The Terminator (1984): Breakdown by Kain424
In the future, man and machine are nearing the end of a hard-fought war. Seeing their closing demise, the machines send an assassin back in time to kill the mother of the man that’s lead to their downfall, and the humans send Michael Biehn back to stop it.
As both the writer and director, James Cameron seems to understand how to make something both grim and cool. The Terminator is, stylistically, an attempt at horror, noir, science fiction, and Action. I’m not saying it succeeds on all accounts, but the result is very impressive, even twenty five years later.
Most interesting, is that the antagonist takes on an emulative quality, and becomes an embodiment of the audience’s visceral and inhibited desires. He is an invincible machine, heavily goal-oriented, that acts without any perceived consequences. Schwarzenegger plays the part with underrated intensity, at times moving like a shear force of will, and at others with the static, electronic motions of a surveillance camera. If anything, the film is an excellent showcase of Arnie’s skills with a gun, and his charisma (even in the role of a villain) as a star. You want to see more of him, and he remains a powerful force even when off-screen.
The Action sequences are evenly spaced throughout the film, and Cameron seems to enjoy building up to each one with high moments of tension, like a snake about to strike. Once an Action scene begins, it quickly elevates into carefully edited chaos. There are gunfights, shootouts, and car chases. For a first-time Action director, Cameron seems to know what he’s doing.
Add to that Brad Fiedel’s excellent synthesized score and the whole thing is given a very powerful, mechanical quality, with an epic tone. Fucking classic.
The film is really a chase movie, and because most moments of levity were edited out of the final product, it feels a bit like it never lets up. This creates thrills of a rare kind and also one of the best false endings in film history. The Terminator has a gritty feel to it, and the movie’s violence helps pitch the overall feel of everything from sci-fi Action more towards horror territory.
[HOW BAD-ASS ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS?]
Arnold Schwarzenegger is The Terminator, T-800 Model 101
Built like a tank and just as powerful, the Terminator is frightening and awesome at the same time. He single-handedly takes on an entire police station filled with cops and wins. In fact, the Terminator survives dozens of gunshots, a motorcycle crash, being hit by a semi-truck, plastique bombs, and even an exploding tanker. He just keeps coming. There’s a reason Arnie is so well connected to this role.
“It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity! Or remorse! Or fear! And it absolutely will not stop! Ever! Until you are dead!”
Michael Biehn is Kyle Reese
Reese is a bad-ass from the future. It is shown that he spends his days fapping to a photo of Sarah Connor, but by nightfall, he leads missions into the rubble that once was L.A. to do battle with giant robot tanks and flying mechanical warships. Sure, next to the Terminator he looks weak and nonthreatening, but the guy can hold his own against cops and even dares to face-down the Terminator without a gun. Dumb, or bad-ass? It’s a thin line–You decide.
Linda Hamilton is Sarah Connor
Sarah remains the damsel-in-distress for much of the film, effectively annihilating her case for bad-assitude until the final part of the film. With her sole protector/newfound fuckfriend losing his strength through bullet holes, it’s up to her to find the inner and outer strength to keep going. For the last ten minutes or so, we are privy to a pretty bad-ass woman being pretty cool.
[THE BODY COUNT: 46 PEOPLE, 2 DOGS, AND 1 T-800]
Arnold’s model 101 Terminator kills 30 people, and several others die in flashback scenes of a dismal future. The terminators of the future are just as deadly, and kill half as many there, as well as the dogs that detect them.
[MOST SATISFYING DEATH]
Brian Thompson manages to land a strike with a switchblade on a naked Arnie. He pays for it with his life as the Terminator punches through his stomach and breaks his god-damn spine.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
Arnie walks around naked for a bit, but the only love scene featured in the film is between a man and a woman. I blame the fact that the 80s were not yet in full swing.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
We get both sides of the feminine coin here, as Sarah Connor goes from a ditzy waitress to a stoic, mother-of-the-savior-of-mankind in about two hours. Points for progress, I guess. Still, you do get to see her ta-tas.
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
Sarah Connor thinks she is being followed. Finally getting a hold of the police, they tell her to stay in a public place so she’ll remain safe. Sarah camps out in a crowded nightclub, but calls her home to tell her roommate where she is. This alerts the Terminator to her whereabouts, and he is anything but afraid of crowds. In the next scene he is shown, already at the club. A bouncer tries to stop him from entering and Schwarzenegger crushes the guy’s fucking hand without showing a modicum of worry.
The way Arnold nails the scene is in his ability to sell the Terminator’s complete and inhuman focus on his mission that, we the audience, know as well as the T-800. It’s an excellent moment, and my favorite of the film, as it more than adequately says everything about the Terminator, while still leaving us wondering about him.
As for one-liners, there are aplenty, but I’ll go with the scene that made the film famous. Schwarzenegger is denied entry into a police station, but he surveys the area for a brief moment, then leans in and intones threateningly, “I’ll be back.”
What’s great about this one-liner is not that it follows an epic action scene, but that it promises one to come. And come, it does. For the next several minutes, the Terminator mercilessly guns down an outmatched police force in a sequence that wouldn’t be rivaled in the annals of bad-assery until 15 years later in The Matrix.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Keep your chin up, you have no idea what you might be worth in the future. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is nearly impossible to kill.
[THE SIGNS OF SCHWARZENEGGER: 5 outta 5]
[X] Performs A Ridiculous Feat(s) of Strength
[X] Says, “I’ll be back.”
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Unnecessarily Violent Opponent Dispatch
[X] Wields A Big Gun or Sword With One Arm
[THE CHECKLIST: 17 outta 25]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[X] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[ ] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[ ] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[X] Unnecessary Sequel [Terminator 2: Judgment Day]
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice