Monday, February 5, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday: The Terminator

First of all, let me apologize for being late. Consider this the very first Schwarzenegger Monday. I haven’t received mail since last Wednesday and I’m beginning to think that I have done something to offend my letter carrier. Consequently, Raw Deal will have to wait until next time as I still have not received it. You’d think in an election year, Daley would make damn sure everything is working like a well-oiled machine here in Chicago. Er – was that a poor choice of words? Anyway, I snagged a working copy of The Terminator, so come with me if you want to live…

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders to the right. Note – there will always be spoilers.

While Conan may be the role that put Schwarzenegger on the map, this is the one that made him famous. We immediately learn that “some time in the future,” after a nuclear war wipes out nearly all of humanity, machines take over the earth, attempting to complete the annihilation. Humans have fought back under the leadership and heroics of John Connor. To quell the revolution before it begins, the machines send back an assassin to kill Connor’s mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton). That assassin, played by Arnold, is a cyborg called Cyberdyne Systems Model 101, aka The Terminator. The humans send a soldier back to aid Sarah in Reese (Michael Biehn). The Terminator kills a lot of people, but Sarah is saved. Reese is also killed, but not before he is able to impregnate Sarah with the boy who will grow up to be the man who will send him to his demise.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: Since the Terminator is a cyborg, he’s not exactly into banter. However, Arnold’s accent is still pretty thick at this point, many of his lines stick out. Here are a few highlights: Upon meeting the punks at the start of the film, “Your clothes… give them to me.” In the gun shop, the shopkeeper says, “You can’t do that!” Arnold’s response is “Wrong.” When he climbs up onto the semi, he simply says, “Get out.” 7

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: Again, not many here. And it’s not like the other characters picked up the slack, although Lance Henriksen has some quality back and forth with Paul Winfield. 2

“I’ll be back.”:
This is the one that started the category. When first seeing the film, you know something big is coming. You don’t expect it to be this:
The Terminator delivers this line with a deadpan style, but it’s an awfully determined deadpan. 10
Smarmy Villain: The smarmiest guy in the movie is Earl Boen as Dr. Peter Silberman. However, he’s far more buffoonish than smarmy, and more comic relief than villain. n/a

Rough and Tumble Henchman: You can’t get more rough and tumble than the Terminator. And I suppose you could argue that he’s a henchman for the machines, but again, this doesn’t really apply. n/a

Diminutive Sidekick: The only person who intentionally assists the Terminator is the gun shop owner, played by Dick Miller who’s listed at 5’5”. But he’s hardly a sidekick. n/a
Rejected hot love interest: Ginger is played by Bess Motta, who at the time was dubbed the “Aerobics Queen”. She’s Sarah Connor’s roommate who is permanently attached to her headphones. The Terminator dispatches her quickly to focus his main attention on Sarah. Yes, I realize I’m reaching here. Plus, she’s really not much hotter than Hamilton. n/a

Not nearly hot enough love interest: Linda Hamilton is pretty enough, but not a stunning beauty, either (nor is she made up to be so in this movie). Of course, Terminators don’t “feel pity, or remorse, or fear.” And they certainly don’t feel love or lust, despite whatever fixation exsists. n/a

Arnold yelling: Sadly, n/a

Arnold cursing: Arnold drops a great one as he is tending to his wounds. A janitor asks, “You got a dead cat in there, or what?” From a list of possible response, the Terminator chooses the following: “Fuck you, Asshole.” However, Sarah is able to trump him with a superb end line: “You’re terminated, fucker!” 9

Arnold crazyface: Again, he’s a cyborg. They don’t exactly make faces. This is the best I could do, and it’s with a lot of makeup. 2

Superfluous Explosions: Despite all the laser fights shown in Reese’s flashbacks from the future, it appears we’re going to avoid any kind of major explosions until the very end of the picture when Reese manages to put some homemade plastique in the tail pipe of a gas truck. They do blow the thing up on film not just once, nor twice, but three full times. 5

Director: James Cameron teamed up with Arnold again on Terminator 2: Judgment Day and a final time on True Lies. Cameron claims he nearly starved to death after he was twice fired from Piranha 2 and the entire production had to wait until Arnold became free of his Conan commitments to make this film.

