The Terminator (1984)
Although I have been lucky enough to attend some of the events and special screenings surrounding the NFT’s Future Human season I did want to fit in a ‘straightforward’ screening, that is to say just a film, on its own, without any Q&A or interview to follow in an effort to do the season justice if that in any way makes sense. Considering my genre preferences selecting some SF film to go and see wasn’t going to be a particularly difficult task, I mused over the likes of Avalon which I haven’t seen and Soderbergh’s Solaris which I quite like, before deferring to James Cameron’s robust The Terminator, I figured after all the dense, philosophical SF stuff I’ve been watching over the past few weeks I really could with some stuff getting blown up, some judicious use of squibs and stunt-people, a film where the narrative obstacles are solved with explosives and shotgun blasts rather than erudite musings on the nature of mortality and infinity – in short, some fun.
Single, twenty-something Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is going to have a pretty bad day. Leading a somewhat sedentary lifestyle in early eighties Los Angeles Sarah’s life is turned upside down when she becomes the target of an unstoppable, homicidal time-travelling android – Ahnoldt in his star cementing role – who has been sent back from 2029, a post nuclear holocaust future where man is engaged in a desperate battle with the machines to prevent our extermination. Unbeknownst to Sarah she is destined to be the mother of the resistances one true hope, the charismatic leader John Connor – check out those initials – who represents future mankind’s only hope of salvation and victory over Skynet’s merciless automatons. Whist the meek Sarah is no match for the relentless terminator assassin she has one slim chance for survival, the future resistance have sent back one of their most skilled warriors, Kyle Reece (Michael Bien) to defend Sarah and ensure the birth of the prospective messiah.
I haven’t seen the film for a good few years and I was looking forward to seeing it on the big screen in all its blue-hued, techno fetishistic neo-noir glory, thankfully the print did not disappoint and this was terrific fun. It’s a remarkably compact picture, in Cameron’s trademark style it bounds along with a relentless enthusiasm and is a textbook exemplar of how you make a superlative Hollywood action picture, with just the right balance of back-story and plot, the requisite action pieces – although I doubt the remorseless execution of the cops by Ahnoldt in his assault on the station house would be sanctioned today – the contemporarily impressive SFX, the attention to detail on lighting and costumes, the modernist soundtrack, it all moves along so efficiently you don’t have time to question its pulpy origins. It would make a great double-bill with Michael Mann’s Thief as both premier examples of that period’s aesthetical designs, the fethisization of the urban and industry, those glowing pools of neon reflecting over the surfaces of cars and rain-sodden streets, all the flash-forward stuff to LA circa 2129 was clunky in places but still held together, you can see where every penny of the modest $8 million budget was spent.
One has to question whatever happened to Michael Biehn? I know he cropped up in Planet Terror a few years ago but after some starring roles in James Cameron’s next couple of films you have to wonder why he didn’t quite make it. It was amusing to see the psychiatrist Dr. Silberman whose appearance got a laugh and of course the obligatory Bill Paxton cameo. That’s pretty much it for me and Jim on the big-screen, with the exception of Piranha 2: Flying Killers which I can’t see getting a screening soon I’ve caught up with all his movies on the big screen, as long as you don’t count the documentaries. So that’s it, I’m going to try to keep things a little more succinct around here so I’ll just close with the charming news that we shouldn’t really be worrying about an imminent holocaust emanating from our machines, we seem to be doing a pretty good of job of it ourselves without any outside assistance. Sweet dreams…