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DVD Monthly - The Terminator Review

From: DVD Monthly #10
Date: February, 2001
By: Cliff Smith

It's an interesting study, the possibilities of might-have-been. If you had turned left instead of right, if you'd had coffee instead of tea, if you'd been born ten minutes earlier, how different would your life be now? The future is made of yesterday's choices, right or wrong, and we can only imagine how else it might have turned out.

This is the theme of the Terminator. By the year 2045, a series of developments in the near future have led to the development of Skynet, a super-powerfull satellite-based computer network. Unfortunately, Skynet turned on its creators, and has all but wiped out the human race using robot-controlled war machines in a global apocalyptic war. The only survivors are a small group of resistance fighters led by a soldier named John Connor. Skynet uses a newly developed time-travel device to send a robot assassin back in time to kill John Connor's mother Sarah before he can be born, thereby eliminating the resistance at a stroke. The robot, a Terminator T-800, is a sophisticated metal skeleton covered in living human flesh, making it indistinguishable from a normal human (except, of course, for it's boydbuilder physique and thick Austrian accent!). It is virtually unstoppable, but the resistance have a desperate plan. They send Kyle Reese, on of their best soldiers, back in time to try and stop the Terminator and protect Sarah. With the aid of a photograph provided by John Connor, he soon finds her, by he has to wait until the last moment before the killer attacks because he doesn't know what the Terminator looks like. Meanwhile, the robot has been killing off all the Sarah Connors in the phone book, knowing that sooner or later it will get the right one. When the T-800 finally finds the right Sarah, the chase is on, and for the rest of the film the pace and tenstion build up until the final showdown, when Sarah proves that she has what it take to be the mother of a hero.

It's a simple enough story, and one that's repeated in dozens of low budget straight-to-video sci-fi movies before and since. The Terminator was also shot on a small budget (just $6 million), but what makes it different is the perfect casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the unstoppable robotm and James Cameron's superb screenplay and direction. However, it's fascinating to note that the film could have been very different if a few simple choices had been made differently. The unstoppable killing machine is undoubtedly Arnie's most memorable role, but he was originally cast to play Reese, the man sent from the future to protect Sarah Connor from the Terminator. Original choices for the role of the T-800 included Lance Henrikson, who plays the role of Vukovich, and even O.J. Simpson was considered. How different would that movie have been? The producers also thought it would be cute if Reese had a robot dog as a sidekick, but thankfully Cameron rejected that idea. Again, a choice was made that affected the future. As a result of those and other choices, a low-budget sci-fi horror film became one of the most influential films of the Eighties, and made the careers of its director and star.

It's hard to imagine how Arnold Schwarzenegger's career would have fone if it hadn't been for this film. His previous movies had slipped by practically unnoticed, apart from Conan the Barbarian (1982). He had previously starred in the spoof western The Villain (1979) in a comedy role, and has said that he would probably have carried on in comedy roles. However, The Terminator brought him to the attention of the world's cinema audiences as an action hero, and he never looked back. His well-known accent was no problem for the role of the robot killing machine, because he only has sixteen lines in the whole movie, including the famous catchphrase "I'll be back." His other best known line "F**k you, asshole" has been worked into the scripts of several of his other movies, most notably Total Recall (1990). Although The Terminator made Arnie into a huge star, it seemed to have the reverse effect on his co-star Linda Hamilton. Apart from the sequel and a co-starring role alongside Pierce Brosnan in Dante's Peak (1997), she has done almost nothing since, apart from some TV mini-series work and the diabolical King Kong Lives (1986). The other main star of the film, Michael Biehn , has become one of James Cameron's favourite actors, with major parts in Aliens (1986) and The Abyss (1989), as well as appearing briefly in the director's cut if Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Ever noticed how he always gets bitten on the hand?

For the writer and director of The Terminator, this film made his name in Hollywood, and he has bever really looked back. James Cameron's filmmaking career up until this point had consisted of just three movies, all of them fairly appalling. He had served as art director on Roger Corman's sci-fi Magnificent Seven remake Battle Beyond The Stars (1980), and as second unit director on the dire Galaxy of Terror (1981), also produced by Roger Corman. His debut as director was the lamentable Piranha 2: The Spawning (1981), a horror film about flying carnivorous fish! Although this was unquestionably a terrible movie, in a strange way it led directly to The Terminator. He had such a bad time making Piranha 2 that he had nightmares, including a recurring one about a robot walking out of a fire. He used this powerful image in one of the most memorable scenes in movie history, and his future success was assured. Since The Terminator, James Cameron has gone from strength to strength, directing the acclaimed sequel Aliens in 1986, winning the first Oscar in 1989 for underwater sci-fi thriller The Abyss, and his second and third for the brilliant Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991. His most recent success was, of course, Titanic (1997), which won a further eleven Oscars and took a staggering $1.6 billion at the box office, making it the highest grossing movie of all time. He is currently associated with the screenplay for another film thats sure to be a huge hit. Terminator 3: Rise of the Robots is due for release in 2002 and is to be directed by John McTeirnan. Naturally, it will star Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role that made him famous. He said he'd be back, and it looks like he meant it...

I want your clothes, your motorcycle, and your script ideas

Shortly after The Terminator was released, veteran science fiction author Harlan Ellison sued the producers, claiming that the film had stolen ideas and images from two of his scripts from the acclaimed 1960's TV series The Outer Limits. The producers were forced to agree, and paid Elisson substantial damages in an out-of-court settlement. The episodes concerned were titled Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand, so if you have them on video or they happen to be on the Sci-Fi Channel, you might like to see if cou can spot the similarities.

Later prints of the film were altered to include a writing credit for Harlan Ellison, although reputidly James Cameron still loses his temper if Ellison's name is mentioned.

TerminatorFiles editors note:

The writer of this article refers to James Cameron being involved in a script called 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Robots.' We are not sure what is meant by this. Either James Cameron had his own script or the writer is at fault and mistook some of the known facts. We will however never know for sure... Just another cool rumour to add the our ongoing list of uncertain items.

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