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.