In 1984, James Cameron was a genre vet, but not quite the guy we think of. He had no mega-hits…yet. Cameron came up out of the Corman school and made his names with technical and special effects….especially stretching the low budget effects.
His one theatrical film before the Terminator is Piranha II: the Spawning, and then his next film is…
In 1984 a mysterious massive stranger appears in a crackle of lightning in an alley. He has a singular aim and will.
Elsewhere, another man appears in an alley (less gracefully). Disoriented he asked when he is. He, like the more ominous stranger has a goal…in fact they are both here to locate Sarah Conner, a young woman of immense importance to the future.
Both men are from the future, one where there is a war between man and machine. When the machines realize they are about to lose, they send back a Terminator, a large massive robot covered in human flesh to allow them to infiltrate human encampments and kill a target. The Terminator’s target is the mother of the man who will rally humanity together to defeat the robot oppressors.
Kyle Reese has been sent back to protect young Sarah Conner from the Terminator.
The Terminator is a shockingly good second film, showing that Cameron had a real vision as he made the film. It is a sci-fi horror film that keeps everything simple. By the team it ends, we have a perfect circle of time, so it is not confusing or asking you to make any bigger stretch than accepting time travel.
Cameron is as committed to his characters as much as effects and action. Sarah is believable and sympathetic as an everyman finding herself in an impossible situation and rising to occasion. Considering the biggest ask is that we believe she falls in love with Reese overnight, and Hamilton and Biehn have enough chemistry to make it work.
Arnold Schwarzenegger had already made a mark as Conan, but this time he has a real menacing charisma that sells the notion that a massive cyborg is walking the city.
The effects remain an outstanding achievement. Sure, you can see the stop motion models and the rubber heads…but they are such well crafted effects, you do not mind and they are downright pleasing to watch.
The Terminator is a film that has withstood the test of time and such an incredibly impressive effort for someone’s second film.