Classic Intel: The Terminator - Blu-ray Review

'Every deliberate movement, robotic utterance and emotionless action from Schwarzenegger is honed to perfection'.

In order to fully appreciate what The Terminator has to offer, it helps to put yourself in the cinema seat of someone watching the film for the very first time in 1984. All the iconic elements of the franchise - Skynet, the T-800, "I'll be back", to name just a few - are alien to you, and yet to become common cinematic trivia. It's perhaps impossible to fully achieve this, but if you can manage to do it even for a few minutes of James Cameron's film, the truly brilliant sci-fi storytelling contained within The Terminator comes into its own in captivating fashion.

Cameron steadily paints his masterpiece with detail and patience, including minimal exposition in the opening act of his film to generate superb levels of mystery and suspense. Aside from the prologue-like imagery of a post-apocalyptic 2029 A.D presented before the opening credits, for the first half an hour or so The Terminator is closer in feel to a dark crime thriller than either sci-fi or action. Cameron's focus on building both plot and character is masterful, concentrating on the reality before allowing the more far-fetched elements to take over. We believe in Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as an ordinary young woman long before we believe in her as the mother of the future leader and saviour of mankind, a factor of vital importance to the film's narrative that the director fully understands.

When Cameron does switch focus to the sci-fi elements of the story, The Terminator grows stronger still. Some of the effects here may now be showing their age, with use of intricate puppets and stop motion where modern day films would employ CGI, but they are no less effective. If Cameron had in fact "pulled a Lucas" and gone back to update these scenes, it's likely they would have lost a great deal of their palpable menace and gritty charm. The action sequences throughout are also expertly crafted and utterly enthralling, foreshadowing the blockbuster thrills for which The Terminator's sequels would later become celebrated.

What brings Cameron's film together perfectly, however, is his trifecta of lead actors. Sarah Conner essentially spends much of the film as the archetypal damsel in distress, but Hamilton's performance lifts the role admirably, crafting in Sarah an intricately sympathetic but utterly genuine heroine, before sowing the seeds of where the character is headed during the closing scenes of the film in a manner satisfyingly reminiscent of Alien's Ellen Ripley. Michael Biehn as time travelling soldier Kyle Reese develops palpable chemistry with Hamilton, as well as providing many memorable moments head to head with his eponymous foe.

This is Arnold Schwarzenegger's film, however, a feat he impressively achieves in under twenty lines of dialogue. As the Terminator, Schwarzenegger delivers perhaps the most iconic and flawless performance of a humanoid machine seen in cinema before or since, arguably harking back to the likes of Lang's Metropolis to bring Cameron's man-machine to life. It's perhaps a little too easy to suggest in hindsight based on some of Schwarzenegger's later work that the role allowed the actor to capitalise on his limited range, and it's a view I would argue is also unfair. Every deliberate movement, robotic utterance and emotionless action from Schwarzenegger is honed to perfection. The Terminator is quite literally a killing machine, simultaneously creating one of the most brutally memorable villains and chillingly callous monsters cinema has ever given us.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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