The Terminator

“Your world is pretty terrifying.”

Summer of ’91 origins: THE TERMINATOR

The only review I’ve written of the original THE TERMINATOR was in 2007 – so out of date it was combined into a review of the “trilogy” and framed as a response to THE TRANSFORMERS. There are some good observations and funny lines in that review, but I’m a smarter person now and I think there’s way more to say about the movie. So I thought I should take another crack at it before we get to its sequel in this Summer of ’91 retrospective.

In the fall of 1984, director/co-writer James Cameron exploded into filmgoer-consciousness with a stylish and imaginative little sci-fi chase movie called THE TERMINATOR. Made on about a fifth of the budget of the recent hit GHOSTBUSTERS and released by outsiders Hemdale (VICE SQUAD, TURKEY SHOOT) and Orion Pictures (MAD MAX, THE HAND, ROCK & RULE), it nevertheless immediately announces itself as a force to be reckoned with. The quiet, world-establishing text, the nightmarish glimpses of futuristic combat between man and machine, the absolute all-timer of a theme by Brad Fiedel (JUST BEFORE DAWN) and the slow reveal of the logo (title design by Ernest D. Farino, who later did GODZILLA 1985, CRITTERS, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, ALIEN NATION, THE ABYSS and NEMESIS) all set the mood for a genre movie of unusual ferocity. Not bad for a guy who had only directed PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING.

Okay, I actually think that movie is better than its reputation. But I frame it that way because the majority of Cameron’s filmography since has been made up of some of the most ambitious, expensive and highest grossing movies of their eras. It’s hard to think of him as what he was at that time: a 29-year-old beginner trying to break out from the model workshop at Roger Corman Studios.

Admittedly, the $6.5 million budget (increased thanks to the participation of CONAN THE BARBARIAN breakout star Arnold Schwarzenegger) was gigantic compared to some of the other indie genre stuff playing in theaters at the same time, such as THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, MISSING IN ACTION and NIGHT OF THE COMET. But Cameron’s story of a war with the future also held its head high next to a range of more costly 1984 sci-fi releases: RUNAWAY ($8 million budget), ICE PIRATES ($9 million), FIRESTARTER ($12 million), THE LAST STARFIGHTER ($15 million), STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK ($16 million), THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION ($17 million), STARMAN ($24 million), 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT ($28 million), SUPERGIRL ($35 million) and DUNE ($45 million).

Some of its robot and war machine effects, done with miniatures, stop motion animation and mechanical puppetry, may seem goofy by modern standards, but they were ambitious for the time and budget. Cameron started from the idea of a skeletal robot with a skinny waist that couldn’t possibly be a man inside a costume, coming out of a burning tanker truck, and worked backwards to create the story of the skin grown over that skeleton, a deadly assassin sent back by machines of the future to kill the mother of the human who “taught us to smash those motherfuckers into junk.”

The mother, of course, is Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME, CHILDREN OF THE CORN). The film first cuts to her after a shot of the Terminator’s finger pointing at the three Connor, Sarahs listed in the L.A. phone book. In contrast to today’s idea of the muscular badass Sarah Connor, she’s riding a scooter, wearing Guess jeans and a pink backpack, running late for her waitressing shift. She has a pet lizard named Pugsley and (in a jokey bit of irony for a dystopian future movie) sometimes wears a Jetsons t-shirt.

The T-101 Terminator played by Schwarzenegger (only four years after his 7th and final Mr. Olympia victory) is famously lightning zapped into ’84 butt ass naked, and obtains a menacing outfit thanks to bumping into three bullying punk rockers played by Bill Paxton (TAKING TIGER MOUNTAIN), Brian Thompson (two years before playing the Night Slasher in COBRA) and Brad Rearden (THE SILENT SCREAM). Paxton’s blue-haired, tire-print-face-painted character is considered “Punk Leader,” but it’s Rearden’s outfit (including studded and chained coat) that the cyborg takes for himself. I always wonder if a Terminator would end up in a ridiculous outfit if it was the first thing he could find. If not, like, a goofy hot dog vendor uniform or a t-shirt with iron-on letters saying “WHO FARTED?” then maybe something very 1984 specific like a “Where’s the Beef?” t-shirt or a Jacksons Victory Tour souvenir crop top. Arnold was in peak form, though. He’d probly make that look good.

When the second naked guy from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, HOG WILD) shows up he breaks into a store to steal a trenchcoat and Nikes. He’s human, so he has specific tastes, and he chooses well. Also steals a shotgun from a parked police car. That takes balls.

