I finally got around to watching the original Terminator for the first time ever last night. My only exposure to the franchise prior had been T3, which I haven’t seen since it was in theaters (and actually liked it, but I was also 14 at the time and excited for the rare occurrences my parents would allow me to see an R-rated film in general; so I can’t say for certain what my opinion would be of it now), so I was going into this entirely nostalgia goggles-free. And fear not fans, it was fucking awesome.
The only aspect it falls short in is the sometimes-dated special effects, but in this day and age where special effects take the precedence over good storytelling, I’ll take a film with okay-ish special effects with great story and characters over a film with great special effects that forgot to develop its story and characters any day. An opinion shared by many, but I thought it was worth addressing since I can’t usually discuss older films without (people from older generations, even) going “The effects looked kinda silly compared to today’s, huh?” On that note, I actually kind of dug the stop-motion-looking effect used for the skinless Terminator at the end of the film; it looked so distinctive from the natural movements outside of it, it gave a sort of creepy effect. That said, I’m still looking forward to seeing how the effects have improved in 2.
What most impressed me about the film was how it took its time to build its characters and world--and how it never, not once, halted in building them. It would incorporate it into the action scenes if it had to, and it gave just the right amount of elaboration of each essential character without over-elaborating on them and wasting time. There’s enough shown to let the audience know that Sarah is a normal person working a job that doesn’t always treat her hot, that Kyle was brought up in an environment where there was no time for pleasure and still gets shell-shocked by memories of his experience in the future. Even minor characters like Sarah’s roommate and the police lieutenant were given just enough material that you could get a good grasp on their characters.
The story itself is solid too, even going about clever ways to address questions the audience is likely wondering (Why didn’t Kyle take any weapons with him? Why was he naked? How was the Terminator able to get through?) through police interrogation. Plot points that could have been potentially frustrating and dragging, such as questioning of whether Kyle was just some weirdo or actually from the future, are both addressed and concluded in a way that feels quick yet natural. Sarah is smart enough to be concerned over two murders of people named Sarah Connor in a row, and the police are actually helpful. It’s all remarkably refreshing, even coming from a film made over 30 years ago.
The really interesting thing, however, was seeing the iconic lines “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back” in their original context, particularly the latter. What fascinates me most about the latter was how much it’s been misused over time--or how far it’s been removed from context that no one who’s seen the film will really understand why it’s so memorable that it’s quotable. Even the sequels seem to forget what made it memorable. No, it’s not Schwarzenegger’s deadpan, accented delivery that makes it memorable--though that likely contributed to it. It’s the fact that first he says “I’ll be back,” turns and goes out the door, then moments later, comes back crashing a car into the police station. It’s great. It shouldn’t have been used in the films ever again.
Absolutely loved this movie, plan on watching Judgment Day tomorrow.