Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Terminator (1984) - James Cameron

Being eleven when this was first shown in cinemas, meant that I didn't have a chance in hell of seeing it until it landed in my front room on clunky old VHS years later. So nostalgia being what it is, I couldn't turn down the chance to finally see this on the big screen almost thirty years later. Now some films get better and better with each passing year, not this one though. What was once inspired, smart and exciting is now a bit tatty looking. Sure the concept is still great, the whole time travel paradox is always fun when done well. Providing not only a reason to return to the film, but also the chance for little kids like myself to natter about it in the playground until the cows come home.

Can there actually be anyone out there who doesn't know the plot of this film? Just in case there is, here it (briefly) is. In the future, after that old dystopian sci fi staple a nuclear war, machines are at war with the human race. A cyborg (the terminator of the title) is sent back in time to present day 1984, to kill one Sarah Connor, a waitress having a permanent bad hair day. Why kill her? Well the thing is she will at some point in the future give birth to the guy who will lead the human resistance. Pretty neat huh? The humans manage to send someone back in time too, to try and protect Sarah against her would be killer.

As I say as a concept it's great, and back then this film was the bees knees for me. There was so little decent science fiction in the early eighties, it was all aimed at kids. For more adult themed films you had John Carpenter, a handful of rental titles (Blade Runner, Soylent Green and um The Omega Man) and that was about it. So when The Terminator rolled up I was on board straight away. So what's changed? Well for one it looks shoddy, proper low budget, which it wasn't. The effects (with the exception of Stan Winston's actual T-101) all look quaint at best. It's all rubber guns, bad dummies, acting that is less than convincing and dialogue that is unintentionally humourous. Cameron directs with a heavy hand, leaving no room for the film to breathe. So nothing new there then.

More than all that though is the fact that T2 manages to make the original redundant. T2 does everything that The Terminator does, but better. This film still has a certain charm and it's very much of it's time, there's future Cameron players Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn all of whom are wonderful. Then there's the future Mrs Cameron herself Linda Hamilton, to be fair this isn't her finest hour, and like Arnie she'd be much better in the sequel.

As I sat in the cinema I kept thinking that what was my generations Matrix, is now nothing more than a cult film. The film that kickstarted a franchise that no one really wants anymore. Perhaps it would be fairer to compare it to Planet of the Apes in that way. Before I sign off on this I have to mention Brad Fiedel's soundtrack, which sounds like it wanted to be as cool as Carpenter's scores from this era, but actually ends up sounding like an instrumental version of early Human League. Oh and I'd give anything not to have to see the sex scene in this film ever again. Top tip for budding film makers, if you are going to have a sex scene in your film, never add music. Never ever ever. It will always end up being utter rubbish at best, porn at worst.

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