I’m not sure if I never thought about it this way before, or if I just forgot, but it occurs to me on this viewing that it’s designed to leave you thinking that Reese is or at least might be another threat. He’s following Sarah to protect her, but it seems like he’s stalking her too until the Terminator catches up to her at Tech Noir, and Reese fills it full of bullets and tells her, “Come with me if you want to live.”

Tech Noir is a hell of a location, by the way – the bar/dance club with corrugated metal walls and metal grate tables, lit by police lights. It’s a style and name that perfectly evoke the vibe of the movie itself and the aspects of 1984 aesthetics it exemplifies. And it’s fitting that it’s inside this future-themed hot spot that she meets an actual guy from the future and steps into the scary new reality that will be the rest of her life.

One thing that I don’t think ever occurred to me about THE TERMINATOR is how much it must’ve been influenced by another outstanding-indie-sophomore-directorial-effort-turned-smash-hit-and-cultural-phenomenon, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. I don’t think of THE TERMINATOR as a horror movie at all, but it pretty much is one. The Terminator is like Michael Myers in that he’s this quiet, inhuman killing machine, we watch him obtaining his clothes and weapons, searching and stalking his target [okay, Laurie being the target was retroactively added by the sequel, but just go with it]. And we keep cutting back to said target, a normal and even somewhat meek young woman living a normal life worrying about boys and jobs with no idea the crazy shit that’s about to happen. And when the crazy stuff does happen, the killing machine takes gunfire and other damage and keeps walking, or seems to die but then sits back up in the background.

Reese is a little bit like Loomis in that he’s a guy in a trenchcoat who’s the only one who really knows about the threat and is trying to find/stop it, and when he tells the cops his story they (understandably) think he’s crazy. Also, Reese’s classic line “That terminator is out there, 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!” has kind of the rhythm and wonderfully melodramatic flair of Loomis dialogue like “I watched him for fifteen years, sitting in a room, staring at a wall, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall, looking at this night, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him off. Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now, you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.”

Another parallel is that both get a whole atmosphere and power from a great, distinct synth score that’s not trying to sound like anything other than synths. Well, maybe clanging metal in this case. The styles are totally different, but they could maybe be distant cousins or something.

There’s one part in THE TERMINATOR that is straight up slasher movie tropes. Almost everything with Sarah’s roommate Ginger (Bess Motta, an aerobics instructor who had played a nameless hooker in Boaz Davidson’s SEED OF INNOCENCE) could be lifted and placed into HALLOWEEN with no changes. Her goofball boyfriend Matt (Rick Rossovich, STREETS OF FIRE) mistaking Sarah for Ginger on the phone and talking dirty to her, Ginger having a date while Sarah’s got cancelled, Ginger telling her she deserves better – that’s all straight up Laurie-Strode-and-her-friends stuff. After Ginger and Matt have sex, Ginger goes to the kitchen to make a big sandwich, and because she’s listening to music, dancing and lip-synching, she doesn’t hear the Terminator killing her boyfriend in the other room. There’s even a fake out scare with Pugsley the lizard. It’s an exact duplicate of a classical slasher movie sequence, except with Michael or Jason replaced by a robot who carries a shotgun and throws people around with even more force than those slashers would.

And Schwarzenegger’s performance – which showed CONAN wasn’t a fluke and helped turn him into one of the biggest stars in the world – is basically a slasher performance. He does some robot talking but mostly it’s physical, all about posture, stillness, movement, and stunts. A great performance, but not yet a sample of the charisma or nuance that we’d see in future Arnold movies. (In the ‘80s and even ‘90s people would’ve laughed at saying Schwarzenegger or his movies had any nuance, but they would’ve been wrong. In some ways we’ve grown wiser.)

There’s also kind of a horror version of an action trope. The Terminator does self-surgery, like Rambo and so many others. But instead of just cutting out a bullet and/or stitching himself up, he slices his forearm entirely open with an X-acto knife and manipulates the skeletal mechanisms inside. Then he removes an entire injured eyeball. It’s gross!

Another great horror-meets-action moment: the tanker runs straight over the Terminator (like the hitchhiker in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE), and the cyborg holds onto the bottom of the truck (like Indy in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK).

But it seems less like a slasher and more like sci-fi action when the action climax is also a special effects extravaganza. Schwarzenegger as the Terminator is blown up with the tanker, the movie could be over, except his metal skeleton emerges, still alive, to continue the battle. The effects were provided by Fantasy II Effects, who had done SILENT RAGE, The Powers of Matthew Star, SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE and GREMLINS. Stan Winston (makeup artist on GARGOYLES and DRACULA’S DOG) was catapulted to legend status with his creation of the full sized Terminator robot. (His Cameron association continued with ALIENS and T2 and he also directed the movie ride T2 3-D: BATTLE ACROSS TIME.) The stop motion version of the robot was animated by “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, an animator for Gumby, Davey & Goliath, the Pillsbury Doughboy and Chuckwagon dog food commercials who by the way was also an original member of The Flying Burrito Brothers and played pedal steel guitar for Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder and many others.

