone questioned them. That’s working on a shoe string budget.

    But none of that mattered. In fact, maybe it helped, because Cameron was able to laser focus on the crucial elements that made the story work.

  2. That’s a great, thoughtful comment. Cameron (and Spielberg) have some of the best genre movies of all time. I’m not sure I could name anyone else who comes close. I like Joss Whedon, Bryan Singer, and Ron Howard, and mostly JJ Abrams, but they really aren’t in the same league.

    I didn’t know that about the station wagon scene. lols. That’s low budget. I hope they owned said car. 😉

    The movie looks good despite lacking the budgets that T-2 and subsequent sequels commanded. I totally agree that let Cameron laser-focus on storytelling and characters.

    It’s dated-looking, but not in an irredeemable way. I think it’s worn well over time, although I’m biased and my opinion might not be grounded in reality. I’d have to drag a newbie to see it. I recently showed Sneakers to a newbie (late 80s, with Robert Redford and a stellar cast) and she was pretty critical about the lines, the acting, the “lack of humor” (her words!)…she was like, “I thought you said this was a funny caper!” I replied, “”It IS.” So, maybe for a lot of people it’s a “right place, right time” deal. We’ve seen with Star Wars that you end up liking the trilogy you grew up with. Or you like your first James Bond (mine is Roger Moore), or your First Doctor (Dr Who). Hey, this could all be good fodder for a different article!

    But the Terminator franchise might be different, bc the timelines are kind of scattered and hard to keep up with. There is going to be a new, soft reboot coming, with Linda Hamilton and Arnold again, harkening back to feel of the first two (I think) films. That sounds good to me. I loved the TV series but the movies got confusing after the 3rd one. I’m still not even sure I like the 3rd one, although I’ll say I didn’t dislike it.

    Thoughts on the course of the series, anyone?

  3. […] The Original movie (1984) — I realize that T2: Judgment Day is most people’s favorite Terminator outing, but for me it lacks the excitement and character building — and 80s fun — of the classic first time around. Here’s my enthusiastic rewatch review of the first film where Arnold promised he’d “be back.” […]

  4. […] every Terminator film from 1984 through 2015, and they slot themselves perfectly by year. As in the first being the best, T2 coming close on its heels…and then each one a little (or a lot) less good than the one […]

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