The Terminator (1984)
Your future is in his hands.
I mentioned it in Ex Machina, so I felt that I probably should have a review up. It'd be a little unfair to compare my thoughts to another movie that I haven't actually post my thoughts on wouldn't it? Anyways, the movie that spawned a franchise that eventually had everyone wondering why they can't just give us what we really want. Robots hidden in plain sight, guns, cars, and the leading lady character that would eventually rule them all. They came back in time to alter the future, but does their tale survive the test of time itself? Will it live up to all the talk, or was this series terminated long before it started?
Machines are exterminating the world, but the battle for the future will be fought in the present - or so the text would have us read. In modern times, a man appears out of a seeming ball of lightning to wander off nonchalantly to go find himself some clothes. The three punks he decides to take some clothes from don't like the fact that he demands their clothes, and with knives in hand go to fend him off. Their tune changes quickly after the naked man puts his hand straight through one of them though. Across town, another man appears from some ball lightning, albeit far less gracefully than the other. After getting over his painful appearance, he manages to take some pants from a homeless man before the police show up and chase him off. He gets the jump on the cop patrol, asking the bewildered cop what year it is - only to be interrupted by the backup arriving and fleeing to a nearby retail store with the cop's gun. Here, he manages to steal himself a trench coat and some shoes before alluding the cops inside. Snagging the patrol car's shotgun, he makes one last stop at a phone booth to look up a name before vanishing into the night.
Sarah Connor is a normal gal. Mediocre job, and dealing with some pretty unpleasant people, but she has no idea how nice this will look in the events to come. A coworker pulls her aside to tell her the good news though - she's dead! Well, specifically a different Sarah Connor - one who was at the top of the phone list that was killed in an execution like manner. She shrugs it off and continues with her day, and as it draws a near her and her housemate are getting ready for a night out on the town - until Sarah's boyfriend cancels on her. Leaving the other two to whatever shenanigans they have planned for the night, she decides to go out to a movie. By now, the police have found a second Sarah Connor dead - and since they can't seem to reach the next Connor in the book (our Sarah) they decide to go to the press. The strategy seems to work, as Sarah catches a news broadcast at an eatery she's at, putting two and two together to figure out that she may be the next person on the list. She leaves the eatery with intent to go home, but is being followed by a man familiar to us as the second arrival. She panics and slips into a dance club, where she decides to try and get a hold of the police.
While waiting, our mystery man number one (and murderer of the other Connors) arrives on the scene, and just misses seeing her in a tense moment. It isn't long until he does notice her though, and as he starts to draw a weapon on her our mystery arrival number two unloads some shotgun shells into him. At this point, the club starts panicking - Sarah included - and chaos ensues as the two mystery men have a bit of a firefight. After taking an unreasonable amount of damage, from which our would-be assassin keeps getting up, he begins to chase after Sarah and the other man as they try to escape. It's here we start getting the explanation of what's going on - that the two men come from the future, and the one is actually a robot in disguise whose soul purpose is to kill Sarah. The other man - Kyle - has volunteered to keep her safe, but with modern weapons hes not very sure if the machine can be defeated. Add in some cops and a story that leads everyone who hasn't seen it first hand to think he's crazy, and Sarah finds herself in for one heck of a two day nightmare. Will Kyle and her manage to survive the single-tracked machines onslaught?
The story here is probably one of my favorite time travel stories I have watched. Sure, it's nothing super complex, and you could argue that there are holes in it - some of which could be addressed simply by listening to what the characters are saying - but it doesn't get too much into the science of it. There exists a future with really bad robots who have just suffered a crushing blow by the hands of the small human resistance, and there exists the now wherein these two future folk are battling it out over the right for a girl to have a future. It's a bit of a romance story in there, in a semi-creepy idolized kind of way, but it's never so much so that it starts to heavily delude the main narrative at all - it actually only helps to add a bit to the characters.
Speaking of characters, it's an interesting mix of actors. The main cast really nails their performances - Sarah comes off as normal, frightened, devastated, and everything you would think a character having to deal with her circumstances would. The Terminator feels like a walking machine, even when it's actually just Arnold doing his thing. You want to play an interesting game? Try to count how many times you see Arnold blink during this movie. Go ahead. Bet you don't need to bust out your toes to figure it out! It's little details like that that make the main characters feel that much cooler, more memorable or believable. On the other hand, some of the side characters or background types are a bit underwhelming in their performances - and this is most noticeable with the police officers, maybe in part since there are just so many of them in this movie. Deadpan answers to characters, or just strange reactions (Oh look, this guy just crushed our bouncers hand with his own, nothing to really worry about there) aren't exactly not seen. Thankfully though, most of our time is spent with the main characters.
Effects are rather important to a movie about robots. Kyle's flashbacks give us a bleak post-apocalyptic future with giant, terrifying machines blasting lasers and crushing through a landscape littered with human skulls. We also get the most variety of costumes here - as the resistance fighters certainly aren't wearing your standard eighties attire. Of course, we also have the explosions and gunfire, as well as battle-damage to the skin of our modern terminator assassin. As far as presentation goes, these can be a bit of a mixed bag. Surely, stop motion isn't as impressive as it used to be, and there are times of noticeable mannequins and even a wire visible on one of the flying machines in a flashback. That being said, for when this movie came out it was still quite impressive in the effects department, even if some of it doesn't quite hold up to modern viewings.
I'd be lying if I said this movie is a must watch for everybody - although I would certainly say that anyone who isn't against the violence or killing (which, oddly enough, the most graphic violence is probably on the terminator itself) should check it out. Rental at the least. I can't tell you how many times I've watched and re-watched this movie (in part due to a poor memory), but it's one of those movies where if you are sitting there on a lazy day and it comes on the telly, you tune in for the run time. It's an exciting romp of action, mixed with some great moments of tension and "scary" that manages to lay down a time-travel story about a killer robot from the future. That's a lot of things that I can see a good portion of people wanting. Top it off with the fact that it gave us a rather iconic sequel as well, and it's no wonder why I like it so much. Sure, some of the effects work doesn't hold up so well, but the only way you'll be able to tell if I'm just stuck with some sort of nostalgia goggles on is if you go check it out for yourself, isn't it?