The massive popularity of its warmer sequel and the meme-ification of some of its most famous lines had me ill-prepared for just how much of a techno-nightmare this film is. Visually and atmospherically bleak, The Terminator delivers both an action-thriller punch and a thematic one.
It’s a bit of a shame that the story is so permeated into our culture that it’s difficult to see this with fresh eyes, because The Terminator has a very bold, effective storytelling technique: Deny viewers all but the bare minimum of exposition. We don’t know exactly why two men from the future are hunting an ordinary girl named Sarah Connor, but we know it has apocalyptic ramifications.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been better, delivering a performance of terrifying physicality, his relentless aggression popping off the screen with imposing force. The rest of the performances are a bit less memorable: Michael Biehn is generic as Kyle, and Linda Hamilton doesn’t have enough to do, but is still good.
James Cameron’s control of tone is masterful, using James Fiedel’s sledgehammer of a score and quasi-cyberpunk nighttime sets to ramp up the feeling of the walls of the world closing in. The lighting in particular is phenomenal, hazy and neon.
The movie’s theme still feels vital, perhaps more than ever: Cameron nailed the idea that computers would ultimately lead to dissociation of traditional self. We become a database row, a collection of traits and figures that an algorithm says must be acted upon. Big data before big data. Only resilient empathy and, yes, genuine love can keep us human.
Great action, great story, great production. Just a great goddamn movie.
Exceptionally Good (7/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.