DIRECTOR: James Cameron
May Contain Spoilers!
Isn’t James Cameron a genius! Often given credit for his original story for The Terminator, so many forget that it was actually the much early work of Science Fiction, a script by Harlan Ellison, which is claimed to have served as inspiration for this classic 1980’s and franchise starting flick. Ellison, who is well-known for his work on Star Trek, is responsible for no less than two The Outer Limits (1960’s) episodes which lay out the basic plot points which drive this film, that being “Soldier”, the story of two soldiers being sent back in time from a future war and less predominantly “Demon With A Glass Hand”, both from series’ second and final season.
But whether Cameron is solely responsible for the core plot of this film of not, he can claim credit for its heart and soul. Taking the established concepts behind the horror/slasher/stalker genres which were dominating 80’s cinema, he manages to flesh it out with a real science fiction story, a fluid and well paced screenplay and some really good performances, which are in many ways, leagues above what is expected for films such as this.
Standing as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakthrough role, he is often criticised for his literally “mechanical” performance, but having watched this with fresh eyes, not having seen it for over a decade, I am forced to disagree. Yes, the dialogue is sparse, but effective and if anything, he acting is a little too animated, certainly in comparison to later portrayals of the T-800’s, from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003) and The latest instalment, Terminator: Genisys (2015)
And what happened to Michael Beihn? He was a great 80’s everyman action hero but one who barely made it into the 1990’s, certainly not in the mainstream, but why is beyond me and his naturalistic performance and exposition of a complex future seems to have been dismissed and I think it need to be re-examined as it was he who set the tone for the entire, now bloated franchise.
Basically, The Terminator is the Horror/Action film for the whole family to enjoy, it has it all, as is generally Cameron’s trademark. Brad Fidel’s score is iconic and rightfully so and only adds to the grand scale, not of the action so much but the enveloping epic plot and sense of forbidding with almost a romantic allure. As if the Judgement Day of the then future, August 29th 1997, was a real event and it has, thanks to Cameron’s first two films, become as real a fictional future as The Planet Of The Apes (1968), as something which has evolved into the cultural Zeitgeist.
How did he do it? He made it real.
Presented it as fact, as any real storyteller does. He believes it so we believe it and it is that faith in this low-budget stalker flick from the 1980’s, playing for the late night video crowd, which has elevated it into a bona-fide Sci Fi classic.