“The Terminator” was released in 1984 and was co-written & directed by James Cameron. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, and Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s about a cybernetic organism/terminator being sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor before she becomes pregnant with her son John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance against the machines in the post-apocalyptic future. Kyle Reese is sent back in time to protect Sarah from the Terminator, and action, thrills, & tension ensue. It sounds like an overly complicated plot, but on-screen it’s fairly simple.
By far, the best part of this film is the action. Every single action sequence is intense and engaging. It’s all shot in an energetic style without relying on any shaky cam or quick-cut editing. James Cameron is a true master at visual filmmaking and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats for the whole runtime. Cameron maintained a fast pace throughout the film; it felt like it was only an hour long despite being 1h 45min long.
Another reason why the action is so good is the Terminator himself, who’s essentially portrayed as a horror villain. His only goal is to kill a specific target and he doesn’t care what he has to do to complete his mission. That, combined with Arnold’s imposing figure, make him legitimately terrifying. The film succeeds with flying colors at making the audience feel like the Terminator can’t be stopped as well. He constantly withstands gunfire, explosions, & car crashes and seems unphased by almost anything. There are very few villains in cinema history with that same dominating screen presence.
The performances are great as well. Michael Biehn added to the tension & stakes of the film without overacting, and Linda Hamilton brought a warmth & likeability to Sarah Connor which couldn’t be written. The character could have been annoying if played by a different, less talented actress, but Hamilton was not that actress.
I also loved the make-up & visual effects by Stan Winston. There’s not much else I can say about him that hasn’t already been said. It’s unbelievable what he was able to accomplish, especially in 1984. Every single effect holds up.
However, the film isn’t without its flaws. There are a few plot holes in the script. For instance:
- Why didn’t the machines send the terminator to the day John Connor was born to kill him as a baby?
- Who built the time machine and how was it built?
- Why didn’t the Terminator have a thermal imaging system (like the Predator in “Predator”) to allow him to catch Kyle Reese & Sarah Connor when they were hiding?
The film also has some audio-related issues. There are some extremely obvious ADR (automated dialogue replacement) in several scenes, such as the scene in which Kyle Reese explained the future to Sarah Connor in the parking complex. Also, some of the music choices were terribly dated. Much of the music played during action scenes sounded like they belonged in an 85-minute long B-movie from the 1980’s or early 1990’s. Just because “The Terminator” was released in the ’80’s doesn’t mean some of the music had to sound like it came from “Samurai Cop.” In contrast, the actual theme for the film by Brad Fiedel was fantastic. It’s one of the most iconic scores in all of cinema history for a reason.
“The Terminator” is a great, exciting action film with impeccable pacing, good performances, thrilling sequences, stunning visual effects, excellent direction, and an extremely memorable theme. Although it has some audio issues and a few plot holes holding it back, I love this film.