Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Terminator (1984)/Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

A double feature today as we examine not only the film that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, but also the film that made him a mega-star.  Yes, gentle reader.  It's time to check out the Terminator films.  No room for the third one here folks.  And the fourth one?  What fourth one?  It never happened, you hear me!  Never!

Ahem, sorry.  Let's move on, shall we?

No need to get into plot specifics as I think everybody has seen the first two films (and lord knows they're readily available) so let's get into the good stuff.

The Terminator (1984)

In 1984, ambitious filmmaker James Cameron bestowed upon us the gift of The Terminator.  A dark sci-fi thriller, it follows Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, a young waitress destined to be the mother of the man who will save the world when the machines take over the planet.  She is aided by Reese (Michael Biehn, a resistance fighter from the future and together they struggle to fend off a horrifically determined cyborg, The Terminator (Arnie himself).
  • First off, you gotta love how Cameron took what is essentially a b-movie plot and gave it a fresh coat of paint by being his usual control freak self.  The cast is great, Stan Winston does some of his best f/x work and the production design is fantastic.  With that out of the way, let's get to some of my specific favorite bits.
  • Love Arnold's entrance here as he is simply intimidating not just due to his physicality but by his creepy demeanor.  Brilliant idea to have a guy who is not at his best when spouting dialogue or genuinely trying to act, simply be a cold and emotionless robot.  Also cool to see Bill Paxton in an early role as one of the punks he kills.
  • Michael Biehn is also fantastic as Reese.  He just brings a natural intensity to the part that sells the man's fear and desperation almost perfectly.  It definitely helps sell the exposition he has to deliver.
  • As good as the male leads are, the film would simply fall to pieces if Sarah didn't work.  Happily, Hamilton is up to the challenge, giving us a perfectly ordinary young woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
  • The gun store scene is still fantastic, it's always nice to see Dick Miller.
  • Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen make for a fun duo as the cops who get drawn into things.  Both guys are accomplished character actors and are quite good.
  • Schwarzenegger is actually quite scary in his role.  There's something about a killer who just doesn't give a damn that's chilling.  The fact that he's not human actually serves as a bit of comfort, really.
  • The slow motion in the nightclub scene is very well used as Sarah is first worried Reese is the guy after her, only for Arnold to turn up.  The ensuing action scene is classic Cameron: expertly shot and tightly edited with a keen sense of geography, something any good action scene should have.
  • I also love the dark humor in Arnold driving a cop car, especially since in one shot the "To protect and serve" motto is seen first as he rolls into view.  Ah, the benefits of setting your movie in Los Angeles!
  • The Terminator's self-surgery scene is still pretty effective, even with the rather obvious puppet head used in some shots.  What can I say?  It impressed me when I was a kid and it still looks pretty decent today.
  • I get a chuckle out of Earl Boen as the skeptical shrink.  He's just a fantastic prick in his scenes, though understandably so if you look at things from his perspective.
  • Naturally, the police station shootout is classic Arnold, just an iconic sequence.  I've always liked how it serves as just an opportunity for Arnold to go wild while Reese and Sarah escape.  The character building stuff that follows between Reese and Sarah is also good.
  • The final act is a fantastic barrage of action with a motorcycle, an eighteen-wheeler and a massive explosion that is a great false ending for the movie.
  • The actual climax in the factory is very good, though after the awesome reveal of the Terminator skeleton is sort of has a steep mountain to climb.  Fortunately, it's very satisfying when Sarah grits her teeth and destroys the machine in a hydraulic press.
The first Terminator movie was one of the surprise hits of 1984, it still holds up today as does the first sequel.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

The Terminator is back and this time, he's trying to protect the future as he teams with Sarah to protect her son John (Edward Furlong) while trying to avoid the lethal T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  All the superlatives I threw the first film's way apply to the second film so let;s just get to the good stuff.
  • Of course, we're talking the theatrical cut here but the extended edition is also good.
  • I was a total geek for this movie.  I had the VHS, video games, books, you name it.
  •  Another great Arnold intro here as he beats the hell out of a bunch of bikers and ends up with a new leather wardrobe, a nice bike and a cool pair of shades.  As before, he does a very good job as The Terminator, this time showing us the learning process without having access to things like facial expressions and emotion.  Pretty good for a guy whose acting skills at their best are surprisingly good...which isn't really that much of a compliment when you think about it.
  • Love the touch of "Bad to the Bone" playing as Arnold exits the bar.
  • Robert Patrick is creepy as hell as the T-1000.  Making it even more effective is the fact that he poses as a cop for the majority of the film.
  • The one weak link-through no fault of his own really since he was a kid at the time-is Furlong as John.  He's cocky and funny in parts but there are times where his pretty grating.  The dialogue doesn't do him any favors either.    He doesn't hurt the film at any point though, which is more than can be said for many child actors.
  • Linda Hamilton gets to change things up a bit this time out, playing Sarah as darker and more disturbed (which tends to happen when one is locked up in the looney bin), but also a formidable ass kicker.  She's pretty good, giving a fairly uncompromising performance considering she's in a summer action movie.
  • I also like her chemistry with the returning Earl Boen.  He comes off as even more of a prick here which is always fun to see.
  • Joe Morton is good too as Dyson, a scientist who will play a role in the machines taking over.  He's solid and you really feel for the guy.
  • The film's first action scene doesn't come until nearly a half hour in but it's a damn good one with the mall chase leading to the fantastic truck vs. bike sequence.  There is just too much cool stuff to mention here: the amazing for the time (and still pretty good today) morphing f/x for the T-1000; the glorious chaos that ensues when two Terminators get into a fist fight, it's just a perfect action sequence.
  • The stuff with Furlong and Arnold bonding is decent enough, though there are one or two cringe-inducing moments.  A cyborg learning 1991 slang...not the best thing in the world, even if it does lead to a funny bit later on.
  • I get a laugh out of John making the Terminator promise not to kill anybody.  Maiming people horribly?  No problemo.
  • The entire hospital sequence from the moment the T-1000 arrives to the end where the good guys finally escape is another masterfully done blend of action, editing, special effects and stunt work.
  • I love that Cameron has the balls to have thirty three minutes go by without the T-1000 showing up.  It works great and lets the three heroes really come together as characters.  For all the grief I give Cameron for his personality (he's mellowed, but he's still a bit of an ass), he certainly knows how to tell a compelling story with solid characters.
  • Sarah stalking and nearly killing Dyson is a nice bit of drama.
  • The last forty five minutes of the movie are an absolute blast as the heroes decided to blow up Dyson's office building in order to keep the future from occurring.  Sure, there are a ton of plot holes brought up by this and other elements in the film but with time travel plots you have to write carefully so the audience doesn't give a damn about this sort of thing.  T2 is one of the films that gets this, thankfully.
  • The action beats are great with Arnold doing his impression of every action scene from The A-Team (tons of bullets, no casualties); another truck chase and some helicopter stuff that is also great.
  • The steel mill finale is also nicely tense as Arnold takes a beating which gives Stan Winston a another chance to shine and Robert Patrick is just plain evil.  It's a really great finale to a fantastic movie.
T2 roared onto screens in the summer of 1991 and was a massive hit to say nothing of an instant classic of action cinema.  Terrific action; awesome f/x that still look good today, it's just a classic.  Along with the first film, it makes up one of the most compelling, thrilling stories in modern cinema.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.