Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Terminator (1984)

Poster from Pakistan. Notice the typos!

Director: James Cameron
USA 1984
108 min

This post will probably be more popular among my male readers than the females. But I've said it before, and I say it again - "a classic" is a diffuse expression, and I do want to include classic movies from all different genres and eras in this blog. The Terminator sure is a typical example of a "modern classic". Well, it's a quarter of a century old... But it's anyway just four years older than I am - so if I'm considered young and fresh (I certainly hope so), so should The Terminator be in classic movie terms (and relatively speaking, of course).
So here it is: 1980's science fiction!

It was ages ago since I saw this movie, and I remember it as being totally ridiculous. However, my opinion has completely changed. I don't know if I perhaps never saw the entire movie then, but only about the last third of it. In that case I can't blame myself for thinking that half a robot crawling around on the floor seemed laughable. But maybe I just wasn't mature enough to appreciate The Terminator's cinematic strengths.

So, what are the strengths of the film? For one thing, we almost immediately get to see Schwarzenegger's naked butt. It's really cute. But it doesn't really look proportional in comparison to his Belgian Blue upper body. (Just a trifle.) Luckily enough, the movie is filmed in widescreen, so all his muscles fit on the screen. Phuh.

More seriously, though:
  • The film is obviously well planned - the more you analyze the facts and try to figure out the time travelling and the other technical stuff, the more they makes sense. You get the feeling that there lies a lot of hard work behind the script.
  • The camera work is great. The most impressive angles and compositions are interestingly enough often of the more unimportant details - like the aerial view of a little barking dog, or an iguana climbing around on kitchen shelves. In short, I felt pleased with the cinematography - and that is quite admirable when we consider the fact that this is one of those dark, dirty 1980's action movies.
  • The actors are convincing, even when delivering embarrassing clichés. If they at all were clichés back then, it's possible that the actors didn't need to force themselves to keep from laughter.
  • Even Scharzenegger is immaculate. This is that kind of a role that fits him like a glove. How the hell can he look so blank, so... without any facial expression at all? And his Austrian accent is awesome. But I do wonder: If Ricardo Cortez could arrive to Hollywood from Austria and eliminate his foreign accent, why couldn't Scharzenegger? Does it need mental efforts, perhaps? (Oh, that was just low. Sorry.)

Well, I can at least offer a quick explanation about the plot (even though it's probably not necessary):

In the future, 2029, the world is ruled by machines who want to eliminate the human race. (Anyone making a connection to the Holocaust? Anyone..?) The humans do however start to fight back, lead and inspired by a man with the name of John Connor.

The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) arrives in present time, 1984, with the mission to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton), who will become the mother of the future leader of the human revolt. If she dies before giving birth to him, he will never exist. Like that last sentence was necessary.
Also going back to 1984 from the future is Kyle Reese (Biehn), who belongs to the revolutionists. He needs to save Sarah Connor from the Terminator.

The comic relief is brought in the form of the cynical, tired but substantial Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Winfield), the head of the investigation of several murder victims by the name of Sarah Connor. Oh, and that horrible psychiatrist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen), who must be the most unsympathetic jackass of a doctor I've seen since The Snake Pit (1948) [post]! Was the psychiatric ward that unprofessional still, in the 1980's? He makes me want to strangle someone. Slowly.

Linda Hamilton with director James Cameron.

All in all, this is a really decent action and science fiction. It's far from mindless and idiotic (which many movies in this genre tend to be), and I have few things to complain about. We even have a damn cool heroine, who doesn't whine and bitch like the typical 1980's female leads. And she's not overdoing the I-can-manage-myself-thing neither, like Hilary Swank does. (Yuck.)

Another interesting thing is that I, for once, felt like this movie would do good with a sequel. I want to know more about the fate of the Connors, not to mention how the future will turn out. (Parallel dimensions and all that jazz.) And this opinion comes from one of the most skeptical persons there is when talking about sequels and, God help me, re-makes.

So, what did I not like about The Terminator?
  • Some of the special effects. I know it isn't fair to judge a 25 year old film too harsh on that point, but that is actually one of the very few things about the film that hasn't aged well. When the Terminator fixes himself up after getting smashed up in a car crash, they should have just faked his eye with make up. That rubber head looks ridiculous. But I did like the stop motion in the climax scene - old-fashioned and timeless.
  • That f*cking 1980's pop music! Gaah!
  • And of course, the rest of the over-all horrible taste of that decade.

So that's about it. One thought that struck me while watching one of the future sequences though:
Did anyone else feel like the whole thing with Reese falling in love with a photograph of Sarah Connor was a tribute to Laura (1944)? He gets almost obsessed by the idea of a perfect, admirable woman in a picture - change the photograph to a painting, and there you have it. Tinkling piano music included.

Since I have mostly male friends, I will soon see the rest of The Terminator series. (That's why I saw this one today, by the way.) I will probably not write about them, though. I have high expectations on re-watching T2 (1991), but very low (if even existing) expectations on the other two.
In any case - I'll be back! (Blame my lame sense of humor on me not going to bed early enough...)

Now, a Polish film poster! What would the world do without Poland?


Gnudrun said...

Nice review, Lolita. It's good to see you enjoying fairly recent sci-fi classics. T1 is an awesome movie, although (as you pointed out) it is flawed. Hopefully you'll also like T2 as much as I do -- Linda Hamilton is great as an angry and slightly disturbed Sarah Connor, and Edward Furlong is by far my favorite John Connor. Even Arnold's performance is more solid in T2 (no pun intended).

You don't expect much from Terminator Salvation -- which is a good thing, since it's definitely no T2 -- but to me, Marcus Wright (played by Sam Worthington) is one of the most interesting characters the Terminator universe has produced thus far. Bale overacts, and in places the movie is quite cheesy, but Worthington and the awesome T-600 terminators make it a decent action flick. As AVGN put it, "my eyes were pleased".

This is a bit off-topic, but I must say I'm really looking forward to seeing Worthington's future performances. Avatar seems promising enough, and hopefully Clash of the Titans (with Liam Neeson as Zeus!) will outshine Harryhausen's original version.

Amanda Cooper said...

Great review, Lolita! I agree with your "rants and raves" (although, I do believe that the amazingly awful hairstyles should have received at least one sentence). And don't worry, you're not the only girl who likes Terminator (and T2 is awesome, too!)!

Lolita said...

Thank you!
What is it about Christian Bale and overacting? He really is a good actor, but it doesn't seem that his directors whip him enough. AVGN is awesome.
I'm curious at the remake of Clash of the Titans - the original is entertaining, but almost exclusively because of Harryhausen's creatures. Can't believe what Laurence Olivier did in that movie!

Amanda Cooper:
Yay, you like it too! I included the hairstyles in the sentence "the rest of the over-all horrible taste of that decade." - describing in detail everything disturbingly wrong with the 1980's would have made me deeply depressed. ;)
I will probably see T2 on Saturday!

Mr. S said...

One could compare it to such classics as Total Recall and Commando (also '80s and early '90s). If you're starting to get into the decade of big hairdos and one-liners I suggest you check them out.

Lolita said...

Mr Schwarzenegger:
Thanks for the input, Mr. S! I will totally see much more of your amazing movies. "Running Man" is a masterpiece. Remember that my brother owned a VHS copy of it, simply admirable.

andrew said...

Terminator is so good film and it's fool of joy.I sure that if you see all part of this game then you can get idea that how machines is harmful to us.In first part Arnold is done as the machine man who make worst of the humans.But in other two parts he saves the humans.