I sincerely think it’s beautiful and inspiring to know there was a guy named Sneaky Pete who animated Gumby and the Terminator and played steel guitar on Songs in the Key of Life. They don’t teach you that in school.

The puppet was very hard to animate because it was two feet tall – only four inches shorter than Chucky. (I think it could take him.) It was built by fellow Gumby veteran Doug Beswick, who later did stop motion for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 (iconic scene), EVIL DEAD 2, BEETLEJUICE and CABIN BOY.

The incredibly believable tanker truck explosion was actually a 7 foot long miniature blown up in the company’s parking lot by Joe Viskocil, who had done similar work on STAR WARS, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and GHOSTBUSTERS, and would soon do the nuclear explosion for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Cameron seems to have thought of the Terminator as sort of an anti-authority or nihilistic wish-fulfillment figure, telling Cinefantastique in 1985 that “it has great cathartic value to people who wish they could just splinter open the door to their boss’s office, walk in, break his desk in half, grab him by the throat and throw him out the window, and get away with it. Everybody’s got that little demon that wants to be able to do whatever it wants, the bad kid that’s not gonna get punished.” But I think he also taps into the fear of police when he has the Terminator impersonate them. One shot starts on the painted motto “To care and protect” on the side of a police car, then pans across to show the Terminator driving; Sarah seeing the police car in her rear view mirror reminds you of that “oh shit, are they coming for me?” feeling.

The actual police aren’t much help. Their psychiatrist Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen, 9 TO 5) is an unprofessional prick who yawns while meeting Sarah, has a beeper go off while interviewing Reese, makes fun of Reese to his face, brags about being able to exploit him, and joins officers in laughing at a tape of his interview. Poor Sarah sits in a room with four men who are wrong, and tries to convince herself they must be right.

Lieutenant Traxler (Paul Winfield, TROUBLE MAN, DAMNATION ALLEY, WHITE DOG) seems serious and sincere, and I love Winfield’s little bits of actorly business – obliviously stirring his coffee inches away from an officer grappling with a suspect, asking for a cigarette while he’s already smoking one – but he fails to stop the Terminator and only interferes with Reese. As an example of how unequipped for the situation Traxler is, he tells Sarah she’ll be safe at Tech Noir because she’s visible in public, then the Terminator storms right in and shoots at her in front of everybody. Later Traxler tells her she’s “very safe” at police headquarters because “we got 30 cops in this building,” then the Terminator comes and shoots pretty much all of them. This leads to what a news report calls the largest law enforcement action in California history trying to find the guy, but it’s still Sarah and Reese (and ultimately only Sarah) who have to take care of everything.

When Sarah gets the Terminator into a hydraulic press that will finally stop him in his tracks, she says “You’re terminated, fucker!” Personally I would’ve waited until after he was flattened before saying it, but obviously she knew what she was doing. Anyway, I bring it up because that’s a line Arnold would say – except not at that point, right? Either Arnold one-liners came after Sarah Connor one-liners, or she travelled into the future and saw COMMANDO.

The anti-establishment themes, and many other aspects, will be elaborated on in subsequent Cameron films. For example there are numerous ties between THE TERMINATOR and his next film, ALIENS: cast members Paxton, Biehn and Lance Henriksen; little orphan girls in the future scenes who could be auditioning to play Newt (I love that one is watching flames inside an empty TV frame); the Terminator robot cut in half and its torso still crawling around like will happen with Bishop; even closeups of a yellow dumpster-lifting garbage truck that must’ve inspired Ripley’s power loader. More substantively, Ripley tries to tell the authorities about the threat of the xenomorphs, they don’t take it seriously, all the guns and swagger of the know-it-all professionals get completely decimated, Ripley handles it on her own and is left solemn but hopeful as she drifts into an uncertain future.

I think ALIENS was Cameron’s first perfect film, but THE TERMINATOR was his first great one, and it only took him six or seven years to get there – half as long as the gap between AVATARs 1 and 2. After seeing STAR WARS in 1977, Cameron quit his job as a truck driver and made Xenogenesis, which has been described as a short, but seems more like a sales pitch for a feature.

