The Terminator Review: First Time Viewing!

So, I finally saw The Terminator, and to be honest, I liked it best out of the three, including the second (I realize there are more, but I've focused on the Schwarzenegger films). I think this is because, out of the three, it rambles the least. There's one story, one main character arc. This is action the way it should be!

To be fair, I am going to re-watch Terminator 2 which, far more than Terminator 3, gives homage to the first movie, and I'm going to watch the theater release, not the director's cut.

Here's the thing about Cameron: when he can get away with it, he rambles. Take Titanic. The roaming-the-bowels-of-the-ship sequences go on FOREVER. I like action sequences, but they have to be tight, short, and make sense. Action sequences that go on and on and on bore me to death.

So I was pleasantly surprised with The Terminator because of how quickly the action sequences are resolved. I admit, I wandered away at the end because I thought--a la Terminator 2--that the factory sequence would go on for ten minutes or so. And I had to rewind!

I was also pleasantly surprised by how much sci-fi background there is. I always had this idea that The Terminator was pure horror: big-scary-machine; RUN, good guys, RUN; more big-scary-machine; RUN, RUN, RUN! The back-flashes are well-done and illuminating (more on these later).

I'd also gotten the idea that the first movie was old-fashioned horror--you know, where the girl is blond and stupid and can't do anything. When Terminator 2 came out, reviewers made a big deal about Linda Hamilton's new look/role--G.I. Jane-ish.

But, actually, she undergoes a very believable arc in the first movie from innocent, normal, everyday young woman to "the legend" that Kyle believes her to be. The arc also gives pathos to her downward spiral at the beginning of Terminator 2: Kyle will always be the one guy who had her back, and no guy will ever live up to him.

Okay, here are my beefs: Cameron has a tendency to establish interesting characters and then kill them off without a shrug instead of using easy and far more interesting pay-offs. The two police officers at the beginning are really interesting; I would have liked to see them play bigger roles. For example, they could have decided to free Kyle when the Terminator showed up--easy pay-off.

Kyle Reese is by far the most interesting person in the film, especially with the flash-backs. Why weren't the flash-backs paid off? I think the movie should have ended with another flash-back: right after Sarah leaves the factory, we flash-back to Kyle meeting the grown-up John Connor. John Connor has something (memento) that indicates to the audience that Kyle is his father (this is a memento Kyle would obviously had to have picked up when he first showed up in the 80's, something he later gives to Sarah). John asks Kyle again if he wants to go back; Kyle says, "Yes." End of movie. The audience is left going, "Oh, wow, hey, did you figure it out?"
(*I realize the photo kind of does this, but I think the connection could be stronger.)
As it ends now, Kyle's death is well-done (being the worst of the many losses Sarah suffers, preparing us for her kamikaze behavior in the second movie), but his story should have been completed.

Whatever its minor flaws, the movie definitely has presence. The mythology may not have been fully fleshed-out, but the material is there. I'm not surprised they made another!

And I finally get the line, "I'll be back." It is a way better line in the movie than I've ever heard it quoted. In the movie, the Terminator doesn't mean it as a threat, and Schwarzenegger doesn't say it that way. He is being completely literal: "I'll be back." It just sounds scary because he is so dead-pan (and has that accent). 


Joe said...

The memento is the picture and the point isn't that John Connor knows Kyle is his father but that Sarah knows she didn't just interact with a crazy person.

Interestingly, one of the special effects houses I contracted at in college did the effects for Terminator and still had the tank which crushed the bones sitting on a shelf. I was also told that if the truck explosion seemed too big, it's because it was--they miscalculated how much explosing material to use.

Kate Woodbury said...

Well, I will admit that in terms of sticking to one character arc--which I always complain movies don't do enough--The Terminator keeps its eye on the ball. Everything is about Sarah.

Still, I'm not sure Cameron played completely fair. The p.o.v. starts with Kyle, switches to Sarah, switches back, then ends with Sarah. Also, through the back-flashes, the audience learns Kyle isn't crazy (and see the photo) before Sarah makes her leap of faith (there's no direct link between Sarah-Kyle-John, other than Sarah herself, of course). Granted, the audience knowing information the main character doesn't isn't atypical. But at the end, the back-flashes don't confirm the audience's knowledge.

Without the back-flashes at all, I do think the movie would have been tighter. However, I don't think it would have been quite as interesting! (And I'm nitpicking; comparatively, the first movie ranks up there with Die Hard.)

The truck explosion is a great example where a simple special effect can be totally awesome!!