Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul WInfield
Have I Seen it Before: I want to make some kind of joke about their being no fate but what we make
Did I Like It: Why don’t you make movies with real things and real people, James Cameron? Why?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. This film is perfectly cast. Before he became the most improbable quip-machine in history, Schwarzenegger brings all of his monosyllabic lethality to the role of a lifetime. Lance Henriksen wouldn’t have been the right choice—although he is good in the film, and does eventually reach his potential as a robot for James Cameron one day. OJ Simpson was in the running at one point, but everyone decided he wouldn’t be convincing as a killer. True story. Linda Hamilton plays the arc of the Final Girl’s transformation to Warrior Woman much more efficiently than her peers or successors. And then there’s Michael Biehn. Is there an American action star who is better to display constant patience with the events and people around him? That he hasn’t been a much bigger star over the years is completely beyond me.
But let’s really talk about how this film has no business working out at all.
This thing could have floated away in a river of nonsense exposition, in the middle of the second act. But Cameron is no idiot. When Kyle (Biehn) has to tell the whole story of the future, and John Conner, and the Terminators to Sarah (Hamilton), he does so in the middle of a car chase. And not just any old blah-blah middle-of-the-backlot run-of-the-mill car chase. This is a next level, look out French Connection (1971) car chase, and it’s one of three in the film. You could do a film like this much less artfully, but then it would be Highlander (1986).
Even the few elements fo special effects in this film that don’t age super well (spoiler: it’s those moments when there’s any kind of rear-screen projection, or when The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) is clearly a puppet) have their delightful charm. I can kind of see how a grade-a control freak like James Cameron now wants to exclusively make films using the motion capture technology he adopted in Avatar (2009). He is no longer at the mercy of the elements, time, or people. It sounds nice, but I’m starting to miss great movies made outside of a computer, especially when James Cameron is making them.