Viking Night: The Terminator
By Bruce Hall
September 20, 2011
Once upon a time, Arnold Schwarzenegger was known for more than breaking the bank in the state of California and making unauthorized deposits into his housekeeper. It's hard to remember, but it wasn’t so long ago that Arnold was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. His comically disarming accent and bulging muscles spelled guaranteed box office success. And before an altogether different bulge ended it all, the sky was the limit for the Austrian Oak. Arnold owned the second half of the 1980s and was the undisputed number one action movie star on earth. And it all started with a quirky, clever low budget adventure called The Terminator.
“But wait a minute, what about Conan the Barbarian?”
That’s what you’re saying now, isn’t it? Sure, there's no question that his largely non speaking role in that brutal, bloody fantasy classic got Arnold’s career rolling and opened doors for him. But it was his largely non speaking role as the iconic killer cyborg from the future that truly made Arnold Schwarzenegger a superstar. And he wasn’t the only one. Writer, director and Future King of the World James Cameron crafted a gory but surprisingly resonant thriller that immediately put him on the fast track to becoming George Lucas’ more talented replacement. And he populated his film with a serviceable cast, including frequent collaborator Michael Biehn and future ex-wife Linda Hamilton (it's good to be the King!).
The film was an unexpected success, spawning a cottage industry of imitators and exerting a profound influence on the sci-fi action genre in general. But if you ask me, it should have been a one-off event. Despite being all of the good things it is, The Terminator is an inherently flawed story. Not to the point that it has any significance to the first movie, but in the sense that subsequent installments only exposed the original plot’s soft underbelly and weakened the franchise. But on its own merits, The Terminator is still a solid thrill ride. It isn’t quite the masterpiece King James thinks it is, but it sure beats the hell out of the thing with the girl and the boat and the boy with the floppy bangs.
For those who haven’t seen it, or have been touring the Asteroid Belt for the past 25 years, The Terminator is really the story of Sarah Connor (Hamilton). Sarah’s a sweet, dorky girl with a big heart. But she’s also got a crappy job, a bad haircut, drives around on a moped and wears those horrible high waisted jeans all the girls had when Jordache wasn’t in the budget. Lucky for her, all this is about to change. On the other side of Los Angeles, two men appear in a literal flash of smoke and light, and begin a mad sprint across the city, clearly on an eventual crash course with one another. And the great thing about it, if you’ve never seen the movie before, is that you have no idea who they are or what they want.