Then again... how could they? It's not like the words "From the director of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning" (the best flying piranha film ever made) inspires a whole hell of a lot of confidence or stands to cause visions of green dollar signs to dance in the heads of distributors. In fact, Orion Pictures had little confidence in the film or its director, who fought them on a great many of their suggestions.
Looking back on some of these suggestions, though, it's easy to see who was in the right, even (and especially) if these ideas cause laughter in hindsight. For example, Orion originally wanted O.J. Fucking Simpson to play the title character but the writer/ director argued that Simpson would never be believable as a Killer. Makes me wonder if he was on the Jury.
Actually, I can kind of see that! "If the Endoskeleton don't fit... you must acquit!!!"
No? Moving on...
Regardless... that little film from the unlikely visionary and the weight-lifter was The Terminator, one of the biggest hits of the year (much to the surprise of Orion and many critics). It skyrocketed the careers of star Arnold Schwarzenegger and its director James Cameron who co-wrote the film with William Wisher, Jr. and producer Gale Anne Hurd (though after litigation, Harlan Ellison was given credit for having inspired the story).
Since then, the film has gone on to spawn a successful film series, a television show, a number of books, video games and comic books and even two Theme Park Attractions! Its creator has gone on to write and direct the TWO best selling motion pictures of all time, its star became one of the biggest action heroes in motion picture history (and eventually the Governor of California) and The Terminator is still considered to be among the best (and even re-defining) of its kind.
I mean, seriously... even saying that sounds funny!
It sounded funny to the people in 1984, too... at least the characters in the film who encounter the time travelers.
First is the Terminator himself (Schwarzenegger, of course) who appears in a big ball of temporal energy, naked as the day he was porn with a serious programmed mad-on to kill 19 year old waitress Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). But first he needs Weapons and... and PANTS!
Next through the Tachyon Sphere (or "time displacement equipment", to be nerdily accurate) is Sergeant Tech Com DN38416 Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), equally naked, equally determined to serve and protect Sarah, lest her son, the Legendary hero of the resistance, John Connor may never be born (and a billion dollar saga would stop right there)!
As this is the last chance for Terminator Demigod Skynet to save its future and the last chance for humanity to save its own, time is most assuredly of the essence, so eleborate lies don't suit the situation too well. Then again pretty much everything that comes out of Reese's mouth beyond "Come with me if you want to Live!" sounds both frightening and far-fetched, he's not exactly on the fast track to cross-generational success!
Naturally the people who might be on his side, like the cops (represented by Paul Winfield's Ed Traxler, Lance Henriksen's Hal Vukovich and Earl Boen's criminal shrink Peter Silberman) think he's crazier than an Orion Script Editor... and Sarah isn't quite sure what to think. Meanwhile the Cyborg himself is wasting no time offing every "Sarah Connor" in the phone book, cutting a swath through everyone in his way until his prey is as dead as his ball-joint!
Needless to say, the showdown is coming. However, this is no mere cat-and-mouse chase with Tommy Terminator after Future Jerry, with Sarah as the Cheese! No, The Terminator is exciting, romantic, deep and action-packed with believablestars and admirable special effects from Cameron himself and the capable team of the great Stan Winston! While the puppets, stop-motion animation and rear-projection systems may seem dated, it's surprising how very many of the Special Effects stand up and remain effective to this day. The use of minatures is incredible and the Creature Creation, design of the post-apocalyptic future (alternately mechanical-sleek and dystopian-bleak) and most notabley the Special Makeup Effects are mind-blowing and eye-popping!
Furthermore, the writing is what truly sells this movie like ice to a Wendigo! Again, just about everything is outlandish as Silly Putty suspenders here, but Cameron and company do such an incredible job of filling in the gaps and constructing the complex story that the audience ends up believing most everything that's fed to us! This never actually feels like a low-budget, post-apocalyptic time travel B-Movie about cyborg monsters and predestination paradoxes. It simply feels like a very fine film that works beautifully beyond merely "for what it is"! Best of all, considering that Terminator 2: Judgement Day went on to be another great breakthrough and one of the best sequels of all time, it's truly excellent how The Terminator sets up the many "possible futures" that might spring from it (and have) while remaining a truly great, self-contained action thriller!
The cast, as I've said, is fantastic. Biehn is remarkably tough and soldierly, but it's believable that a sweet young lady like Sarah Connor might see something in the guy. Hamilton herself is great as the waifish waitress, equally pretty and lost, but the seeds of the tough, strong heroine she might become grow in a beautifully organic way. Schwarzenegger himself may not have been what anyone would call a great actor at the time, however his Austrian accent works perfectly for the robotic monotone of this monstrous, mechanical killer. Further, Schwarzenegger is imposing and menacing in ways that go far beyond his size. His cold look and calculated movements sell the Terminator much more than his muscles do.
Even the supporting and cameo cast is quite cool to see, even beyond Henriksen and Winfield. The 3 Punks who "donate" their wardrobes to the T-800 are played by Freaker Bill Paxton, Brad Rearden and even X-Files fan favorite Brian Thompson! A second Terminator appears in a flashback (or flash-forward), played by Franco Columbu, Schwarzenegger's workout partner (and it shows)! Bess Motta and Rick Rossovich are fine as Sarah's friends. Dick Miller even pops in for a quick hello as a gun shop owner and if you listen closely you can hear Jim Cameron himself on Sarah's answering machine.
The cool look to the film, so accented by the inventive special effects, is amplified all the more by the electronic (yet largely timeless) score by Brad Fiedel, whose deep, thundering, mechanical music feels like something the dark future might sound like.
The entire film somehow transcends the genre it seems, at first glance, to be stuck in and becomes more than a drama, romance, sci-fi flick, action thriller or dystopian robot movie. It's a runaway success by any definition and it most assuredly took the competition over its stainless steel skeleton knee and spanked it raw, man!
Lift those weights and drive that runaway truck straight into this one! This is The Terminator, this is Time Travel, this is Post-Apocalyptic Futuristic Nightmare, this is the Fall of Man, this is Romance, this is Action... This is Four Stars out of Five. The rare transcendent Science Fiction Fantasy film with geek appeal and mainstream success and acceptance couldn't have happened without the uncommonly cool and surprisingly consistent script directed by its very creator. This small movie led to a great franchise that has re-defined what we know of "Canon"... with The Terminator's ability to legitimately rewrite its own history, if it's out of continuity, it's IN continuity! In fact... I didn't even write this... I was retroactively replaced in the time stream by a supercomputer that can mimic my every action... and it, not I, will see you in the next reel!!!
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