Franco Columbu: He shows up in a future-flashback as a Terminator that infiltrates the human shelter. 8
Sven Ole-Thorsen: n/a

Shirtless Arnold: Arnold goes well beyond shirtless when he first arrives in the picture, showing up totally nude before he can acquire clothing. He then wanders around in the moonlight, flexing. 8

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: The most severe killing in the movie is probably when Brian Thompson, playing Punk #2, has his heart ripped out of his chest at the top of the movie. n/a
Even more severely brutal killing of villain: The Terminator is crushed in what can only be described as a hydraulic smashing machine. Not that brutal, especially since it’s metal on metal violence at this point. n/a

Implausibly plausible plot: I condensed things as much as I could in the intro paragraph, and I’m not going to try to rehash them all now. There’s a lot to buy into here. However, somehow Cameron makes us believe it all. I think the key to the whole thing is Reese. More on this in a minute. 10

Ambiguous ending: We get a clean resolution to this little part of the story, but so much remains unanswered. All we know is that Sarah Connor is driving off into a matte painting somewhere in Mexico. Two sequels later, we still don’t know how it’s all going to play out. While there are unanswered questions, the ending still feels like a conclusion. 8

Given the small budget, this is an extremely well-crafted movie. Michael Biehn is absolutely superb as Reese. The only way this movie comes off is if he nails his part and he did. Linda Hamilton is equally up to the task. A lot of what we do here on Schwarzenegger Sunday is compromised by the fact that Arnold is playing a villain, and a fully automated one at that. After this movie, he vowed never to play a villain again – a pledge he lived up to until Batman and Robin (I pray that there will not be time enough to review that one!). So perhaps the criteria don’t really fit, which is why you see liberties taken and a glut of “n/a’s.” Overall, the movie is ingenious and ridiculously re-watchable, and it paved the way for the successful careers of both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

All the Schwarzenegger Sundays:
Raw Deal
The Running Man
True Lies
Pumping Iron
Conan The Barbarian
Total Recall
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Last Action Hero
Roundup, Part I
Roundup, Part II
The George W. Bush Administration


Anonymous said...

While I definitely give you credit on a well written critque...I must admit I never put that much thought into The Terminator...hilarious!

Unknown said...

Man I'm loving this reviews, you did an amazing work. I really want to watch all of this Schwarzenegger movies again, he may not be the best actor (or politician, or husband) but I loved his movies so much when I was a kid that I'm a full fledged fan.

I really want to know what you would say about Batman & Robin though... that must be the worst movie in his career (and George Clooney's, Chris O'Donnell's and even Alicia Silverstone's).

Reed said...

Thanks, Mati!

Yes, I started this endeavor in part as a defense of Schwarzenegger the actor. There's a reason his movies were so successful. He had some kind of special charm that worked for him more often than not. He's easy to caricature, but his contemporaries never had sustained success at his level (Stallone, Gibson, Willis, Russell, etc.).

I was just thinking about Batman & Robin this morning. It is rightfully vilified, but I now realize it's one of the more important movies ever made. It killed: the Batman series in its form at the time, George Clooney's chances at becoming an "action" star, Chris O'Donnell's career, Alicia Silverstone's career, and most importantly, Arnold's career. He was probably reaching his "end of days" anyway, but this was the biggest nail in the coffin. He made some OK films after this, but I don't think anyone can un-see lines like "let's kick some ice" just left everyone a bit "cold" on Arnold. (See? It's still painful.) Somehow it had no significant impact on director Joel Schumacher's career. That's a head-scratcher.