Lockdown Cinema #5 – The Terminator (1984)

Reel DMC
Reel DMC
Lockdown Cinema #5 - The Terminator (1984)

The fifth in an ongoing series of film conversations where I track my daughter’s reaction after she’s been introduced to one of my favorite movies.

What’s the movie about?

After losing the only picture of his ultimate dream girl, a man travels to Los Angeles to meet her in person; unfortunately for him, she’s already being pursued by a musclebound rival.  He’ll have to act fast to make a connection before she’s taken off the market……permanently.

Why did I pull this particular movie out of the cabinet?

It’s an all-time sci-fi classic, but more importantly it makes it possible for me to sit down and watch T2 with her (along with several other Schwarzenegger films).

What did I think of the movie upon revisiting it?

It remains a classic but shows its age in a few places.  And holy shit……that’s some serious 80’s hair.

Several cans of Aquanet gave their life for this visual.

Why do I like it?

 It’s an incredibly well-made film – the budget was 6.5 million and it feels like Cameron made effective use of every dollar he had – a lot happens in this film, including sequences of Reece fighting the machines in the year 2029.  The design of the future vehicles is impressive, both the flying ships and the HKs are intricately detailed and look purposefully built for combat.  Additionally, the character design of the Terminator is great, both the Schwarzenegger costuming and the de-skinned terminator at the end radiate menace; the close up practical shots of the terminator torso demonstrate the detail of the terminator design.  Although it’s just a machine, it looks pissed off and evil.

Michael Biehn plays a compelling hero with Reece – he’s as single minded in his mission of protection as the terminator is in killing Sarah.  Biehn may not have a ton of range, but he’s perfect for this part – sad, weary, yet determined to save Sarah at all costs.  Linda Hamilton does nice work in evolving Sarah Connor from being somewhat helpless to the beginnings of the badass character she becomes in T2 – by the time she hits the button on the hydraulic press, she’s an entirely different person.

Much like Jaws with Spielberg, it’s fun to see the start of what becomes Cameron’s ongoing trademarks, the female heroine, the low camera angle/foot view, and the appearance of several Cameron regulars including Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, and especially Bill Paxton as a punk rock misfit who regrets mocking the large naked man who was out on a walk.

The film moves at a brisk pace, and I’m appreciative of how Cameron communicates story beats visually.  When Sarah calls her “mom” from the hotel, you see the terminator talking on the phone in semi-darkness, with bullet-holes in the door, it’s strong visual exposition delivered in a very economical fashion – he manages to tell a larger story than what we see on the screen.

Upon rewatch, what didn’t work for me?

*Ahem*………….I guess we’d better start with the sex scene.  Out of all the shared movie moments I’ve experienced with my daughter, this one was not a favorite.  I’m usually not embarrassed about this type of thing, but it was just the two of us sitting there watching it, and I had forgotten how cheeseball it gets.

After Kyle expresses his love for Sarah, she moves towards him to apply a kiss, but instead she actually attempts to eat his face.  The kiss is super awkward, and what follows is a brief Cinemax style interlude with some unfortunate visuals.

Chemistry, thy name is not Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton

Let’s just say I was not disappointed when we got back to the cyborg trying to kill people.

The other item to note is the terminator self-surgery sequence – it’s quite clearly a dummy head with a mechanical terminator eye.  The eye itself looks and moves great, the rest of the head looks terribly fake – this didn’t look great in 1984 (it was always the worst effect) and it looks really goofy now, almost to the point of distraction.

And finally, Velcro sneakers?

These were hot – for three weeks in ’84

Did anybody ever actually wear those?

Anything else I’d like to add?

This film made me yearn for a simpler time, when all you had to fear was being incinerated in a radioactive mushroom cloud.  While you don’t see the nuclear destruction of “Judgement Day,” its aftermath is presented as a hellish landscape.  When I was a kid, there was always some small level of anxiety about nuclear war; the Terminator was released after The Day After, Threads and Testament, all of which dramatized the horrific results of a nuclear attack.  While the thought of ballistic missiles raining down on San Jose CA was a little scary, it always lingered in the back of your mind; my kids are growing up in an era of “active shooter” drills at their school…..that’s so much worse.  Growing up seems a lot harder than it used to be…

I had forgotten that Dick Miller was the gun store owner – he’s an all-timer when it comes to recognizing “that guy.”  He pops up in a ton of Roger Corman films, and since Corman gave Cameron his start, it’s fun that Cameron gave him a part in The Terminator.

Cameron also cast Bill Paxton in Aliens, and he was also in Predator 2, as many have previously recognized he’s the only actor in history to die at the hands of a Terminator, an Alien, and a Predator – those are some solid sci-fi bona fides.

Am I still happy I chose this to share with my daughter?

Definitely, she now understands the cultural significance of the phrase “I’ll be back.”  And… T2, T2, T2!    

Plus, we’ve only got nine years until we’re obliterated by nuclear fire, so I’m happy to get this done now.

  So, what did she think?  Check out the podcast to find out!

1 Comment

  1. Grarcmandu

    Don’t be making fun of my Velcro Reebok’s, man!

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