The Perfection That Is The Original Terminator

  • Directed by James Cameron
  • October 24, 1984

This is a reappraisal of my original review of The Terminator. I recently rewatched it and figured I would give it another go. Enjoy!


A genocidal machine intelligence from the future sends an assassin to the past to kill the leader of the human resistance before he is born.

The Terminator was unlike any other movie at the time. When it came onto the scene it excited audiences with a fresh take on the time travel science fiction genre. The plot is essentially a causality loop. Events in the future cause events in the past which cause events in the future. One could not have happened without the other. Time travel stories offer the potential for some mind messing storylines but often skip that.

The film itself is simple and not over produced mostly because of a smaller budget. And that is perhaps one its greater creative strengths. The story is tight with little extraneous material. There are few frills to distract you from the narrative. A bloated budget does not equal quality. A smaller budget forces a good director to make decisions on what does and does not matter. You need to focus on story over fluff.

The Terminator was a much lower budget film than any of its successors, yet the quality of work here is amazing. James Cameron was an expert low budget film craftsman having worked for Roger Corman previously. He knew how to squeeze every penny from what he had to work with. All the knowledge he gained from working for The King of Schlock was used here to craft a high-quality film.

What makes this story unique among so many other time travel movies up to that point was that they did not change the future at all. The Terminator comes back to kill John Connor but ends up creating John Connor because that cyborg’s mission necessitates Kyle following to stop it. Skynet due to a lack of information caused by its war does not know Kyle is John’s father. If it had not sent its assassin it would not have needed to send its assassin.

The heroes do not make for a better tomorrow and have a happily ever after. Sarah Connor at the end of the movie is worried about what tomorrow will bring because she has a glimpse of what is coming. More often than not in a time travel movie the main characters fix the future in the present because the hero has come to the present day and has knowledge of the future and he is able to alter that one event to make it all better but our heroes did not have that much knowledge of what the important events were in so they could not. They just had to survive. That is another reason this movie is better. It does something different. It does not fix the future. It just ensures it. It ensures that humanity has a tomorrow. Not only does it create a solid story on a small budget, but it avoids the cliché of the heroes fixing the future.

The Terminator solidified Schwarzenegger as a force at the box office. It framed him as a larger-than-life screen presence. After this he was a titan in every film he was in during the 80s. He was a one man fighting machine that could not be stopped.

This movie happens to be one of the rare films where Schwarzenegger plays the villain and not the hero. That list could fit on a small Post It with room to spare. There have been plenty where he has been the less than saintly hero but only possibly one other where he was directly the villain.

There was no one else who could have done the part though at the time. There were a few possible casting choices such as OJ Simpson (supposedly he was unbelievable as a killer) or reportedly Lance Henriksen but in the end Schwarzenegger was the only one in my opinion who could bring the right feel to the character. He was built like a tank and still closer to his bodybuilder days than his days as a politician (who saw that coming?).

Linda Hamilton was the perfect casting choice for Sarah Connor. She is a good actress but more importantly she looks like a normal person. I am not calling her ugly but all too often when somebody has to protect somebody else from a villain from the future producers cast the most beautiful woman they can find or afford-depends on the budget. Her looking like someone you could meet in real life helped sell the part here.

Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese was ideal casting. He was athletic looking, but he did not look like he had stepped right out of the gym. They made him look rough and you could believe he came from a time when humanity was hanging on by a thread. Michael Jai Courtney was the exact opposite of what they went with here. Why they thought he was a good choice for Reese in Genysis is still beyond me.

I never understood why Michael Biehn did not make it bigger. At least as some kind of action star. He did this and he did Aliens which were two huge movies of the era, but he never became a big star.

I have heard people say that T2 is the better film, but I call shenanigans on that. This is by far a superior work. T2 had better visuals and a better budget it was able to impress you with, but the story is not as good. I am not saying it is a bad story. I am just saying the original is better. This was a focused narrative that kept the tension going throughout. It was essentially a chase film with our heroes running the whole time.

Another reason this is a better film is it explained just enough to get you through the film, but it did not explain everything. It left a little to the imagination. We did not get to see any of the final battle nor a detailed description of events that led up to the near extinction of humanity. We were told it happened and that was enough. The mind of the viewer was able to fill in the gaps.

The character of John Connor was never seen and never actually played by anyone but got well built up. We, by the end of the film, understood his motivations and had a feel for the individual even though nobody was there to play the part. That is great storytelling.

The only weak part in this film is the scene with the Terminator tending to its damage. That puppet head scene is just awful. I’m not sure how you could’ve accomplished it otherwise back in the day, but the head looks extremely fake. And the switching between the puppet and Arnold are obvious. I saw a deepfake not that long ago that put Schwarzenegger’s face on the head and the result was amazing. This would be a rare instance that I support a change to an original film.

The Terminator is an amazing film. It is a simple and to the point story that is not overproduced. This is most definitely watch it!

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

2 thoughts on “The Perfection That Is The Original Terminator

  1. An all-time favorite of mine! The first Terminator is gritty, simple, and leaves plenty to the imagination like you said. I was actually just thinking about the original Terminator before I saw this.

    Liked by 1 person

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