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Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton. The blockbuster sci-fi thriller about a killer cyborg from the robot-ruled future sent back in time to stop a woman from giving birth to a future resistance leader. 1984/color/108 min/R/widescreen.
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Terminator is the story of a young woman, (Sarah Connor), being stalked. When you get down to it, that is the essence of the film and also the source of the suspense and empathy we feel for that character. We can all imagine what it would be like to have your life placed at risk at the hands of a persistent murderer.
Where this film pushes the envelope is that the stalker is a cyborg, (part mechanical, part organic), killing machine, (Terminator), from the future. Everyone else has said it so I may as well. Schwartzenegger was perfectly cast in the role of an emotionless machine of destruction. It's mission to assassinate the mother of John Connor, who was to later in time become the leader of an army that opposed the terminator's creator, Skynet. Said creator being a self aware computer that had taken control of the world by using the automated nuclear defence grid.
Sarah has an ally in the form of a soldier who volunteered to travel from the future to protect the mother of his commander against the Terminator. Played by Michael Biehn, Kyle Reese is determined to save the woman that he loves. He managed to fall for Sarah before he had even met her, through a faded Polaroid that John Connor gave him some years earlier. In my opinion, it is Biehn that shines in this picture. Yes, the rest of the actors were excellent but this was the first major film that Bein was in and he was nothing short of brilliant. I think that a large part of the horror we feel towards the terminator is a reflection of Reese's attitude and reactions to it. If this obviously tough and battle scarred veteran is brought nearly to the edge of hopelessness then you just know the bad guy is a serious problem.
Terminator was a fast paced film with a relentless series of suspenseful chases and terrifying action sequences. I could not at the time imagine a film that could be as gripping, that is until I saw Judgment Day, otherwise known as T2. Same plot only with the roles exchanged. This time the victim is John Connor a twelve year old boy, the original terminator, still played by Schwartzenegger, is the protector, (reprogrammed in the future). The bad guy is also a terminator, but this time it is an advanced prototype, (T-1000). No longer a Cyborg but a living metal organism that can flow into any shape it desires.
If I thought the first terminator was relentless then the T-1000 is unstoppable. Well, at least until he faced the newly buffed Sarah Conner in the dramatic finale. The special effects in T2 were ground braking and the attention to detail was flawless in every part of the movie. I have never met anyone who didn't walk out of the cinema after T2 with a look of stunned awe on their face.
James Cameron scored a casting coup when he gave the role to Arnold. At the time, the muscle-bound actor had had a few films under his belt, films that played mostly on his physical appearance and his novice acting skills. "The Terminator" character was short on dialogue but Cameron made the best of his star by providing him with one-line zingers and stares that could wake the dead.
To call the part "tailor-made" for Schwarzenegger would be a major understatement. He was muy perfecto.
Linda Hamilton, not yet the household name that she would become for TV's "Beauty and the Beast," as well as not yet the future "Mrs. James Cameron," is appropriately confused and terrified as the waitress that would ultimately become the mother of the man that would rescue humanity.
Michael Biehn is well-cast as the other traveler from the future, intent on preventing Arnold's malevolent cyborg from doing his killing-thing.
Stan Winston's effects still hold their own after almost a quarter of a century.
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