Monday 11 March 2013

Movie Review: The Terminator (1984)

A high octane science fiction thriller, The Terminator launched a franchise and boosted the careers of star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron into a high orbit. The film introduces an outstanding premise rich with possibilities, and executes with joyful aplomb.

In the year 2029 and after an apocalyptic war, evil machines have taken over the world, and are attempting to crush a human rebellion. John Connor is the rebel leader, inspiring a small band of humans to increasing success. To retaliate and alter the destiny of the rebellion, the machines send a nearly indestructible cyborg "terminator" unit (Schwarzenegger) back in time to the Los Angeles of 1984, with a mission to find and kill John's mother Sarah (Linda Hamilton), a lowly waitress, before she can even conceive him.

The rebels try to protect Sarah by sending back in time a soldier of their own: Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) finds Sarah just as the Terminator is moving in for the kill, and as he helps her dodge death he explains the incredible events of the future and Sarah's role in humanity's destiny. With the Terminator in relentless pursuit, Kyle and Sarah begin to run out of places to hide but nevertheless fall in love.

It does not take long for Cameron to rev up The Terminator into an all-action monster, and once the chase is on, it maintains a brilliantly incessant pace. Cars, motorcycles, trucks, building, bums and bystanders are destroyed with pizzazz the Terminator programmed for wanton destruction of anything that gets in the way of the mission, Reese and Sarah equally determined to avoid death by cyborg.

The highlight is the Terminator assaulting a police station. The "I will be back" promise, delivered to the desk sergeant with monotonal determination, is followed by a sequence of wanton annihilation and mayhem, one human-shaped machine decimating a precinct that dared protect a cowering Sarah.

Cameron gives The Terminator an intimidating metallic dark blue and black tint throughout, most of the action taking place at night or in the darker corners of Los Angeles, the Terminator adding to the always-night aesthetic by wearing stylish shades at all times due to damaged flesh around his red electronic eye.

Schwarzenegger perfectly embodies the Terminator, his outrageous physique believable as an over-armoured cyborg, and his limited vocabulary and thick accent suitable for robot-speak. Linda Hamilton grows into the role, from a clueless waitress to a woman on the run and finally a warrior willing to fight for her life. She is the only character to evolve during the movie, and Sarah Connor becomes the heart of the story, just as she represents humanity's central hope for salvation.

Michael Biehn, near the start of a career that would not head in any stellar direction, is adequate but not necessarily memorable as Kyle Reese. Lance Henriksen appears as a police detective and Bill Paxton has a small role as a punk, among a group who are first to experience the Terminator's murderous tendencies.

Hectic, brutal, funny, tense and smart, The Terminator delivers death, destruction, and unconstrained entertainment.

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