Wednesday, September 28, 2016

THE TERMINATOR (1984) - ****1/2

Rated R
Running time: 107 min.
Release date: October 26, 1984

The Terminator begins with a preface that tells the viewer that machines will wage war against mankind in the future and that the war has now been brought to the present. We get a brief glimpse of that future world where machines drive over and crush human skulls like a tank and flying machines hover over everything. It is a very interesting premise, this war between man and machine. What is even more interesting is that time travel allows the machines to send one of their own back in time to kill the mother of the future's resistance leader. The story presented here keeps you rapt with attention as non-stop action surrounds the entire film. The Terminator is a great story and a well-made film.

In 1984 Los Angeles, the first of two futuristic travelers arrives on the scene. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the first one and he has no problem stomping through inner-city L.A. naked and free. He encounters and dispatches a group of punks and steals their clothes because I guess he realizes that he needs to blend in somehow. Not long after, the second time traveler arrives, and he's a little bit more self-conscious about his nudity and steals some pants from a drunken bum in an alley. The police catch him in the act and pursue him, but the man named Reese (Michael Biehn) successfully evades them.

Both men have torn pages out of the phone book while looking for a woman named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) goes on a killing spree, murdering anyone named Sarah Connor in cold blood. This grabs the attention of the local police as well as the true target, who watches it all unfold on television. She notices Reese following her and believes she is in danger and contacts the police from inside a night club. However, the Terminator has also tracked her to the club and a shootout between the machine and Reese goes down with several civilian casualties. A thrilling high-speed chase through Los Angeles ensues as Reese attempts to explain to Sarah why she is important to the future: she will give birth to a son named John, who will become the leader of a resistance against the future machines. He has been sent back in time to protect her from the Terminator, who has been sent back in time to kill her, ensuring that John Connor is never born.

After a showdown in a parking garage, Reese is arrested by police and the Terminator has fled the scene. We get a pretty fascinating scene of the Terminator repairing itself, as we get to see the masterful makeup effects of Stan Winston firsthand. In a confounding segment of the story, a criminal psychologist (Earl Boen) has been brought in to declare that Reese is paranoid and delusional. After Sarah has seen the killing machine first-hand, this makes the psychoanalysis of Reese rather pointless and is really one of the only drawbacks of the plot. However, it leads to a rather iconic scene where the Terminator shows up at the police station in a most non-subtle manner. Reese and Sarah escape once again, finding a motel to hold up in where they suddenly strike up a romance. This romantic interlude should remind the viewer of the paradoxes of time travel. If Reese is the father of Sarah's child, then John Connor sent his own father back in time to save his mother. It's best not to think too hard about such things. Eventually, we get the final violent showdown between man and machine, as we find out that the Terminator really is unstoppable.

James Cameron directs The Terminator as well as co-authoring the script for a fascinating story. The reported budget for this film was somewhere around $6.5 million and it looks like Cameron milks every cent. The visual effects by Fantasy II are well-crafted and we get the contrast between the future weapons that are equipped with lasers and the present weapons of guns and bullets. The action is almost non-stop and quite exciting. It has to come to a stop for a while, however, to give the characters time to catch their breath and develop. The acting between Michael Biehn and Sarah Connor was quite good for the material. Schwarzenegger himself was quite convincing as a compassionless destructive killing machine.

The Terminator should please fans of action/sci-fi cinema as it is wall to wall action for at least 87 of its 107 minute running time. From the opening scene, the film has all the momentum to breeze to the end. Schwarzenegger only has a few lines of dialogue and that aids in making him a believable cyborg. The score is full of high-energy synths, adding to the mayhem on-screen. The only flaw found on the surface would be the inclusion of the psychologist and his unnecessary analysis of Reese, although some may chalk this up as humor within the context of the story. Although there are paradoxical question to the time travel portion of the story, this is mainly a film where you just sit back and let it take you for an absolutely fun and thrilling ride.

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