It’s about a large scary robot on tank treads that seems to be accomplished with a combination of mechanical puppetry and stop motion animation. Meanwhile he built up his skills working as a P.A. on ROCK ’N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, building models for Corman, doing visual effects for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and designs on ANDROID, being art director of BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and production designer of GALAXY OF TERROR. First hired to do effects for PIRANHA II, he took over for original director Miller Drake (who later did visual effects work for THE ABYSS, T2 and TRUE LIES) but the movie was taken away from him by the producers, and he had a stress nightmare that inspired THE TERMINATOR.

As I discussed in my review of RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, Cameron actually sold THE TERMINATOR and then wrote RAMBO and ALIENS for money while waiting to film it. Before anybody even knew this movie was gonna work! I don’t know if it was that it-boy status that did the trick, but he got along with the producers this time. He told Cinefantastique that he’d rejected a suggestion to give Reese a robot dog, but followed one about emphasizing the romance between Sarah and Reese because he thought it was a good idea. Sure enough, there’s a pretty involved sex scene set to a piano version of the main theme. In narration at the end Sarah says that she “loved a lifetime’s worth” in her few hours spent with Reese. (For more information see the deleted scene “Tickling Reese.”)

Producer Gale Anne Hurd (who was married to Cameron at the time) had also been a p.a. on ROCK ’N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and then assistant production manager on BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. She’d had gigs on HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, SCREAMERS and ALLIGATOR before co-producing SMOKEY BITES THE DUST. After her TERMINATOR success she produced three more Cameron classics plus ALIEN NATION, TREMORS, RAISING CAIN, ARMAGEDDON, HULK, THE PUNISHER, HELL FEST and The Walking Dead. She’s credited as co-writer here, but otherwise has not worked as a screenwriter. (IMDb says she will for a live action Aeon Flux tv series she’s producing. Time will tell.)

Even after having sat with Reese’s description of the future for a while, Sarah asks “Are you sure you have the right person?” Just yesterday she was being talked down to by rude customers at the diner, and she can’t picture how tomorrow she could be a mom training her kid how to overthrow our future mechanical oppressors. But there she is in the epilogue, pregnant, gun in lap, dog in the back seat, driving a Jeep Renegade through Mexico, looking for a place to set up shop, seeming like a new woman. You never know what you’re capable of, what you could accomplish, where your life could go, or how good of a sequel you could star in in seven years. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 24th, 2021 at 1:05 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “The Terminator”

  1. This is such a good movie. I still remember seeing it in the theater in ’84. At the time, Escape from New York was only a few years old but The Terminator followed in its footsteps with a bleak sci-fi setting populated by memorable characters and a threat that was both monumental and potentially world-ending, but also very personal for the protagonists involved.

    Linda Hamilton is so good, taking her character from overworked waitress to toughened survivor over the course of the film. She wasn’t the bad-ass that she would become in T2, but you could see the foundation of that character emerging by the end of the first film. It was really excellent casting all around, though. I do think Schwarzenegger is much better here than he is as Conan. In that film he pretty much portrayed a bodybuilder with a sword, but here he was menacing and a real presence on the screen.

    It’s always fun to revisit this one. I’m going to have to watch it again this Summer. I’m just afraid that when I do I’ll now have a nagging voice in my head asking, “How the hell did Starman cost $24 million?!!”

  2. I have a real soft spot in my heart for the simple movies that go on to lead a series where they get bigger and more complex – this, ALIEN, PITCH BLACK, JOHN WICK, etc. I like the clean, uncomplicated stories that blast you with their excellence. And Sarah and Reese’s love story still breaks my heart.

  3. grimgrinningchris

    June 24th, 2021 at 3:31 pm

    My older sister used to do Bess Motta’s “20 Minute Workout” every morning when it aired in syndication on weekdays.
    I still have parts of her odd delivery and regular “motivational” quips seared into my brain 35 years later.

  4. This movie is so good, you take it for granted. You do it watch it for a few years and you start thinking crazy shit, like the sequel is better. Don’t get me wrong, T2 is a masterpiece in its own right. But it’s not the undiluted cinematic thrill machine the first one is. Its purity of purpose is compromised by its budget, by Arnold’s movie star status, by its need to please the crowd. The first one has none of that. It is a lean, vicious organism, no fat on it, devoted to one purpose and one purpose only: to never for one second not be completely in thrall of the unrelenting will of its title character. The movie simply DOES. NOT. STOP. Merciless. Pitiless. Pure. A perfect movie.

    It’s also probably, now that I think about it, the first horror movie I ever saw all the way through. The climax scared the shit out of me as a kid. And I loved that. The movie did not fuck around. It still doesn’t. A thousand parodies, multiple reboots, and a TV show later, you could show this to someone for the first time and it would be just as intense as it was in 1984. An all-motherfucking-timer. Some days, I doubt Cameron will ever top it.

