By Maggie Tan
James Cameron made his debut in 1981 with Piranha II: The Spawning, a B-movie horror sequel that flopped. Little did he know that The Terminator would become part of one of the most successful movie franchises of all time. This was the movie that made a name for Cameron and he later went on to make other box office hits, such as Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009).
It is 2029 and earth is at war. The end of humanity is near, as artificially intelligent machines have taken over the world. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human resistance fighter from the post-apocalyptic world, is then sent back to 1984 in Los Angeles to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The reason being that Sarah Connor is the mother of her yet-unborn son, John Connor, who will lead the human resistance against the machines in the future and may eventually save the human race. However, a cyborg Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is also sent back from the future by the machines in order to kill Sarah, before her son is born. Can the indestructible Terminator be stopped?
The music in the movie, composed by Brad Fiedel, has one of the most memorable rhythmic tones. According to Fiedel, the music is all about “a mechanical man and his heartbeat” and the sound turned out to be very suitable for the movie.
The cinematography is subtle, yet powerful. The lighting in this movie serves to make us tell the difference between the humans and the machines. For example, Sarah Conner’s face is always lit by a soft frontal light, which humanizes her. In contrast, there are often pulses of red light in the scenes with the Terminator when he looks for Sarah and Kyle. The red light makes the Terminator look artificial, merciless and relentless. The contrast in lighting between the scenes with the Terminator and Sarah is done brilliantly, as it makes the former look more machine-like and the latter more human.
Although not as groundbreaking as in the sequel, the visual effects are still quite good considering its time. Nevertheless, by today’s standards the special effects may appear a bit dated. For some scenes, the movie relied stop motion, which some people may find awkward looking. In other scenes, the movie used a large stage where all the miniatures would be shot on, with cut outs of ruined cities as the background and more ruined buildings and skulls as the foreground.
The best performance goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although not much acting or lines are required of him, he delivered a solid performance as a ruthless killing machine. His facial expressions which remain stoic throughout the movie, makes him look coldhearted and soulless, like a true machine. His body builder’s physique also makes him seem imposing and threatening. Furthermore, his unforgettable one-liners are, needless to say, one of the best parts of this movie.
The Terminator was never really meant to be something more than a niche movie, yet it has found its way to many people’s hearts. Fast-paced and packed with action, this is definitely an enjoyable movie.
Directed by James Cameron
Produced by Gale Anne Hurd
Screenplay by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher Jr.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Music by Brad Fiedel
Cinematography by Adam Greenberg
Editing by Mark Goldblatt
Studio Hemdale Film Corporation, Pacific Western Productions
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release date 26 October 1984
Running time 108 minutes
Parental Guide Rated R
Country United States
Budget $6.4 million
Box Office $781,371,200