Sunday, 13 February 2011

80s Movies: The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator is yet another great 80s sci-fi movie - this time it's not aliens or computer-generated worlds, but psychotic androids from the future. The Terminator franchise has proved to be something of a roadmap for cutting-edge special effects since 1984, with the first movie making use of stop motion, 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day being all about the CGI morphing of Robert Patrick's T-1000, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) featuring 'digital actors' including a fully computer-generated Arnold Schwarzenegger, and finally the 2009 back-to-basics Terminator Salvation, which still found time to copy and paste a young Arnie from the 1984 film directly into a scene or two.

However, it is the earlier films in this franchise that remain easily the best - The Terminator does look a bit old in parts, I'll admit that, but it's really not doing so bad. While it seems like such an iconic storyline, I can't help but be amused at Wikipedia's suggestion that Kyle "come with me if you want to live" Reese was almost given a robotic dog as a companion. Maybe it's just me, but I can't help but think of K9 from Doctor Who. "Are we at the brink of the nuclear apocalypse?" "Affirmative, master."

The Plot

Like the Predator franchise, Terminator films follow the same basic principle - robots have become self-aware, and are trying to destroy humanity. It's our own fault - we told them to eliminate any threats to their own continued existence. There's probably some kind of cyclical logic about the threat of war, or the value of pre-emptive strikes, but there's none of the WarGames style of pacifistic reasoning. These films are basically a bloodbath from start to finish, with a protagonist who may or may not make it to the final scene.

In The Terminator, that protagonist is Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in what has proved to be her defining role - she continues to contribute to the films as a narrator and, with the possible exception of Dante's Peak, has done little else in her career that's really grabbed an international audience. It's a shame, because she really is good. So we see her and human-from-the-future Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) attempting to survive the fascinations and machinations of the eponymous Terminator - a career-defining role also for Arnold Schwarzenegger - by basically outrunning it.

The Philosophy

The Terminator is one of those harbinger-of-doom storylines that suggests we're guaranteed to screw up our planet one way or the other. Interestingly, it's not pollution that causes the problem here, but our global connectedness. Think 1992's The Lawnmower Man, but done much, much better. Judgment Day has always been described as inevitable, which makes the events of each of the earlier films very much a tale of one human's survival, rather than trying to save the race as a whole.

There's also an interesting ability in The Terminator for the future to be foretold - and while the characters may try to alter the course of events, the most they ever seem able to do is shift things slightly through time. The humans are as unable to prevent the rise of the machines as the Terminators are to kill humanity's most important figures. A fine balance is struck throughout, between telling a story the viewer can really buy into, and simply showing events that are doomed to play out in a predetermined way, regardless of who wins or loses.

80s Movies

In February, POPSICULTURE are dedicating the month to a look back at the iconic films of the 1980s - a decade whose films continue to draw massive audiences when they are shown on TV. To follow posts in this series, check the 80s Movies label or sign up to the dedicated RSS feed.

No comments:

Post a Comment