At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Terminator “84”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Science Fiction / Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Bess Motta, Rick Rossovich, Shawn Schepps, Dick Miller, Franco Columbu, Bill Paxton, Brian Thompson, Marianne Muellerleile/ Runtime: 107 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by stating an opinion about mankind as a species that my cynical self has held for quite a while. That of course being the opinion that we as a species are saddled with perhaps the most tragic yet oddly hilarious delusion of superiority that I have ever seen. Indeed be it in our relationships with either nature or technology to name but a couple of bonds we have in the world around us, man always has seemingly seen itself as the better party involved and thus safe from retribution in any sense of the word. Yet what would happen if technology got fed up with us and, coming to see us as a threat, decided to all but annihilate us only to find itself having to resort to some extreme measures in order to ensure it is done both as thoroughly and efficiently as possible? That was the question that in the long gone year known as 1984 was presented to us by an, all but unknown (unless you had seen Piranha 2: The Spawning) film helmer by the name of James Cameron. His answer would take the form of a film known simply as The Terminator. A film that, incidentally, has not only become an in equal measure iconic yet also highly convoluted franchise, but which has since its released become recognized. Not only as a landmark entry in the genre of sci-fi mind you, but also as one of the finest examples of movie magic of the past 50 years. Indeed thanks to phenomenal effects, a cast that is truly spot-on with an instantly legendary and career-making turn from Arnold Schwarzenegger in the titular role, and terrific work behind the camera, The Terminator truly is definitive proof that movie magic really truly is a viable commodity and that some movies will never ever cease to engage and entertain in equal amount.

The plot is as follows: The Terminator starts its riveting story as we see a seemingly regular late night in 1984 Los Angeles thrown for a serious loop by the otherworldly arrival of a pair of mysterious men at different points in the city. Yet while they are both as different as night and day both in terms of how they handle the witnesses to their arrivals, but also in how they procure clothing and other essentials, we soon learn that both of these men do have one thing in common. That would be the fact that they are both looking for a woman by the name of Sarah Connor only to discover there is a trinity of women with that name. We soon see however that the Sarah that they seek is a 19-20 year old young woman whose been working as a waitress and whose future was incredibly uncertain even before these two men showed up. Suffice it to say then that the mystery as to what these enigmatic men want with her let alone just who they are is one that will lead you and our intrepid protagonist on a journey with more than its fair share of surprises and ultimately find her going toe to toe with a ruthless and quite doggedly determined antagonist that has only one interest in this world or any world for that matter and that is no more and no less than her complete and utter annihilation…..

Now when it comes to the work being done behind the camera, I have to say that film helmer James Cameron did a truly phenomenal job in bringing this story to life. I mean it’s clear that this wasn’t given the biggest budget in the world to play with probably because the idea behind the film was one that the major studios might have been unable to fully accept could work especially in the hands of a helmer with only a, at the time, B-grade horror film to his name and a cast that was headlined by a man known more for his accomplishments in bodybuilding rather than acting. Yet be that as it may be what Cameron is able to do with this film in the face of that is absolutely astounding and has made the budget work in his favor by making this film into a lean, mean, and quite visceral movie that feels more like a horror film than an entry in the sci-fi genre especially when taking into account the ominous mood throughout, the pitch black darkness of the narrative, and just the fact that the titular antagonist feels more like an updating of Frankenstein’s Monster. A fact that really comes to play when you learn just what this entity is thus raising some very serious questions about just what limits mankind should place on itself when it comes to the activity of playing God. Yet perhaps more than any other element, besides the amazing theme music and the overall directing of the film by James Cameron would have to be the out of this world effects work done by special effects wizard Stan Winston. I mean I say that because in lesser hands, this movie’s antagonist would have looked like a cheap flimsy effect from some schlocky 50s sci-fi film in the vein of The Blob or something to that effect. Instead however, this movie actually makes the Terminator feel like a real, living, operating entity in a real world setting to the point that he is actually downright terrifying in the scenes where he is operating on himself in a motel room and you see the monster underneath. Suffice it to say it is the stuff that the best kind of nightmares (if such a thing truly exists) are made of.

Now in regards to performances I guess I should just get the elephant in the room addressed right off the bat so that way I don’t have to come back to it again unless I find it absolutely necessary to do so. That of course being that Arnold Schwarzenegger is absolutely and spine tingling perfect in the titular role. I mean there are moments where the actor and the role feel like they were just made to find one another in a beautiful kind of synchronicity and this is most definitely one of them. Yes the character does not have that many lines, but Schwarzenegger not only makes each of those lines memorable and instantly iconic (I’ll be back to name an example), but more importantly he is a truly riveting screen presence just in terms of sheer physicality. I mean this is supposed to be a tough as nails killer organism from….somewhere and the fact that they got a champion bodybuilder in Arnold “Mr. Olympia” Schwarzenegger to fill the role just seems like icing on the cake as it were. Suffice it to say then that The Terminator truly is one of the more ruthless and infamous villains, at least in this installment, that the world of movie magic ever saw fit to gift audiences with to enjoy now and always. Not willing to be outdone by Schwarzenegger, the movie also sees top-flight performances by Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton respectively. Indeed as the guy going up against the Terminator, Biehn’s turn in this is quite the intriguing one seeing as although he is the human warrior to Schwarzenegger’s…..organism he operates in a manner that is eerily similar to his prey thus reflecting the drastic yet essential measures that humanity has had to take in order to simply survive where he comes from. Yes he does have moments of humanity to him, but overall this is one ice-cold and effective performance from an actor who, for some reason or another, has just not been given the same breaks as other actors of his caliber. Now Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor is a very unique part because she is the one member of the main trinity who is supposed to represent a person who is still in full possession of all the emotions and feelings that make up the spectrum humanity is blessed with instead of one who has been reduced down to the solitary pursuit of survival who is then, over the taught how to become a stone cold warrior because of what she learns and goes through on this nightmare. To that end, Hamilton manages to sell both the idealistic, young teenage girl and the hardened combat-worthy warrior we begin to see the hints of at the end beautifully thus making this a truly riveting performance. Thus when you factor those performances as well as game support work from wonderfully dependable character actors Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Dick Miller, and even an early turn from Bill Paxton you are left with a wonderful cast that makes the absolute most of what they are being asked to whilst proving downright essential to making this film true movie magic in the process.

All in all whilst there have been many films about either the potential perils of machine-dependency, the idea of going back in time to save (or destroy) something or someone that could be important to the way things are going in your time, and of course technology just straight up running amok and viciously slaughtering people and engaging in generally terrifying acts of mayhem and anarchy (Chopping Mall from 1986 anyone?) that none of them have been made with the skill and talent that has helped the very first Terminator film stay such an iconic slice of cinematic pie since it came out all the way back in the long gone year known as 1984. Indeed what James Cameron made here was more than just a lean, mean, visceral, and engaging thrill ride, and its leading man a true cinematic icon. He also made a film that is one that will not only have you on the edge of your seat from the very first frame until the credits begin to roll, but also one that will leave you with some surprisingly deep questions to ponder long after the film is over. Questions not only about the power of love, but also about our relationship with technology and if every choice we make affects what could be or if it is as we fear and the future truly is set. Indeed the franchise as a whole may be the most jumbled up complicated puzzle box since the one found in Hellraiser, but at least with this film and the second one not only are no Cenobites summoned (thank God), but we can also see genuine evidence of what the magic that cinema as a medium truly can look like when executed well beyond anything audiences could ever have imagined. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Terminator “84” a solid 4.5 out of 5.