The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)

“You still don’t get it, do you? He’ll find her! That’s what he does! It’s ALL he does! You can’t stop him! He’ll wade through you! He’ll reach down her throat and tear her fuckin’ heart out!”


Alongside Robocop, in Primary School, The Terminator was the film everyone had seen …  except me. I was the one with Catholic parents who would never in a million years be allowed to watch an ’18’ rated film in Primary School. On my 12th birthday, Dumb and Dumber was out of bounds due to the ‘toilet’ humour my Mum and Dad were not prepared to let me watch. So, Unfortunately I only managed to watch this fairly recently – having watched Terminator 2: Judgement Day multiple times already. I am always the one who demands others to watch films in their original, canonical order – so this was an epic fail on my part.

Visual Start

Whenever we think of silent openings, everyone references 2001: A Space Odyssey and then, only recently, Wall-E and There Will Be Blood. The Terminator, though nowhere near as epic, begins with virtually no speaking – you have to work out what is going on. Both Kyle Reece (Michael Beihn) and The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) both look in the phone book for Sarah Connor (Hamilton). We only realise the true meaning of their intentions when they meet her – the fact that the film is called The Terminator means that, to some extent, you are expected to guess which one is the machine. I think with Schwarzenegger’s definitive role being the machine itself, means that this tension is lost on modern audeiences – much like the first hour of T2 is lost, due to the trailers and post-release knowledge … but thats a different argument.

The Future?

Considering the film begins, set in the future, only to flash back to the modern day, it is interesting to see how this “future story” has very little “future” shown. It shows the destroyed world people live in – with their [small-set] underground houses with very little to live off. This brings to mind other ‘future’ films with very little future in – The Matrix would be one, whilst even 2001 shows lots of space but very little urban-life [quote from Sarah].

Having just watched Back to the Future it is additionally interesting as to how the film links back round as the child John Connor is, in fact, Kyle’s child – sent by John Connor to meet Sarah Connor. I am sure there is a timeline inconsistency here and the time-travel element of The Terminator films are flawed as soon as we find this information out.

Horrific Night

Another apsect which could place this sci-fi film into an almost horror-genre (thoug Cameron does not direct the film in this way at all) is the unstoppable nature of The Terminator – akin to serial killers and mad-men, anyone gets in the way and he will kill them. We see two additional Sarah Connors killed off early on and, due to the nightime setting of the film, this merely adds to the fear of someone knocking at your door, late at night, and – just on such a trivial fator such as your name – you are killed. The finale, is industrial – the metal bangs and clunky machinery a reminder of the industrial world we live in – and the destructive future it may create. Is the real terminator captialism and industrialism – the dependency on such models for a society to survive, it eventually will walk over anything and ‘terminate’ anything to keep society functioning in its model?

The Terminator may be dated, but the root-issues are still relevant – potentially even moreso. The irony may be a discussion on the business model Avatar has created. A film made with huge technological advances in 3D and, finanically, a huge success within Hollywood – Avatar proves that there are films everyone will make sure they watch, importantly, at the cinema. But ironically, this has changed the goal-posts within filmmaking. Now any film that can be retro-fitted into 3D is made – and you only have to look as far as Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender to see that, although they made their money back (Clash with a sequel in the pipeline whilst Airbender was made to be part of a trilogy … but we shall see if that happens…) I think everyone is well aware that these are not good examples of the future of cinema. The focus on new-techonology to help cinema make money detracts us from what is really neccessary – an investement in unique story and interesting characters. Will these things make money? Inception proves this is true … but then again, with a plot ripped off from Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves, Avatar is still the model to imitate, whilst Inception is seen as a fluke.

What do you think? Is The Terminator a representation of our future? Could Avatar‘s techonological advancements eanr money in the short-term – but potentially destroy cinema in the long-term?

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  1. Hey Simon (you too Jo)

    A really solid article and an incredible film that surprises one to think it's nearly thirty years old now! I like the way you've organized your article too, a little bit about you and your experience and then right into the film, the start, the guts, and the finish. I think you're right about the opening and it remains one of my favorites – films that treat you like you're smart enough to sit back, relax and get into the world of the story without a car crash or alien invasion or machine gun ballet within the first three minutes of the movie. Just stumbled upon your site from my rss feeder, I think I caught you over at the LAMb.

    Look forward to reading more. Drop by and see me some time.

  2. Hey Simon,

    Since you're an old member, I wanted to let you know that I'm rebooting the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die Blog Club on my site. Could you come visit, maybe spread the word about the 'Thon on the 29th of November? And of course, above all, you're more than welcome to post on the assigned 1001 films!

    If you email me through the site I'll be able to give you more details about the new club.

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