The Terminator (1984)
February 26, 2022 2:50 PM - Subscribe

A lonely waitress suddenly has two men chasing after her, and one of them really, really doesn't like her name.

Another one that's inexplicably never been posted on the purple before, although the sequel has. Anyone remember this low-budget indie from the director of Piranha II: The Spawning?

Some interesting/amusing bits gleaned from Wikipedia:

- The basic idea came from Cameron falling ill during the release of Piranha II and having a fever dream about "a metallic torso holding kitchen knives dragging itself from an explosion." The initial script outline included the liquid metal cyborg that became the T-1000 from Terminator 2 but Cameron didn't think that the technology yet existed to do it justice on the screen.

- Lance Henriksen was Cameron's first choice for the Terminator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger slated for the part of Kyle Reese. When a reporter doing a piece on Arnold's Conan the Destroyer asked him about Cameron's movie, Arnold described it as "Oh, some shit movie I'm doing, take a couple weeks." The studio suggested O. J. Simpson but Cameron did not feel that Simpson, at that time, would be believable as a killer

- Schwarzenegger speaks only 17 lines in the film, and fewer than 100 words. (I'm guessing that a substantial portion of that is describing the guns that he wants.)

- Although reviews were mixed on its initial release, it currently stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
posted by Halloween Jack (23 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I'll be back"
posted by chavenet at 3:12 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that this hasn't been posted yet, and I don't feel like I can comment to do this film justice.

It was advertised weeks ahead of the television (cable) premiere, and ofc I had never seen it; I ran home from my elementary school wind ensemble performance - and still missed the first 15 minutes.

I was enthralled.

I've seen it many, many times over the years and despite Cameron second guessing the final theatrical edit (I can't remember where I read that the original ending extended some time further), but it ended up setting T2 to be even better.

Despite the uncertainty of casting at the time, it ended up perfect; Henricksen as the police psych, Biehn as Reese, Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, and especially Hamilton as Connor.

Schwarzenegger played to his strengths as not-quite-human, and it's great to see his later career made possible by this breakout.

Hamilton did the naive young waitress in the 80's and begin her transformation into a fighter. I've always appreciated the paradox that Connor (probably) became important in the future because the future came to fuck with her in the past.

Pity about Biehn flaming out as a (mostly) direct to video actor (after 'Aliens,' 'The Abyss,' 'Tombstone,' - which I guess isn't a bad run).

In my headcannon, T3, T4, Genesys were all fever dreams from time froth that dissipated; 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles'* a split timeline, and 'Dark Fate' as the only sequel to T2.

*T:TSCC is worth watching, and features not the worst John Connor. I think it's time for a personal rewatch.
posted by porpoise at 4:24 PM on February 26 [6 favorites]


Hamilton did the naive young waitress in the 80's and begin her transformation into a fighter. I've always appreciated the paradox that Connor (probably) became important in the future because the future came to fuck with her in the past.

Even if it were a better movie I'd still be unable to suspend my disbelief to watch Children of the Corn because I'm sorry, I simply cannot believe Linda Hamilton as a damsel in distress.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:40 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


There is so much I could say, so I won't even try. The Terminator is one of the first movies I remember; my mom liked it a lot. And it is one of my favorites too. James Cameron did a superb job of worldbuilding. There was so much potential story to be mined in future installments if the franchise had been properly managed.
posted by Stuka at 7:49 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


The offspring in this house was born in the latter half of the nineties and is notorious for finding “old movies” far too slow. (She has pronounced both Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard glacial.) I was surprised when a few years ago she did ask specifically to see this and subsequently the first sequel. She enjoyed them both well enough, but she did mention that the ball-lightning-time-travel-effect, which probably took like five percent of the film’s budget, was something she learned to do in computer class at age nine.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:08 AM on February 27 [10 favorites]


Big ups for the plot synopsis above the fold.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:04 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]


