Monday, 16 May 2016

The Terminator (1984)

I actually purchased and watched the first two Terminator films on DVD over a decade ago but recently realised that at some point the discs had gone missing.  Borrowed and not returned by someone with whom I'm no longer in contact, no doubt.

In any case, this 4-pack proved an easy way to reacquire the DVDs and also to give me a chance to revisit the third and fourth films.  Neither of these left a good impression when I first saw them, but maybe they will improve the second time around (probably not, though).

So this is the 1984 original that started the franchise: not to mention just the second film James Cameron had directed (after Piranha 2) and presumably the one that got him the Aliens gig.

In case there is someone who doesn't know the plot: a cyborg killing machine travels from the future to assassinate Sarah Connor.  Sarah will one day become the mother of John Connor, who has led humanity in a long and bitter struggle with "the machines".  Humanity is on the verge of victory, and the machines' last throw of the dice is to try and prevent the birth of the man who has defeated them.

Fortunately for Sarah, her son has managed to send a soldier into the past as well.  This man is charged with protecting her from the cyborg - assuming that is even possible without access to weapons from the future.

The first thing that strikes me in watching The Terminator is that there really was a time when Cameron knew how to assemble a film.  He knows to generate tension; he juxtaposes images cleverly; he even manages to structure the info dump conversations in ways that do not dilute the film's momentum.  I miss this version of Cameron, who gave us spectacle and substance, rather than just the visual extravaganza of his more recent work.

Speaking of visuals, the film does naturally look a little dated now; it is more than 30 years old after all; but you're probably likely to find the costumes more antiquated than the effects.

This is a really well done action film, with - provided you're willing to accept the science fiction premise - a coherent and consistent plot.  Even the casting is spot-on: Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn make a fine leading couple, the script covers well for Arnold Schwarzenegger's then-significant limitations as an actor, and Lance Henriksen is lots of fun in his minor role.

Unless you simply cannot get past the "killer cyborg from the future" premise, you should see The Terminator.

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