Blindspot: The Terminator

I don’t know what prevented me from seeing The Terminator earlier.  I suppose, like all the films on my ever-growing watchlist, it was a combination of a lack of availability and a lack of time.  I’m not usually one to buy DVDs of films I haven’t seen unless they are sale (and indeed that is how I actually bought and saw Terminator 2 BEFORE the first film).

Thanks to the Bell Lightbox summer retrospective series Schwarzenegger/Stallone: The Rise of Beefcake Cinema, I not only finally got a chance to see The Terminator, but I saw it on 35mm on the big screen.  That itself was worth the price of admission (on a side note, this series will also provide the source for my August blindspot, as well as my “Revisiting 1982” posts for June and July).

Let’s move on to the movie shall we?  The Terminator was arguably the breakout role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.  At the time, he was already known for his two Conan the Barbarian films, but this is more likely the film that made Schwarzenegger into one of the biggest action stars of the 1980s and 1990s.

When you really think about it, it is a really odd breakout film.  How many movie stars do you know of who became famous (and received top billing) in a film where he is playing the film’s villain?  The closest comparison that I can think of is Jack Nicholson, who apparently had a clause in his contract to receive top-billing in Tim Burton’s Batman for his role as The Joker, though in this case it is probably because Nicholson was ALREADY a star.

So, here you have a film, where the top-billed star is not only playing the villain, but only says 16 lines in the entire film, and he becomes one of the biggest action stars in the world.  I suppose this can be attributed to the other aspects of Schwarzenegger’s performance, in which he is quite convincing as an emotionless killer cyborg.  Of course, even though he is playing a villain, there is still a certain crowd-pleasing aspect to his performance, especially when he says the oft-quotable line “I’ll Be Back.”

With all the attention Schwarzenegger received for this film, you almost have to feel sorry for Michael Biehn, who plays the film’s protagonist Kyle Reese.  Other than appearing in a couple of James Cameron’s other films (including a deleted scene in Terminator 2), Biehn has never really elevated above cult status.  The other main protagonist, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, fared a bit better, even she too is best known for her work in the Terminator films.

While, the Terminator series is generally recognized as a sci-fi/action series, I would have to argue that The Terminator is very much formatted like a horror film.  True, there are a few car chases in the film and flash-forwards to the robot war, but much of the film is just The Terminator single-mindedly hunting down Sarah Connor and killing anyone in his way.   The film’s pulsating score really adds to the horror and I’m sure the film would have been quite scary in its time.

For the most part, The Terminator holds up effects-wise, despite now being 28 years old.  However, there are still some noticeably dated effects in the film (mostly those that involve stop-motion).  The film’s climax has The Terminator in endoskeleton form chasing Reese and Connor through a factory.  While the scene was probably terrifying in its time, nowadays you can see that it’s very obviously an optical effect and The Terminator moves in somewhat cheesy-looking manner.

In conclusion, I’d probably have to say that Terminator 2 is probably the better of James Cameron’s two Terminator films, but The Terminator was still a very enjoyable film.  Now, I just have to wonder how long it will take me to move on to Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation?


Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).