  5. Cameron is a bona fide genius and the most important genre filmmaker of this lifetime next to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Any fan of science fiction filmmaking that isn’t interested in the next anything(s) he is interesting in making is a complete fraud. I especially love people invoking the supposed “lack” of enduring Pandoran cosplay as some kind of metric of interest in sequels, according to the very online among us. I’m old enough to remember when the ONLY cosplay was Star Trek and it was goddam weird.

    Fun review. This was the first R I got to see in the theater by myself. Mom bought my ticket and dropped me off.

  6. I have been a fan of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow for decades, and through many different sort of interests in music. I had no idea he was an animator. What the heck was I reading all those damn Leonard Maltin books for?!? That should be on PAGE ONE.

    Also, it would have been good enough if he were just an animator, any old animator. The dude could have been wiping cells on Laffalympics and I would have said o as in o shit about the info. Gumby and the Terminator is about as good as a career in animation could possibly get. Wow.

    I also had no clue of just how many future industry bigwigs were involved in the production of ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, and it gives reason to mention something I had been saving for the possibility of a T2 revisit. I spend a lot of time watching miscellaneous Ramones interviews on YouTube, and had discovered an interesting tidbit that I hadn’t heard of before – Joey Ramone talking about how The Ramones were being considered for what may have been the “You Could Be Mine” place in T2, as late as June 1991!!!!!

    Joey Ramone Interview

    June, 1991Orlando

    (If that timestamped video doesn’t work, Joey said “…and we possibly have a song in TERMINATOR 2, which is supposedly the big summer blockbuster and hopefully if Guns n’ Roses don’t knock us out we’ll be in the film.”)

    At first, I had thought, well, there’s no way, that must be a misunderstanding or something. It seemed weird, and not just because the video was filmed less than a month before T2 was released. I hadn’t known Cameron might be personally acquainted with them. (I wonder if James Cameron ever met Darby Crash or Lorna Doom? He probably did, even if momentairily, which is really weird to think about.)

    A few days after learning that “coulda been” (and still kind of not believing it), as if by magic I found this hilarious photo of goofball, Voidoid, horror convention guest and pasta sauce salesman Marky Ramone from 1998.


    In case that image does not work, it is a picture of Marky Ramone in 1998 wearing this crappy kind of heat-transfer, weird sheet of cotton you would hot glue to t-shirts that they had around that time to display your custom message, Marky’s boldly stating “TITANIC SUCKED”. Not a Billy Zane fan, apparently!

    The end of this review was particularly wonderful, and this was an excellent addition to your previous T2 piece, which brought me to tears way back in ’17. I look forward to learning what recent years have brought to your appreciation of that movie.

    Thanks again for your excellent sight and looking after this community.

  7. When I was a kid obviously T2 was my favorite. I think I was Furlong’s age and it was about having your own Terminator to play with. Once I was in my 20s, I’ve preferred the first. Closer to Hamilton’s age, having tasted adult responsibilities and frustrations, I relate to her more.

    I don’t think any of the future Fx are goofy. They hold up. The only one that doesn’t is the head cast of Arnold removing his eye, but you know, how do you know that’s not what a terminator looks like without an eye?

    I never thought Reese could be a threat. Perhaps the poster confirming Arnold was the Terminator subliminally prepared me to expect the other one was the hero. I hear stories about people watching T2 unspoiled for the twist and it blows my mind. That’s an experience I can never have. I paid way too much attention to T2 hype leading up to the movie in 1991.

    And wow that top poster is a beauty with his half face. Where’s that from?

  8. And to think, if Cameron hadn’t explored the Reese/Sarah romance we’d never have had the complexity of John sending his own father back in time to conceive him!

  9. I always wonder what happened to Pugsley the iguana. Was he terminated too, or did Sarah trade him in for a dog?

    Classic film, and my favourite Cameron film. I prefer the horror with romance vibe more than the (still amazing) straight up action vibe of T2. I prefer Sarah’s character arc and Arnie being a villain. Plus that you never see John Conner. He’s just this talked about mythic figure. Him as a child becoming a man works well in T2, as you gets hints of the leader he’ll become. But after T2 I’ve always found the John Conner character really boring.

    A great review for one of my faves.

  10. Any fans of The Sarah Connor Chronicles here? I thought Lena Headley was a decent Sarah.

  11. While part 2 is of course brillant too, I do prefer the lean, mean low budget horror atmosphere of part 1. Also Arnie’s acting is great. The moment in the parking garage, where he is driving slow and moves his eyes and head like a human security camera has always been my favourite touch.

