(although as far as the script and trailers are concerned it was just 'Terminator
') is a seminal action film
from 1984. It was directed by James Cameron
and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger
, Michael Biehn
and Linda Hamilton
. It is a model of how to make a low-budget action film - short, taut
, suspenseful and action-packed, with a memorable villain and heroes that the audience care about. Everything works
by dint of being created by intelligent, resourceful people who cared about the material and who were left alone; the talking bits ('exposition
', of which the film contains an unusually large amount, due to the complex plot), the fighting bits, the romantic bits hang together in a way that a thousand dtv
directors wish they could bottle.
The plot was based heavily on Harlan Ellison's Outer Limits episodes 'Demon with a Glass Hand' and 'Soldier'; this was not initially acknowledged, and Ellison successfully sued. James Cameron had previously directly Piranha 2, whilst Arnold Schwarzenegger was still trying to find a place in Hollywood after the swords-and-sorcery boom started by Conan the Barbarian had fizzled out. The Terminator itself was originally to be played by either O J Simpson or Lance Henriksen, whilst Schwarzenegger was to be the hero (Cameron's own pre-production artwork shows Henrisksen as an anonymous, shadowy figure closer to a private eye than an unstoppable killing machine). Arnie was shrewd enough to realise that the part of the hero, whilst heroic, was utterly overshadowed by that of the title character; with this film he passed from being a comical muscleman to being cool as fuck. Despite the unemotional nature of the role, and the fact that he delivered fewer than a hundred words, Schwarzenegger's interpretation of the character was a fine piece of acting; the Terminator became the most interesting character, with tiny, human gestures breaking through the metal. A small sequence in which the Terminator pauses - having just cut out a damaged eyeball with a dirty scalpel - to pat down his hair and adjust his sunglasses is sublime.
The film cost $5 million, and was filmed largely on location in the streets of Los Angeles. It was extremely influential - blue fog, electronic soundtracks, a robot baddie with cyborg vision, and the 9mm Uzi submachine-gun all became cliches shortly afterwards. Part of the key to the film's appeal was that, like The Matrix years later, it came out of the blue - by all rights, it should have been a disastrously tacky re-run of the late-70s vigilante films. That the film worked as science fiction, romance and action flick was completely unexpected.
Furthermore, it introduced Arnold's signature quote, 'I'll be back', although in the original script this was the less-memorable 'I'll come back'.
Rather like Robocop a few years later, The Terminator should be required viewing for all students of cinema, action or otherwise. It gets straight to the point, it doesn't have a wasted moment, and it exceeds expectations.