It’s been thirty years since The Terminator appeared on cinema screens worldwide and it has been stunning, delighting and terrifying audiences ever since. To celebrate this landmark anniversary the Belfast Film Festival, invited Terminator aficionado Ian Nathan, author of The Terminator Vault – perhaps the defining account of the making of the first two James Cameron directed Terminator films – to the Strand Arts Centre to speak about the film(s) he loves, before a screening of same.
Nathan recounted the various differing stories regarding the writing, casting and shooting of the film, with anecdotes sprinkled throughout from key players Cameron and Schwarzenegger; whether it was arguments with financiers over the final cut (they were happy with ending the film before the factory finale – madness!) or a fateful lunch meeting between director and star, which began with Cameron not wanting Arnold to play the Terminator and ended with him absolutely needing to have him play the murderous cyborg. ‘No fate but what we make’ may be the mantra of the franchise, but it appears that it was written in the stars that Schwarzenegger would play the iconic T-800.
His affection for the films is clear throughout the Q&A session, and it’s something he speaks very passionately about. Having thoroughly researched every aspect of the first two films – admitting that he’s not a big fan of films 3 and 4, but then…who is? – whether it’s through interviews with the cast and director, or poring over every frame of the film during no doubt countless viewings, he’s very much the smartest man in the room when it comes to all things Terminator. Even if he – wrongly – thinks that T2 is the better film. It’s obviously not.
The film itself is just as good as it’s always been and very much like the titular Terminator itself; it never lets up, right until the last minute, with a singular purpose and has a near murderous desire to entertain and thrill. As Nathan points out, the movie never stops moving, from the very first scene we are always on the go but never at the expense of the story. Exposition – and let’s be honest there’s a lot to get through, what with time travel, cyborgs, nuclear war, paradoxes, alternative timelines and the SAVIOUR OF MAKIND – is delivered effortlessly and never feels like you’re watching a massive info dump. The scenes in the nuclear wasteland of 2029 LA are suitably apocalyptic without going overboard, and the shot of a hulking tank steamrollering over dozens of human skulls is far more powerful an image than any spectacular money shot. The miniature work on the Hunter Killer airship especially is worth at least a hundred Avatars, yet during the end sequence the cutting edge (for the time) stop motion effects by creature maker extraordinaire Stan Winston are just a terrifying.
It’s a film that is impossible to define too, is it a sci-fi? A horror? An action movie? Romance? The truth is it’s all of them and so much more. It’s most obviously a science fiction movie with robots and time travel, yet the scenes of the T-800 stalking his prey are straight out of a slasher flick. Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn are superb as star crossed fated lovers/parents of the future leader of the Resistance Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, lending a real believability to their whirlwind romance that in a lesser movie could come across as corny, yet throughout the film they’re involved in car chases and shootouts more at home in an action movie.
It’s really a film that belongs to only one person though. Despite only a handful of lines in the whole movie, Arnold walks off with the whole thing and into the annuls of unforgettable movie characters. It’s easy to forget after the cuddly reprisal of the T-800 in Judgement Day that he first appeared as the cold blooded killer but Arnold completely nails the robotic nature and cold as steel single minded-ness necessary for the role from the second he appear glistening and naked. Whether it’s that the way the Terminator was written suited Arnold’s not exactly Oscar winning acting, or something the actor brought to it himself is up for debate (I like to think the latter, especially after Ian Nathan revealed that it was during that fateful lunch with Cameron, Arnold had his own ideas on how the terminator should move which made it into the final cut). It’s not hard to see why Arnold became such a star.
Finally, it’s a testament to the film that even those who haven’t seen it know what The Terminator is. It’s a film that has punched its robotic hand into the zeitgeist and remained there for all time. It will not be stopped.
“I’ll be back.”
Arnold, we never want you to go away.