Arnold Schwarzenegger & James Cameron – Part 1 of 3: The Terminator (1984)

One night in Los Angeles two visitors from the future arrive. They are both looking for Sarah Connor.

One of the visitors is Kyle Reese. A resistance fighter sent from fighting in a savage war against the machines. His mission is to protect her.

The other visitor is The Terminator. A deadly robot disguised by human flesh. His mission is to destroy her.

She is the future mother of John Connor – the man who rallied humanity to rise up and defeat the machines. Killing her will prevent him from ever existing.

When Reese manages to catch up to Sarah they go on the run together – from an enemy that is nigh on indestructible.

Writer/Director James Cameron conceived the idea for this story after suffering a nightmare. He was editing his first movie. He was sick. In his fevered dreams he saw a vision of metallic torso holding knives and crawling away from an explosion. Thus, The Terminator was born.

Producer Gale Anne Hurd was intrigued by the project and Cameron’s nascent talent so together they managed to gain a small budget from Orion Pictures to make the film.

Originally Cameron wanted Lance Henriksen to play the title role. Yet after meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role of Kyle Reese – Cameron realised that this well known Austrian body builder was the right man to play the homicidal cyborg from the future. Henriksen was instead cast in the role of a cop. (O.J Simpson was considered for the title role aswell, but they didn’t think he’d be a convincing killer…. YEEEAAAAH).

Rising young actor Michael Biehn was cast in the role of Kyle Reese. Linda Hamilton was picked for the role of Sarah Connor.

The film was released in 1984 to good reviews and modest box office. It was an even bigger hit on home video and gained a strong cult following.

Today it’s remembered as announcing the arrival of James Cameron to the world of movie-making – and providing Arnold Schwarzenegger with his signature role. It’s remembered as a tense, relentless chase thriller – but to me it’s always been a romance.

Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor’s love story is the beating heart of the movie. It’s believable, raw and cathartic.

My favourite part of the movie is when Kyle tells Sarah about a photo of her that John Connor gave him. He always wondered what it was she was thinking about in that photo.

After Kyle is tragically killed protecting her from The Terminator and she finishes off the beast herself – she realises she is pregnant with Kyle’s child and paradoxically – he is John Connor’s father.

She’s sitting in a jeep recording messages into a micro cassette recorder. Talking about how much she loved Kyle. Then a boy takes a photo of her with a Polaroid. She buys the photo from him. We see that it’s the photo that John Connor would give Kyle in the future.

He was wondering for so long what she was thinking about in that picture. He’d never know that she was thinking about him. 

To me – that is absolutely beautiful.

Looking at this film now it fun to pick out early examples of what would become known as Cameron’s directorial trademarks.

  • Sarah Connor grows into a warrior. Cameron is known for creating strong female characters. An element he’d explore further in Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. 
  • Concerns about impending nuclear apocalypse.
  • Dreams of the characters being integral to the narrative.
  • Mankind rising to overcome machines that were created to serve them.
  • Exposition delivered during action scenes.

When watching this movie we see three beginnings. The beginning of a movie series, the beginning of a true movie star and the beginning of a true auteur director.

With excellent make up effects by Stan Winston (for the time), a distinctive score by Brad Fiedel – The Terminator stands the test of time as a true cinematic landmark.

The Man Who Saved Movies. I’ll Be Back. 

 

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  • Excellent article and eye-opening in this way: the love story had always tickled the back of my mind but I was always consumed with The Terminator being a slow-burn horror movie. Now I can consider that side of the story and now I need to revisit it. I do remember Michael Biehn being absolutely brilliant and convincing in his role, especially when he’s speaking to Sarah from his heart. What a simple and true love story. Thanks, bro! As always your insight always makes me want to watch more movies, and that’s a good thing.

    • Thanks for your kind words dude. Must admit – since I fired up this site I’ve kind of gotten a love of movies back. Nice to be able to say what I want to say on something a bit more substantial than a reply on someone’s else’s talkback. Glad that this article made you want to watch the movie again. Especially as you said you may see it in a different light. It’s just the kind of response I want!
      Hope you enjoy the movie when you get around to watching it again!

      • It was on tv just last night, as a matter of fact. I got to see the opening credits before my wife walked in a commandeered the remote control.

  • Yeah it’s excellent. The Terminator is probably his best film if you ask me. Just a monster movie at heart, with a modernised Frankenstein beast. Very simple dynamic. Also an amazing casting. We mock Arnold’s acting, and his physique is ridiculous, but he’s so effective in roles like this. His accent’s inexplicable, but it’s a minor quibble. And the score – electric.

  • The Magic Hunter

    Wow, your insight about the photograph made me think of… “Memento”!

    • That’s a film I ain’t watched in years.

