The Terminator (1984) Review

The Terminator (1984) Director: James Cameron

“I’ll Be Back”


After recently re-watching The Terminator I was struck by a what a powerful and intense movie it remains. By all accounts, it was expected to be another campy 1980s action thriller, but James Cameron deserves much praise for managing to craft an enduring science fiction narrative with The Terminator. The plot takes place in 2029 (amusingly less than a decade from the time I write this review). Advanced machines are attempting to exterminate what is left of the human race so two beings travel back in time to 1984: Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) and a ruthless cyborg assassin known as a “Terminator” (Arnold Schwarzenegger). I’m not sure what it says about Schwarzenegger’s acting bona fides that his most celebrated role is a stone-faced robot.

At any rate, both men are searching for a woman named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) –the Terminator plans to assassinate her while Reese hopes to protect her from certain death. Why Sarah Connor? Reese explains that a future defense company called SkyNet will develop artificial intelligence capable of becoming self-aware so it initiates a nuclear holocaust destroying much of humanity. Reese says Sarah Connor will give birth to a boy named John Connor who will lead a resistance of humans against the machines. The decision to travel back in time is a last-ditch effort on the part of the machines to stop the resistance. Throughout the film we (the audience) are treated to a delightful sense of dramatic irony as we are painfully aware that the polite veneer holding contemporary society together is being shredded apart by a vicious, remorseless robot is on the loose.

The film features many highly intense scenes as we await impending confrontations between the Terminator, who gets battered throughout the movie revealing his robotic exoskeleton in a variety of remarkably stop-motion scenes, and Reese and Connor who flee from both the police as well as the Terminator. Reese and Connor barely survive again and again, only to fall in love, and in the end they destroy the seemingly invincible Terminator in a giant factory. The film closes as Reese tragically dies and we learn that Sarah is pregnant. We see her driving through a remote part of Mexico as a boy takes her photograph (a photo that her son John will later give to Reese in the resistance).

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