The Terminator Special Edition DVD Booklet
The Generator of the Terminator
Before getting the 'green light' on his multi-million dollar, Academy Award-sweeping hit Titanic, creative visionary James Cameron cut his filmmaking teeth working in the special effects division at New World Pictures, the company owned by B-movie maverich Roger Corman.
At Corman's company, Cameron studied his craft and learned how to get a vision across in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. With this new found, invaluable knowledge, Cameron decided to put his skills to the test... which led to the genesis of The Terminator.
When in Rome...
The idea for The Terminator came to Cameron while he lay sick in a bed in Rome during post-production on his first feature, Piranha II. "I came up with the entire plotline all on one wallop," Cameron recalled, "pretty much as it was later filmed, though it took many months of fine-tuning to work out the characters and everything else in detail." An aspiring comic book artist as a kid, Cameron acknowledged that he "work(s) visually first, even as a writer. This whole film evolved out of the central images of the robot emerging from the fire."
Drawing further from the other major film influences in his life, the German impressionist films of the 1930s and film noir of the 1940s, Cameron soon produced a 45-page treatment of The Terminator. He gave it to co-writer/producer Gale Ann Hurd, another disciple of Roger Corman's crash-course school of filmmaking, who immediately fell for the story and helped Cameron to get it made. But he needed a star. Someone to fill the mighty shoes of the Terminator. They found that in a little-known actor at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
You're the symbol of power!
Originally, the character of the Terminator was not written as a muscleman; he was written as a bland, faceless guy who could fit into any crowd. And originally, Schwarzenegger was supposed to portray Kyle Reese, the film's world-saving hero, not the unstoppanle murderous robot sent from the future.
It was over a lunch with Schwarzenegger that Cameron realised the hulking man sitting across from him must play the Terminator. "You are a machine," Schwarzenegger recalls Cameron saying, as the director tried to sell him the part of the villain. "You're the symbol of power, like a fine-tuned machine. And I think people will totally believe that you are a Terminator." But Schwarzenegger was not totally convinced: "No. No. This is not what I'm here for." So Cameron made a hefty promise and an ambitious prediction: "I will make you look like you've never looked before, and I think that the part itself will have more impact for you in your career than the other character would have. Because the other character is just another hero. But this one, you'll be a very memorable cyborg villain and a human machine."
It didn't take ling for Arnold to agree with Cameron: "As soon as I read the script, I knew I wanted to play the Terminator. It's a completely different kind of character."
Flexing a different set of muscles
Cameron's prediction came true: Arnold's performance did put him on the map as a bona fide box office star. And the role, which perfectly suited Schwarzenegger, finally allowed him to flex a new set of muscles... his acting ones! With previous appearances in such movies as the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, Bob Rafelson's Staying Hungry, and Conan, The Barbarian, Schwarzenegger was becoming known for his likeable charisma. But these roles focused mainly on his physique. Cameron was interested in more than just Arnold's biceps: "I was particularly fascinated by Arnold's face," he said. "He looked like a human bulldozer in this part, and we never show his body or use him as a muscleman except in the opening scene."
Schwarzenegger was happy to be viewed in a new light: "I don't like to fall into a category... doing the same things all the time," he said. "I thought it would be quite challenging to play the villain for a change; a robot, a killing machine, a very intense sort of role."
And challenging it was for Arnold, who put in a lot of work to train for the role. "It was basically the idea of locking into this robot behaviour; this cols, no-emotion behaviour", he said. The actor, who would have to handle numerous guns in the film, spent a month-and-a-half prior to filming working with gun expert Mitch Kalter to perfect his performance. With Kalter's guidance, Arnold learned "how to take the gun apart and put it together quickly, how to look professional when he did it and and not to have to look down when he put the magazine in." And according to Soldier of Fortune magazine, Arnold's handling of weapons in that film is "entirely plausible".
Cameron lauded Schwarzenegger's performance: he "did phenomenally well; he has a magnificent ability to concentrate and create the character practically seamlessly; he never stepped out of the role. Once he became the Terminator, he was the single-minded, strong-willed, forward-moving character that he was written to be."
Special effects wizards
While the film gave birth to the tech-noir genre, The Terminator also established James Cameron as "a filmmaking force to contend with" (The Hollywood Reporter). It has also had sych a lasting impact, including direct references in over fifty other films that it stands out as "one of the most important films in the 1980s" (Esquire).
A low-budget film laden with ahead-of-its-time special effects, The Terminator required a dedicated and creative team of artists to achieve the look and energy for which the ambitious director was striving. And with foresight, ingenuity, experimentation and bold decision-making, the Oscar-calibre visual team, including cinematographer Adam Greenberg and special effects supervisor Gene Warren, Jr, made it happen.
- To give the Terminator even more of an imposing and ominous presence, Greenberg shot him from low angles. "He's big to begin with," Greenberg said, "but doing all those low angles makes him look like a monster"
- To go along with the foreboding elements of the story, Greenberg aimed for "a cool look, lots of dark shadows, strong black light... a very hard, strong, contrasty look." And he "accomplished most of what he set out to do by lighting and mood, rather than by using a lot of elaborate equipment the film couldn't afford."
- The film contains many high-speed car chases in which the cars appear to be travelling at 90 miles an hour. In reality, however, the cars never went faster than 40 m.p.h. "What I did," Greenberg revealed, "was have lights mounted on cars accompanying us." These cars would ride along next to the vehicles being filmed, shining their fast-moving lights onto the action, "giving the illusion of an extra 25-30 m.p.h."
- Hand-held cameras captured much of the desired rapid-pacing of the film. According to Greenberg, "shooting hand-held gives an energy to a scene you can't get any other way."
- There were many different effects techniques employed to create the film's futuristic atmosphere. Computer effects, which gave a view of the world from the perspective of the Terminator; stop-motion animation, which animated the machines of the future; and miniature photography, which gave a glimpse of a war-torn land-to-come, were supplied by a team of talented visual artists led by Gene Warren, Jr.
One afternoon during a break from shooting, Schwarzenegger walked into a downtown eatery to grab some lunch... and people gasped in horror at the sight of him! He was still in costume and make-up; and artificial layer of his face was carved away revealing teeth, metallic jaw bones and a bulging eyeball amid seared patches of fake flesh. "It's more challenging to play a robot than a human," Arnold said. It's also harder to get seated at restaurants!
To shoot and destroy
Many locations throughout Los Angeles were used in the film. One of them, a downtown restaurant, was coverted into a new-wave nightclub called "Tech Noir" in which a large-scale shootout takes place. "It took us two weeks to build the set," said Art Director George Costello, "and about two hours for the actors to destroy it!"
OJ ... a Terminator?
The role of the Terminator was originally going to be portrayed by O.J.Simpson. But, according to Cameron in 1984, "people wouldn't have believed a nice guy like O.J. playing the part of a ruthless killer."