    I remember watching that movie for the first time as a kid on TV, without knowing anything about it, other than it’s about a robot that kills people. For some reason my sister and my mother were watching too and we were all really grabbed by what they thought would be just a bunch of shootouts. It is that great of a movie!

  12. I only watched the first few episodes of SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES but couldn’t get into it. I found it neither great nor terrible but I wasn’t hooked; fan consensus seems to be that Season 2 is where it picks up, but you can’t watch everything.

  13. I watched the Sarah Conner Chronicles and really liked it. It’s hard to go wrong with Lena Headey.

  14. T1 was before my time and T2 I probably saw on TV (and had the action figures), so when I finally caught up, I had the opposite reaction of those who watched T2 cold after having seen the first one. “Wait, Arnold’s the bad guy in this one!?”

    This one is great, and would’ve become one of those fondly-remembered 80s genre/cult classics. Maybe at the same level as The Thing. But then Cameron made T2 and changed everything. Since then, The Terminator was A Franchise, and it will not stop, ever, until we’re all dead.

    That said, I find the Terminator franchise endlessly fascinating, becoming its own Skynet metaphor of trying to rewrite the past and destroying its own future in the process. And it helps that I think (most of) the sequels are better than their reputations. I am not ashamed to say I loved Dark Fate– maybe more than T1– and I am also a Genisys apologist.

    Having grown up in an era where Arnold was an ubiquitous Movie Star, it’s easy to forget that he’s an actual actor. And he has a number of interesting and diverse performances over the course of the series. In T1, it’s all about physicality and lack of affect. I completely believe that he is an unflinching killing machine. He’s Jaws in the body of a man– or as you said, The Shape, but his mask is human flesh. And he really sells the lack of selling when it comes to his dialogue scenes. Like, it’s not that he’s a bodybuilder with a thick accent and can’t really deliver the lines– he’s delivering them by not delivering them. It’s an actorly skill, not a lack of talent that they took advantage of. Over the course of the sequels he finds more nuance or different takes on the same idea, and it’s cool to see Arnold develop as an actor.

  15. I convinced my family to let me see this on VHS when I was 7 or 8 after I saw about half of T2 on its Sky Movies premier, not quite sure how that happened as this was an 18+ in the UK and they were generally pretty keen on keeping me within the restrictions. I’d be allowed to see the odd 15+ family favourite like BLUES BROTHERS or HONEYMOON IN VEGAS and the odd 12+ like ACE VENTURA and FORREST GUMP, and the odd other film slipped through the cracks (we watched then 15+ CLASH OF THE TITANS at school!) possibly through slightly censored TV airings. I don’t think my family rued the day they let me watch an 18+ film or anything, but I don’t think it happened again, at least consciously, until I convinced my mum to let me buy ROBOCOP 1+2 on the enduring format of VHS when I was 12; a changeround from a couple of years earlier where she had made me take back the 12+ pilot for the ROBOCOP TV series, even though I had already watched it and had previously seen it on TV! A couple of months later I got a VHS recorder in my bedroom and all bets were off. Anyways, the moral of this story is that TERMINATOR conquers all.

  16. Full disclosure: To my everlasting shame, my first take away from THE TERMINATOR was….Sarah Connor’s breasts.

    The Reese/Connor clinch was my 1st onscreen sex and so became an awesome cherry on top of an amazing cake. While my brain fully registered I had just seen one of the most dazzling hybrid of action, suspense, horror and dystopia every put on screen, my lingering images, for days after, was Kyle and Sarah making the beast with 2 backs as Brad Fiedel’s iconic theme morphs from menacing industrial clang to a poignant and lovely piano ballad, as Sarah’s impassioned face hovers over Kyle, his hands on her breasts….I believe the VHS tape may have registered some scratches from the number of times that scene was rewound.

    Thankfully I’ve watched it 750 more times since and learnt to appreciate all the other amazing stuff in it. A movie that’s about an impending Robot Apocalypse which foreshadows it by depicting all the little ways machines were already starting to turn against humans: Ginger doesn’t hear Sarah’s message or her boyfriend being taken apart because of a walkman; an answering machine gives away Sarah’s location. Leave aside the pulse pounding action, the scorching pace, the crisp editing…the writing is just sooooo fucking good!

    As a savior desperately running out of ways of keeping his charge safe from a relentless killing machine he knows he’s no match for, Biehn’s portrayal of Reese is so multi-layered and perfect I find new ways of hating Jai Courtney whenever I see him.

