Arnold Schwarzenegger   Terminator
Michael Biehn   Kyle Reese
Linda Hamilton   Sarah Connor
Paul Winfield   Traxler
Lance Henriksen   Vukovich
Rick Rossovich   Matt
Bess Motta   Ginger
Earl Boen   Silberman
Dick Miller   Pawn Shop Clerk
Shawn Schepps   Nancy
Bruce M. Kerner   Desk Sergeant
Franco Columbu   Future Terminator
Bill Paxton   Punk Leader

Directed by James Cameron. Written by James Cameron, Gale Ann Hurd, William Wisher Jr. 1984. Running time: 108 minutes.

"1984?" my wife remarked during the opening sprawl of The Terminator. "That's six years ago, hey?"
"You're in denial," I replied. "That's sixteen years ago . . ."

And so it is - a disconcerting fact for anyone who can clearly remember seeing the movie when it first came out while they were still in high school. Even it's sequel, the much more expensive and popular Terminator 2 - Judgment Day will be ten years old next year!

Sixteen years later and how does James Cameron's second feature film as director hold up before his descent into a demented egomaniac? (His first? Piranha 2 - Flying Killers, about, you guessed it: mutant killer piranhas crossed with flying fish! Even scarier than this less than auspicious debut is the fact that I actually saw it on the cinema circuit. Oh the humanity . . .) Not too bad actually. Made for a lowly $6.4 million, The Terminator did healthy business (it grossed $36.9 million upon its release in the US) and made a star out of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ignoring the law on diminishing returns, which states that the sequel will make less than the original film and it therefore makes sense to spend less money on it (explaining why all those Planet of the Apes sequels kept on looking cheaper with each installment), the Terminator 2 sequel cost $100 million to make. It went on to gross $514,8 million worldwide (of which $204.843 million was in the US alone). Schwarzenegger's salary alone was more than double the original film's entire budget at $15 million. (With his total of 700 words of dialog, that translates to $21,429 per word. "Hasta la vista, baby" cost  $85,716.)

So, considering the film's low budget and that 16 years have passed in the mean-time, The Terminator still looks pretty good. Sure, there are some acute 1980s fashions (particularly star Linda Hamilton's hair-do and the fashions glimpsed in a night-club), but its not really that distracting as let's say that wide collar shirt worn by James Caan in Rollerball or some of the ties and furniture in A Clockwork Orange. Maybe I'm just sensitive here - remembering that we actually dressed like that back then! Shudder . . .

Some of the model work and special effects also looks phony and obvious, especially on TV I suppose. (I can't remember being picky about the model work when I first saw it on the big screen.) Special effects legend Stan Winston's make-up effects of the terminator with half his face blown away still looks pretty realistic. Oh, and I probably noticed this because I'm into bikes, but the motorbike the terminator chases the Michael Biehn and Hamilton character around on looks pretty late-1070s Japanese (does anyone know exactly what make of motorbike it was? E-mail me if you do) to me.

And that's about it. The acting, while not Shakespeare, is sufficient. The movie has a darker and more relentless feel to it than the sequel. Some of the stop animation shots of the terminator exo-skeleton towards the end look fake. Then again, I recall them looking so back then as well.) The screenplay is much tighter than any of Cameron's later efforts: one feels that hardly a moment of screen time is wasted - compare this to Titanic in which it felt that the whole first two hours were a waste! Even Cameron's own action-packed Aliens released two years later doesn't feel as lean. What does this prove? I don't know: probably paradoxically that when you have a bigger budget you spend less of it on your screenplay for some reason . . .

Copyright © May 2000  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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