Wash day! Nothing to wear!
posted by triage_lazarus at 7:12 AM on February 27


Raiders of the Lost Ark too slow!? I'm having a really hard time with that one.
posted by simonw at 7:22 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]


I bet she was responding to the episodic nature rather than the pacing. I recently rewatched it for the anniversary and was struck at how disconnected the major sequences feel from each other.
posted by praemunire at 10:20 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


The basic idea came from Cameron falling ill during the release of Piranha II and having a fever dream

Although, y'know, Harlan Ellison was adamant that it was also sourced from an episode of The Outer Limits that he wrote, and apparently convincing enough that the production company and distributor settled out of court (and agreed to give him a source credit) when he sued for plagiarism.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:54 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


I bet she was responding to the episodic nature rather than the pacing. I recently rewatched it for the anniversary and was struck at how disconnected the major sequences feel from each other.

Naah... in her view “nothing happens.”

It seems to me a few years ago, maybe on the blue, I saw that all of Project UFO was online. For those of you too young to recall, “Two agents of the U.S. Government's Project Blue Book project investigate sightings of extraterrestrials and unidentified flying objects.” Sort of a distant early X-Files with two bland white guys as leads. And I think less UST.

Anyway, it aired 1978-1979, so not terribly far out of the range of Raiders (1981). I clicked on a random episode and a random point in the stream. The car containing the investigators was arriving at a ranch. In a long shot, we see their square car (a dark blue Dodge Diplomat or something) pull up to the gate. The driver gets out, unlatches the gate, walks it back to open it up, gets back into the car, moves the car up two or three car-lengths, gets out, closes the gate, and drives up to the house.

In 1978-79, this is what NBC was airing at 8:00 pm on Thursday nights. I think this is the same slot that would go on to be occupied by The Cosby Show and Friends in the coming decades, and they were content to show 45 seconds of this.

My point is that people in their twenties have no idea what “nothing happening onscreen” looks like.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:20 PM on February 27 [10 favorites]


Better never show her a Melville film!
posted by praemunire at 5:30 PM on February 27


Completely useless trivia: the code that scrolls across the Terminator's POV is in fact assembly code for the Apple II taken from a magazine.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:06 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


There's concept art of Henriksen as the Terminator from when Cameron was pitching it. The original idea was that the Terminator was someone you wouldn't notice in a crowd until they got close and suddenly killed you. Putting Arnold in the role effectively squashed that idea and forced them into the (much better IMO) concept of the Terminator just not giving a damn if you saw it coming or not. It smashes through anything or anyone between it and its target with no concept of stealth or subtlety whatsoever.

I first heard of this movie before it came out, in - of all places - an Apple II magazine. They were using an Apple II to handle behind the scenes production stuff like scheduling and so on, and this was suitably innovative that the magazine did a piece on it. They interviewed Gale Anne Hurd who said they were saving several thousand dollars doing it that way. Money, she said (paraphrasing here because I don't remember the exact quote), which they could thus put on the screen, probably in the form of another car to wreck, because Terminator was going to be a "crash and burn kind of movie." As indeed it was.

After it came out, Soldier of Fortune magazine actually reviewed it, focusing primarily on Arnold's weapon's handling, which it found "entirely credible."
posted by Naberius at 12:46 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


There's concept art of Henriksen as the Terminator from when Cameron was pitching it. The original idea was that the Terminator was someone you wouldn't notice in a crowd until they got close and suddenly killed you. Putting Arnold in the role effectively squashed that idea and forced them into the (much better IMO) concept of the Terminator just not giving a damn if you saw it coming or not. It smashes through anything or anyone between it and its target with no concept of stealth or subtlety whatsoever.

It creates an interesting evolutionary arc for the Terminator models; from rubber skin on earlier models to the more realistic version here, which is good but still noticeable because of physique.