    And while T2 is on a another plane of awesomeness, I kinda like Hamilton’s Sarah Connor more here. Her confusion, fear and terror gradually leading to a tough resilience is a lot more relatable where Rambo Sarah kinda goes over the top in a few places with the aggro in the sequel.

    In fact T1 may well be the biggest twist reveal of PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING as NOTHING about the latter indicates what it’s director was going to unleash next.

  17. I’m just chiming in again to say that “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow information is something of scope and importance that is making me see the possibilities of life and beautifully reaffirming the excellence of art. I was really into Frank Zappa when I was 12, and used to listen to the Waka/Jawaka album with him on it a lot, his track on there is a really wonderful one and seems way more Pete than Frank, no dis to Frank though. Thanks again, Vern, and also musicians, filmmakers and cartoonists everywhere.

    Also, this post and the JUNGLE FEVER review made me realize that THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS is actually a movie I can see now, and in fact, it is on the popular website youtube.com. It is more than just Stevie Wonder’s Tusk or McCartney II! Vern, have you ever actually seen that movie? After TC of some B I am going to enjoy some of my own secret life of plants and let you know what I think of it, BRB everyone.

    If anybody is finding themselves having a sort of Beatlemania for “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow and his many amazing works, I would also like to recommend the great pedal steel player Red Rhodes, from Hey Hey I’m A Monkee Michael Nesmith’s First National Band, another deeply evocative creative voice and total shredder, though not a hero to the extent of actually being Prickle and T1. Those Mike Nesmith country records all rule too, legit as good as the Burritos. I always wanted to start a movie with someone having a terrible day set to this song:

    Crippled Lion

    Provided to YouTube by Suite 102Crippled Lion · Red RhodesRed Rhodes: Studio 102 Essentials℗ 1979 Countdown Media, a division of BMG Rights Management (US) L...

    Thanks again, Vern. You are also a very inspirationally multi-talented person.

  18. What a missed opportunity that they didn’t bill T2: 3D as “from the director of Pumpkinhead.”

    The tv show is still my favorite T3. I was probably a bit too obsessive in my coverage of it, but the creation of Derek Reese was an outstanding character.

    KayKay I never caught that subtle technology theme. Great observation.

  19. Thanks Fred. Regarding what you said: “The only one that doesn’t is the head cast of Arnold removing his eye, but you know, how do you know that’s not what a terminator looks like without an eye?”

    Know what? Even after you register that’s some animatronic Arnold Head you’re seeing in the mirror, the scene still doesn’t lose any of it’s menace or effectiveness. It just underscores how much Cameron achieved with so little at his disposal. I have a nightmare of him getting a serious case of George Lucas-itis and revisiting this scene to beef up the effects with new CGI.

  20. KayKay, that goes back to my theory that it’s the technique that sells the cinematic illusion, not the state of the art effect. Cameron knew it was a wonky cast so he edited together effectively with moody lighting.

    Modern CGI is so cocky they show every effect full frontal. That’s how you end up with Clu in Tron Legacy, and I’m sorry the Marvel de-aging isn’t good enough for full frontal shots either.

    There’s a reason man in a suit is still terrifying in Gojira. Filmmakers make the technique work for them, not Vice versa. Of course Cameron showed everyone how CGI is done and they still don’t get it.

  21. I first saw The Terminator in an 80s video triple bill in 1989 with Spaceballs and Beverly Hills Cop! Then-me thought The Terminator was the worst of the three, which baffles now-me as it is in my top 10! Arnie is an impressive heir to Yul Brynner’s cool cyborg from Westworld, the music is synth scoring at its finest, Sarah and Reece are likable and very human heroes, the future flash-forwards are a great example of how imagination can overcome the constraints of a small budget, there are small details that add to their world that a lesser filmmaker wouldn’t think about (my fave is Reece giving his name, rank and number and later his unit and CO names to the police) and the pace just doesn’t stop!

    The British Film Institute started a Modern Classics book series in 1996 and The Terminator was one of their first. It’s just been reissued and is a great read. The author, Sean French, wondered what it would have been like to have gone in to a screening not knowing that Arnie was a cyborg…now that would have been an experience!

  22. THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS is among the most moving films I have ever seen in my life, and I do not know how to articulately describe it in a way that feels like some human mess trying to surmise a beautiful collaboration about nature and communication themselves (itself) for purposes of seeming smart on a movie website or something.

    I feel recalibrated as an organism after watching it.

    I’ve loved the album for years – weirdly, of the five Stevie records I know, that is without a doubt the most listened to of the set – so it was really weird and nice to see the beautiful (and strange, a-master-of-perfection-allowing-himself-to-be-idiosyncratic) songs set to things that made me value, well, existence more. I would really recommend it, and I look forward to watching it again.

