The Terminator: A Film with B Movie Charm

In Film and Television by Critical Eye

In the year 2029 and a war rages on between man and machine. Following a nuclear holocaust instigated by Skynet, a computer defence system that had become part of the infrastructure of society and had grown so advanced that it became ‘self-aware’ and turned on its creators and the whole of mankind. The human survivors now do battle against their formidable foe in this post-apocalyptic world.

Two adversaries from that world are sent back through time to the year 1984. One a soldier fighting for the resistance movement, Kyle Reece, (Michael Biehn), and the other a cyborg, a cybernetic organism with both organic and biomechatronic body parts called the Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is tasked with tracking down and killing Sarah Connor, (Linda Hamilton) who was destined to bear a son, John Connor, who would one day grow up to become the saviour of the human race in defeating Skynet.

The Terminator has more malevolent intentions towards Connor and uses every trick in the book with cool efficiency and seemingly invincible physical strength, making the former Mr Universe with his imposing stature and bulging biceps the ideal candidate for the role. Despite requiring very little acting prowess, Schwarzenegger makes a convincing villain and was a perfect fit. He was originally cast as Reece but had expressed his wish to play the Terminator instead and was duly granted the role.

Despite the groundbreaking special effects lauded over by film critics and audiences regarding the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which were well deserved of course, part of The Terminator’s charm was how the main conflict took place over a few days, mostly at night and the B movie quality to it. Director James Cameron and writer and producer Gale Anne Hurd’s vision was realised with a relatively modest budget of around 6 million dollars. The sets had obvious flaws as a result and were unrealistic in many aspects, but that didn’t matter, an engaging plot and well-formed characters made the film.

Harlan Ellison, an American writer, who although admitted he enjoyed the film, claimed that the story was based on his work from an episode from The Outer Limit’s 1960’s TV show, called ‘Soldier’ of which Cameron denied but was settled out of court with Ellison receiving an undisclosed sum and film credits. Whatever the truth, there are glaring similarities between the two bodies of work.

With an 18 certificate the violence was clearly evident but not gratuitous. The Tech Noir scene, a night club, and ensuing chase were electrifying and intense, and later the demolition job on a police station by the Terminator were just a few of the main highlights.

The music composer Brad Fiedel provides the film’s score, a simple synthesizer-based track as iconic as the movie itself, which was both haunting and memorable with an underlying sense of urgency about it.

The lead characters in The Terminator are somehow exist in a perpetual cycle of time for all of eternity, as will become evident if you have never seen the film. The notion that a superpower hell-bent on the destruction of mankind, with the ability to time travel at its disposal made it plausible that they might at least attempt to take out an influential leader such as Connor who was responsible for their demise if at all possible, and by any means, enabling the viewer to suspend disbelief for just a few hours and be taken along for the ride.