When James Cameron came aboard the “Alien” series, he essentially took what was a dark science fiction horror film and transformed its sequel in to a action packed monster movie. When it came to Cameron’s love child “The Terminator,” Cameron seemed to work in reverse starting his series off as a tale about a robotic monster from the future, and then transformed his premise in to a darker science fiction parable about the imminent apocalypse and the sheer labyrinth that is time travel.
With “The Terminator,” director James Cameron is at his best with the start of a complicated series that never quite picked up after this first film. Sure “T2” is excellent, but never quite managed to match the menace that was Schwarzenegger’s lone cyborg on a rampage looking for his target in the middle of the eighties to prevent a war. While Robert Patrick did indeed help nurture an iconic science fiction villain, Schwarzenegger is at his best in one of his few turns as a villain in this dark and often sinister horror film about a young woman who may hold the key to an important historical event, and be completely oblivious to what she is capable of in the future.
Linda Hamilton helped birth the inadvertent genre heroine Sarah Connor, a young woman torn between the private war of a killer cyborg sent from 2029 and a freedom fighter named Kyle Reese. Most of “The Terminator” is based on and around the cyborgs’ efforts to track down and murder Sarah, as he enters in to modern times alongside Kyle Reese, and begins assassinating random Sarah Connors across the city, as Kyle makes his way to the fated Connor. Michael Biehn is Kyle Reese, the valiant young soldier who has to prevent the death of Sarah and evade any and all attacks from the killer cyborg, while gradually forming a romance with her throughout the mission to preserve her life.
What’s ultimately bred from “The Terminator” that carries over in to “T2” is the incredible paradox of time travel and its relation to fate. Had Kyle ever traveled back in to time and fallen for Sarah Connor, would John have ever been born? Was John always fated to be born with or without the intervention of Kyle Reese? Would killing Sarah have created another freedom fighter? What would have happened if a female resistance fighter was sent to protect Sarah Connor? Was John ever really aware that Kyle was his father? Does having a different father alter John’s fate? “The Terminator” is still one of the most harrowing science fiction films in James Cameron’s repertoire, and one that succeeds in building a menacing and horrifying villain of nearly unstoppable machinations that make the plight of our heroes grueling to endure.
The cyborg literally stops at nothing to eliminated Sarah Connor, and the struggle to finish it and end its directive makes for some of the most fantastic imagery of genre filmmaking ever conceived, including the full shot of the cyborg without its human skin, doused in fire. “The Terminator” hasn’t aged a bit since its initial release in 1984 and presents a prowess in its director that would carry on in to future genre endeavors. And while many movie fans will agree Cameron’s future efforts were superior, “The Terminator” is the best and most exciting of the bunch. My favorite of the “Terminator” series, James Cameron’s 1984 science fiction horror film is still one of the most horrific and nightmarish genre installments with top notch performances, and a clever premise teeming with epic potential.