I do love a story that involves some temporal mechanics, and this one always pleases. Yes, T2 is arguably the better and stronger film, but you wouldn’t have T2 without this first film, which I was happy to revisit on the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list.
Cameron did a lot of model work and visual effects for various science fiction films (Battle Beyond The Stars, Galaxy of Terror, Escape From New York), as well as cutting his teeth as a director on Piranha 2: The Spawning.
He finally got to bring his film to the big screen, though there were some casting changes, originally cult fave Lance Henriksen was going to play the time-travelling assassin, he was replaced by the up and coming Arnold Schwarzenegger and took a smaller role as Detective Hal Vukovich.
The story is simplicity itself, and completely engaging. A terminator is sent back in time from a losing battle to assassinate the mother of the resistance, killing him before he’s born and putting a fatal end to the battle of man versus machine.
Unfortunately, the Terminator doesn’t know where Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is, so he simply works his way through the phonebook, killing every Sarah Connor in the area, one after another. This builds an incredible amount of tension as we wait desperately for the resistance fighter from the future Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to get to Sarah before the Terminator does.
Using model work and creations by the amazing Stan Winston (miss you Stan), the world is completely formed, and even today, long after the original judgement day has come and gone, the film still rocks.
The design, the action sequences, the pacing, everything works in this film. Sarah is a little too soft, but I think that’s the point of the first film, making the revelation of her character in the second film all that more powerful, and Hamilton and Biehn share some really nice chemistry together.
I remember the first time I saw this. It was when it was first released to VHS while we were living in Bermuda, and my friend Sean lent me their rental copy from the now defunct Vision Video (where we were valued and loved customers – we were there every weekend). This was amazing! I had never seen anything like it before. Time travel, killer robots, all set against a modern back-drop – mind = blown.
I think one of the things I really liked about it, was that it was happening in the present, it helped foster my imagination, that there is more going on in the world they we imagine. If you peel back a layer there’s no telling what you are going to find. I love the idea of having a huge adventure, and everyone around you has no idea anything is out of the ordinary or going on.
Of course some people start to suspect there is something going on, certainly not a time-travelling robot, but the police, led by Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Hal are willing to lend a hand no matter how futile.
I also delight in seeing Dick Miller anytime he pops up! He’s always awesome. And of course Earl Boen as Silberman returns in future installments, though anything after 2 doesn’t really count in my books – as entertaining as they may or may not be.
This was Cameron carving out a name for himself as a master of his craft, of pacing, attention to detail, and action. Cameron was my go-to-guy right up until 1997, and while Titanic was a gorgeous film, and a technical marvel, it didn’t feel like the Cameron I had grown to love through the Terminator films, Aliens, True Lies, The Abyss, the man knew how to craft a scene!!!
So it was a true delight to go back and watch the master work on this still fantastic film.
What is your favorite Cameron film?