    Also, there is lots of cool time-lapse footage that kinda reminds me of Gumby episodes. Speaking of Gumby, I’ve now watched all of the shorts animated by Pete Kleinow and the funniest and best was without a doubt POINT OF HONOR which could have well been titled GUMBY LYNDON. That’s all I can say without giving the hilarity away, it is really funny. I’ve noticed his episodes all have a very hilariously grousey Pokey, the “mouth cycles” in those episodes are great.

    One of my first thoughts when thinking about The Flying Burrito Brothers is how strange and nice it is that in the last months of his life Graham Parsons was legitimately good friends with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, who, even in their protopunk version’s lessening-volume era were seemingly their musical (and drug-outlook) anthesis. Matthew Kaufman – the guy they made GRAND THEFT PARSONS about – was The Modern Lovers’ road manager. (There’s no awkward fake-ass movie Modern Lovers in that one, right?) The two groups had talked about collaborating before Parsons’ sad passing, and one can hear their influence throughout the wonderful and underrated Jonathan Goes Country, on which he covers a Ronee Blaklee song. It is sad to say this, but Jonathan saw Parsons the day before he passed – they played mini-golf together. The Modern Lovers played at Parsons’ wake.

    I do not feel it worthwhile to boringly give you my Mojo Magazine essay about the true universial heart of rock or whatever, but always thought it was cool that Jonathan Richman faced such resistance for being an annoying, principled and harsh-sounding weirdo, but then found appreciation from who the few actual cool people out there were. He was probably the only person in the world friend that was actually friends with both The Velvet Underground and the Flying Burrito Brothers, along with his band. That’s the roots of a large portion of the future of all popular music! I used to wonder where he got the strength to be booed in Boston Common (and throughout his life) – I don’t wonder that anymore.

    All of that sort of reaffirming a legend through the truth of facts aside, I wanted to point out something kind of odd that’s similar to the Ramones thing that I noted above. For years, I have been a fan of the Jonathan Richman song “I Like Gumby”, while never actually owning a copy of the various-artist concept album (“Gumby”) itself. It always seemed funny to me that Jonathan appeared on that album, along with Dweezil Zappa, Sly & Robbie and Flo & Eddie. Even though they were both Bay Area guys in the 80s I never understood quite how he was hooked up with Art Clokey.

    Well, the Burritos connection explains that one completely. It’s beautiful to think that even after their friend’s very sad passing, Sneaky Pete and Jonathan remained connected in both this world and the magical world of Gumbasia.

    Also, Sneaky Pete wrote and produced the best of the Gumby theme songs.

    Gumby and Pokey Intro (1967)

    I do not own Gumby.No copyright infringement intended.

    I bet Emmylou Harris enjoys Gumby cartoons. That’s a nice thought.

  23. Oh, and to make this on topic, there is some weird tribute special from the 90s where Jonathan sings some song called “There’s Something About Arnold”, which is funny because he is so anti-showbiz that he stopped appearing on talk shows in 2000.

    Also it’s funny to look at who the guests were all the different times he was on Conan. It weirdly meant a lot to me to learn that Jonathan Richman has met Isabella Rossellini, LL Cool J, Dave Foley, Sterling Morrison AND Montel. I bet they all thought he was a good dude.

  24. Man it just hit me how greatly Arnold pretty much informed my becoming a movie fan. I mean I think of all the movies I watched regularly as a little kid back in the late 80s. THE TERMINATOR, PREDATOR, COMMANDO and the first CONAN and next to Eddie Murphy and Stallone he was the biggest common denominator between a lot of those movies. I really think he and his peers were truly the last big movie stars. International icons with undeniable classics on the resume. We’ll never see anything like his 10 yr run from ’84 to ’94 again as much as The Rock may try, bless his heart. To be honest that realization is pretty sad.

  25. Sarah is driving a Jeep Wrangler at the end, or a CJ7 or whatever that style was called back then. The Renegade is some plastic POS that Jeep put on top of a car frame, first sold in 2014.

  26. I don’t know cars but I called it a Jeep Renegade because it’s a Jeep that says “RENEGADE” on it in giant letters. And because I thought the name fit Sarah well. According to this official model it is, yes, a 1983 Jeep CJ-7 Renegade:


  27. Well shit thanks Vern I learned something today. Turns out the “Renegade” in addition to being a new vehicle was also some special souped up version of the CJ7 back then, like the current “Rubicon” or “Moab” versions of the Wrangler (the successor to the CJ7).

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