Time Travel Week Day 2: James Cameron’s The Terminator

Today I watched James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984)


The film opens with a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing in a flash of lightning.  He may appear human, well as human as Schwarzenegger anyways, but he is actually a robot dressed up in living tissue to appear human and he has come from the future with a single goal, kill Sarah Connor.  This Sarah Connor is only a mild mannered waitress though, a typical denizen of her Eighties surroundings, thankfully a human soldier from the future has followed The Terminator, as the robot is called, back in time to protect her.  This is all because she will have a big role to play in a war against the machines in the future when military A.I. known as Skynet will create an army of robots to destroy humanity.  She will give birth to, raise, and train John Connor, a genius commander and savior of humanity.  So now she and the future soldier, named Kyle Reese, must survive the unstoppable onslaught of this near perfect killing machine and find a way to kill it, or no one will be able to stand against Skynet in the future.

Again time travel week brings me to an Eighties classic and again it is a fusion of science fiction adventure with another genre, instead of comedy, this film offers brutal horror.  It’s a slasher film in structure but that classic Frankensteinian theme of our creations getting out of hand and turning on us.  Yet it is far from some neo-Luddite anti-tech message, much like yesterday’s Back to the Future, it is elevated by self awareness and a proper nuanced theme.  Certainly technology is portrayed as something that can be very problematic and the first act of the film is full of machinery failing and getting in the way.  The soundtrack uses modern synth sounds as the focal point of the dangerous atmosphere and, being similar in style to the works of John Carpenter, is the horror sound of the Eighties.  But in the final act the tables are turned and technology becomes necessary to defeat technology, so really tech is not bad, it is it’s application that makes all the difference.

Of course all of this maturity and theme relies heavily on this film first and foremost being a highly entertaining, yet brutal fusion of science fiction, action, and horror, which it totally is.  Schwarzenegger is so intimidating and the horrifying darkness of the looming future he represents infuses every frame of this film.  On the other side of things Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn do solid work with the human protagonists of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese respectively, humanizing an otherwise very bleak story.  Hamilton in particular impresses with her transformation from a typical waitress girl into the world saving badass we will see more of in the sequel.  But before that sequel, let me finish here by offering a final chorus of praise for this intense game of cat and mouse, man against machine, creator against creation, it is as hardcore as they come and never fails to disappoint on a re-watch.  5/5


One thought on “Time Travel Week Day 2: James Cameron’s The Terminator

  1. This film is such a classic. Everything about it still works (well, mostly), from the plot to the performances to even the special effects. I also considered it a sci-fi/horror mashup – especially the scene at the police station – so it was nice to read that someone else shared my interpretation. Interesting point about its score being reminiscent of John Carpenter’s various themes. Not something I realized at the time but can hear them all in my head now.
    Liked your review of Primer as it’s on my list to watch.


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