Okay, a couple of weekends back I watched the first three Terminator movies back to back, and now sitting here and writing about it I realise that there really isn’t a lot I can say, but I’ll do my best anyway.
The Terminator (1984)
If Alien is a haunted house story in a science fictional setting, then maybe we can make a case for this being the slasher film as SF, except for the absence of any slashing. Arnie, in a role that was made for him (mainly because it demands little speaking and no emotion), is a remorseless and unstoppable killer in the mould of Myers and Voorhees, committing murder and mayhem on an unprecedented scale until final girl Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) gets his measure. The framing story is that he is a machine, a Terminator, sent back from the future to kill the mother of the leader of the resistance (and if you’re crying spoiler and you aren’t somebody who has been marooned on a desert island since the end of WW2, kindly take a hike), and in a similar manner a rebel fighter has been sent back to help Sarah survive. Of course all of this involves numerous paradoxes, not least of which is the origin of the inspirational John Connor himself, but the scriptwriters barely touched on such matters and I’m not going to attempt it either. The idea was, I believe, filched from a Harlan Ellison scripted episode of The Twilight Zone and HE sued (good for him). Anyway, the end result is a tense and exciting story, one that has moments of romance and humour intercut with the fire fights and several truly memorable scenes, such as Arnie’s invasion of a police station. Bold, edge of the seat stuff and I loved it.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
I remember seeing this at the cinema, me and a gang of friends who took time out to catch the summer’s hottest new release. It was an event, and it lived up to our expectation. Arnie is back, only this time he’s the hero (probably for contractual reasons), reprogrammed by future John Connor to save himself in the past. And the enemy is the sinister Robert Patrick as a more advanced model Terminator, one made out of liquid metal, which makes for some interesting kills. The machines duke it out, while mother and son stand on the side lines and do their best to help. There’s the suggestion that Arnie wins, not because he is faster or stronger, but because he gains some of the qualities that humans have, such as empathy. Yeah, well. There’s plenty of humour, as with Arnie firing to disable cops when told that he can’t kill them, and those paradoxes get ever more tangled with an attempt to prevent nuclear Armageddon, with added moral dilemmas, while Sarah Connor’s escape from a mental hospital warmed the cockles of my heart (Sarah’s evolution from holy innocent at the start of the first movie to a hardass survivalist willing to do whatever it takes here is one of the things that make me love this film). In the end this is a big budget, big screen spectacle, the director painting in vivid Technicolor, but done with heart and a feel for who the characters are, even the machines. It may just be one of those cases of the sequel bettering its predecessor.
I caught this at the cinema also, and recall being dissatisfied. This was the first time I’ve watched it since, and it proved more agreeable with distance in time and without the burden of huge expectations, though still the weakest of the trilogy. Sarah is dead, while twenty something John Connor (an unimpressive Nick Stahl) is pretty much a rebel without a cause, existing outside of society. The phlegmatic Arnie must protect his charge from an even more advanced Terminator model, though in practical terms the only real difference is that this time she is a woman (subtext). In the event they just end up bearing witness to the much delayed Judgment Day. Sadly the humour and heart of T2 aren’t in evidence here. It’s a film in which the spectacle is everything, and the plot seems to exist simply to give us bigger and better car chases, fight scenes, explosions etc., with the stab at providing a romance for the male lead coming too late. I could have done with more of JC’s psychology, how he felt being this messianic figure bypassed by history, but we got big bangs instead, though without the tension felt before, the sense that mankind’s survival really was on the line instead of its demise being inevitable, and everything taking place was vital rather than simply sfx. I enjoyed it, but as a popcorn movie rather than anything more serious, one where you put your brain on hold and just let your eyes soak it all in.
So what’s your favourite Terminator movie and why? Just don’t get me started on the Christian Bale led Terminator Salvation.