With the next installment in the franchise, Terminator Genisys, opening this coming week, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the film that first introduced us to Sarah Connor, Kyle Reese, and the Terminator himself. We’re delving into The Terminator (1984) for this throwback movie review, the sci-fi classic monster movie that brings with it the cutting edge of 80s graphics and some iconic catch phrases; our cultural lexicon wouldn’t be the same without this movie. If for some reason you haven’t seen this one but want to fully appreciate the new film, read on but consider yourself warned: Spoilers, sweetie.
This movie opens with a mystery and two naked men appearing out of bolts of lightening. Not a bad way to kick off a story, if you ask me. The two of them are clearly very different: one of them is huge and muscular (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his first real act is to rip the heart out of a teenager to get his clothes (and oh those clothes! Fashion in this movie is amazing, and I love seeing the things that are trendy again today, like the brightly colored hair!) while the other (Michael Biehn) seems scared and desperate (and manages to acquire clothes without killing anyone). We don’t know who either of these men are, but they are both after the same woman: Sarah Connor.
Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is a waitress who lives with her roommate and has a pet iguana. She is stood up for a date early in the story, and we’re led to believe she hasn’t been successful in the dating department in general by the way she’s shown in comparison to her roommate. As an aside: the roommate’s relationship with her boyfriend had me laughing, from the Walkman to the giant sandwich. I couldn’t help but admire the way a minor side character was so well developed in such a short amount of time, that we really cared about what happened to her. Spoiler: she doesn’t survive. That’s a trend in this movie. At any rate, Sarah starts noticing something is wrong when another woman is on the news with her same name, murdered. When a third Sarah Connor is found dead that same night, our protagonist realizes she’s in danger and tries to make a break for it.
The non-murderous strange man follows her into a club and protects her from the murderous strange man and they run until they are captured by the police, who understandably want to take Sarah into protective custody. The man says his name is Reese and claims he’s from the future, sent to protect Sarah, which predictably makes everyone in the police station (including Sarah) think he’s out of his mind. That is, until the huge other man, the one Reese refers to as a “Terminator,” turns up and kills everyone inside the police station. Sarah and Reese escape and head into the country. After seeing the Terminator in action, Sarah begins to believe Reese, and together they try to escape from the monster.
Reese gives us the crucial plot details we need while the pair plans ways to survive, namely that Sarah’s as-yet unborn son, John, leads a human rebellion against machines that have taken over the world. He tells her a war is coming soon, and after seeing the Terminator herself, Sarah believes him. He also reveals that he has been in love with her for years, thanks to a photo he got from the adult John Connor. Between the high stakes surviving they are experiencing together and the weight of finding someone who loves her enough to sacrifice himself for her, Sarah falls hard and fast for Reese. And now we know John Connor’s dad, too.
At this point, it’s important to point out the set up of this movie. There are two time periods and two plots running concurrently, though the time period with Sarah is definitely the primary one. We get glimpses into the future through Reese as he tells Sarah about his life or as he has flashbacks to the war in which he has always lived. He doesn’t know how to not be a fighter. I also liked that the flashbacks (or should we call them flashforwards?) are filmed in a dreamy way, so that it really feels like we’re seeing it through Reese’s eyes. We only get snapshots, and only see what he saw at the time. The dreamlike state also smooths over some of the “roughness” of the period special effects so that they don’t stand out. In fact, the effects hold up remarkably well three decades later.
The end of this film is one of the most iconic in sci-fi, with the death of Reese and the destruction of the “unmasked” Terminator by Sarah, who in the course of events has learned all she needs about what’s coming in the future war with machines to train her son John. She flees to Mexico (we see the necessary photo taken) and our story, at least for this installment, ends.
I don’t normally give away the ending of films, but I think it’s important in this case to have a solid understanding of the plot points and timelines involved in the original before viewing the deviation/reboot on Wednesday. In order to understand the changes, we’ve got to begin at the beginning. Genisys will take us back to 1984, but there will be some hugely significant differences. In order to fully appreciate them, it’s good to remember the first iteration.
Things to watch for in the new movie:
- Dr. Peter Silberman (Earl Boen) makes an appearance in every Terminator movie (usually played by the same actor even) except Terminator Salvation (2009).
- Clothing theft.
- Using long guns one-handed, not to mention oversized weapons in general.
- “I’ll be back.” (and other one-liners)
- Mommy issues.
Even now, thirty years later, this film is exciting and will keep you entertained. It’s fast paced and unafraid of killing off its characters so that you don’t know for sure who will survive until the end. Even with repeated viewings, it’s a fun watch and holds up to the test of time.