      • The Magic Hunter

        It might be worth a write-up by… The Man Who Saved Movies!

        • Yeah – you know what? It might! 😉 Challenge accepted! Stay tuned! It’ll be a while, but it’s coming!

  • President of what?

    Great retrospective, Stu! Back when I was writing articles at Talkbacker.com, I had Termy in mind especially since 2014 marked the film’s 30th anniversary but sadly, I left a rough draft on the backburner along with a few other ideas. Terminator is among my top 5 dystopian films and as with Escape from New York and Road Warrior, it took me by surprise thanks in part to it’s premise, ambitious special effects and a incredible soundtrack. (I looovvve the tunnel chase track!) the titular character reminded me of Rich Buckler’s Deathlok from Marvel comics (One of my favorite characters ever!) and the idea of a tenacious killing machine with you as his/it’s prey, is a nightmarish scenario within itself. The character progression as far as Sarah is concerned, is amazing. Here we have this reluctant hero now turned baddass in the sequel. Cameron definately knows how to write female characters without the need for SJW fluff. It’s a very organic approach and what’s sad is how T3 wrote her off as some weak footnote. Kinda like Alien 3 disregarded Ripley who as far as I’m concerned, was JC’s character thanks to Aliens. That being said, The terminator deserves it’s place amongst my Blu-Ray collection!

    Props!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfHGqyMxuqI

    • A friend of mine suggested that T3 should have had the TX copy Sarah and then Linda Hamilton would’ve been able to play the killing machine.

      • President of what?

        Far-fetched, but an entertaining theory still.

      • Hmm… don’t like that idea man.

        • I would’ve been ok with it, solely to see Linda Hamilton back on screen doing something other than being written off to cancer. I like T3 but fuck that decision.

          • I actually thought it helped the movie. Seriously – what could she have done that she didn’t already do in 1 and 2? It was in danger of being a thinly veiled remake of T2 as it was. Her story was done, there was no reason for her to be in it. It was about time for John Connor to take centre stage.
            Besides – Linda Hamilton turned it down anyway.
            There’s a T3 article coming when the Cameron articles are done, so stay tuned!

          • Well that’s what he was saying she could’ve been the killer this time.

          • Yeah – but the logistics of creating such a story line would be too convoluted. Trying to work out a reason for it. Dramatically it would make no sense to do so. It would just come across as a weird gimmick. Audiences wouldn’t accept it.

          • Wellllll…”the T-1000’s highest probability for success now would be to copy Sarah Connor and to wait for you to make contact wit her.” :p

          • Yeah one scene… But a WHOLE film?

          • I don’t know, I hadn’t even considered it until he mentioned it. Arnold T-800 vs Linda TX? Woulda been pretty cool. This also highlights something I haven’t mentioned: how big of a puss Nick Stahl is. I hated his casting and his performance.

          • We saw that in the first movie!

          • True but she was human. If she was a TX there would’ve been a better confrontation.

          • Still not sold

          • Yeah I don’t think anything could possibly top The Terminator and T2, but such as it is I like T3 for the action and the downer ending. I hated Salvation and I laughed myself silly during the few minutes of Genysis that I watched.

          • You SO have to stay tuned man!

          • Brother, you know I will. 🙂

          • Good things are coming!

          • SidneySmutt

            That cunt Herc banned me from AICN just for asking if anyone had seen Legion.

          • Really?

          • SidneySmutt

            Yep. You can call Harry all the names under the sun , even jok about dead children of his but god forbid you ask an innocent question on Hercs walking dead talkback.
            Disgusting little wanker he is. Probably walking round with a hard on now after his little power trip.

          • Now is the time to head over! There is a T2 article there for everyone’s perusal sir. Enjoy!

          • Gonna need a link please, bro, I can’t see it up yet. 🙂

    • The sequel(s) is going to get talked about. Stay tuned!

  • I_am_better

    Classic. Had a b*tch of a time managing to catch this uncut at the time, though. Finally it was a UK-import VHS that did the trick

    • I don’t really see much to cut. I’d let my 11 year old kid watch it.

      • I_am_better

        It was mostly the Terminators self-surgery stuff

        • Pfft, that all looks PAINFULLY fake now!

          • I_am_better

            Yeah but back in the late 80’s-early 90’s the Finnish censorship was ruthless

          • Really? It can be a bit weird in the UK sometimes. Usually it’s OK but sometimes some baffling censorship decisions are made here. The VHS and DVD of True Lies for example are still cut for their violence. Always kind of pissed me off.

  • jackcolton

    the original and best. no compromises, no dumbing down to appeal to a wider audience. little to no humour , just a dark violent relentless and (on first viewings anyway) often scary experience.