That said, and with tremendous love for Terminator and T2, it never made sense to me that Skynet never went small - hell with creating human simulacra, go for swarms of small robots, nanoscale if possible (and if Skynet can build a time machine, it should be possible) and infiltrate that way. But that would not be as great a story; Terminator is a story about being human in the face of technology run amok - and technology attempting to imitate humanity. It's a film not about the messiah, but the messiah's mom and her future reaching back for her - her son sending his father back in time to her, and the enemy's effort to prevent that union from happening. I think its that focus on Sarah that makes this film work - she's a flawed, struggling human being who loses everything - her own mother, her friends, her lover, her understanding of the world - while on the hero's journey, and I really think part of the reason the films after T2 don't capture the same magic is because there isn't that strong, grounding humanity of Sarah Connor, mother of the future (T2 gives us a seriously bent but unbroken Sarah, who is still completely relateable and understandable and who reclaims her own humanity).

Amazing performances all around in this film - Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn ("I came across time for you, Sarah"); Arnie making his breakthrough; Lance Henrikson; Earl Boen who will reprise the role of Silberman in T2; and Bill Paxton as one of the punks hassling the Terminator about laundry day.
posted by nubs at 2:33 PM on February 28 [4 favorites]


We were just watching this again on Saturday night, mostly because I insisted.

It's basically James Cameron doing John Carpenter. It is, essentially, a horror movie, and so much of it just looks so raw, in a good way. Everything is all neon-lit dirty streets.

I noticed again how much the iconic lines of "Come with me if you want to live" and "I'll be back" are just sort of there. Yes, they're great moments, but seeing them in context, they don't necessarily stick out too much.

The love story is a great one, too. It's surprisingly tender and sweet and believable on Sarah's part, given the circumstances.
posted by edencosmic at 3:32 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]


The iconic line where I used to work, uttered at random, “Saaarah Connnnners?”
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:09 PM on February 28


Don't sleep on the OST and original Terminator theme
posted by eustatic at 2:48 AM on March 1


I rewatched this recently and was reminded by how much this film has a texture and feel to it. Watching the film, especially on a big screen, feels like a full-body experience.

There's such a strong sense of place and while I've never been to LA it feels like I'm seeing a real lived-in LA. It feels like a dangerous place even before the Terminator shows up.

The rough edges of a low budget and film grain just add to the appeal. There's now a secondary layer with the time travel aspect of the film as watching it in 2022 feels like being transported back in time with the big hair, Walkman, synths and blocky cars that were old at the time of filming.

Separately the soundtrack deserves a special shout out: the post about it on the blue here is really worth a look & listen.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:00 AM on March 1 [2 favorites]


I thought the central idea came from PKD's short Second Variety, so the fever dream/Harlan Ellison discussion upthread is interesting. The killer robots in that story were very much in the blend in and look unthreatening mode though. Apparently filmed as a movie called Screamers, which I've not seen.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:26 AM on March 1


Screamers is worth a watch.
One thing I always appreciated about these films is the care taken to make the characters actions plausible. No one has to hold the idiot stick to make the plot advance.
posted by Eddie Mars at 7:25 AM on March 1 [3 favorites]


The greatest thing about the film is that it casts Schwarzenegger as a lumbering automaton. Talk about playing to your strengths!
posted by SPrintF at 6:29 PM on March 2


Screamers

Just rewatched it... holds up surprisingly well for the era and the minimal budget. The physical effects holds up very well, and although it changes up the setting a lot, carries the premise of Second Variety fairly faithfully. The art direction is on point. Very under-rated.

Peter Weller deserves a lot more recognition than he gets. If he was younger, I think he could have been a better T-1000 than Robert Patrick, but not sure if he'd even be interested after doing Robocop.

He hosted the History Channel Engineering an Empire and he (and it) is superb. At it's conclusion, he enrolled into a PhD program (after already having completing a masters) in Roman and Renaissance Art and was awarded a doctorate - during which he was still acting and doing voicework.
posted by porpoise at 6:38 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


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