A classic still immortal
It’s been almost 35 years since James Cameron, early in his career, came out with a sci-fi masterpiece which became a cult. However, those years for Cameron weren’t a good moment, but in such a troubled period of his life, it was a dream what saved him. It was just the result of a restless night the origin of the script of the Terminator. In his dream, or rather his nightmare, the director had seen a key scene of the movie we all know: a metallic skeleton crawling on the ground. From that idea, he built the whole story.
A cyborg is sent back in time by a future artificial intelligence that will destroy humankind in a war between mankind and machines. The destiny of the world is in John Connor’s hands, the leader of the future resistance which will fight against machines. For Skynet, the artificial intelligence of the future, is necessary to kill John Connor at the root, killing his mother: Sarah Connor. At the same time, to protect the woman, John Connor sends one of his men from the future: Kyle Reese. The story goes on with the chase of Sarah Connor by the Terminator which wants to kill her, or rather ‘terminate’ her. The woman, with Kyle Reese, does anything to run away and save herself from the unstoppable cyborg.
The plot, even though easy and linear, carries some ingredients which make this movie not a classic sci-fi, but a sort of mix with the horror genre. In the story, there’s the tragedy of being chased by something that will never stop and you can’t stop; but also the consciousness that you’ll never be safe: an endless nightmare. Then there’s the sci-fi, time paradoxes, action in the fight between humankind and machines, but also a hint of sentiment. A mix of things you can’t fail to love even today because all the themes covered are still alive nowadays.
Special effects are still amazing, but on the other hand, this is the paradox: since when CGI has taken over special effects, the result was that old effects are often more realistic than the ones used today. Back then, to shoot the scene where the Terminator removes its eye revealing its bionic parts, they used an animatronic of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head. Besides, to move the metallic skeleton of the cyborg, they used the stop motion technic in a very precise way. Today, they would doubtless make the whole thing with CGI because it’s cheaper.
We can’t also underrate the OST. Brad Fiedel takes us to a sci-fi atmosphere, but not so much: his music is not full of electronic instruments, but the classic sounds give us the idea of future, a future from the 80’s perspective. It sounds like music makes us slow down to watch the world, almost like being surrounded by scorching heat, standing still and watching things around us, but you can see that as an artificial hot from a city. Everything is alternated with cold and rhythmical sounds like an artificial heart which breaks the slow atmosphere like bringing us back to refocus our attention on an upcoming threat.
Although Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn’t the first choice for the movie, his performance is noteworthy helped by his body size and by a character who didn’t need great acting skills because terminator’s lines were down to the bone even though they became cult over time.
Michael Biehn plays Kyle Reese, a John Connor’s soldier and his loyal man who decides to sacrifice himself for the mission going back in time, knowing he will never come back. He is driven by his love for Sarah, known by the stories told by John of whom is paradoxically the father. Kyle is the link between present and future, but also the only source of information for Sarah to understand the dynamics of what’s happening.
Linda Hemilton playing Sarah Connor is a girl without special skills, with a simple life not even interesting. The meeting with Kyle Reese makes a change in her life: from harmless girl to a guide for training his future son to fight a war against machines. It’s a sudden change without notice what messes up the main protagonist’s life. Moreover, she has to live with the consciousness not to be believed. Kyle is the only wingman in this new world perspective, but unfortunately, she’s going to walk this way alone.
The time paradox which holds the story together is certainty amazing, as time travels and their consequences have ever been. In this case, it’s curious that Skynet sends a terminator back in time to kill John Connor’s mother, but just that is triggering the event for which he’ll be born.
One more time ’80s and ’90s are felt, even today. But why is that? Is this just a regret for an era or is there anything else? On the one hand, it is surely that: some movies of our childhood recall some moments of our life we remember with nostalgia, but that’s not it. They leave us something, and it’s something that goes over the years and it’s still intact today: there’s a feeling. It’s probably what happens when you write a story you want to tell rather than to meet just the audience’s tastes. So what the author\director wants to communicate it’s perceived, and it goes beyond the story itself.
The themes in the movie are still contemporary. ‘Future’ and ‘destiny’ are two important themes where the future might be doomed, but also the present which has been upset by a new threat: whether it may be a relentless “nightmare” from which you don’t know how to save yourself, or it may be new shocking information too hard to take. Moreover, there’s also the ‘change’ theme: the protagonist will evolve and become almost another person as we’re going to see in the next chapters.
The movie finishes with Sarah going away by car, going through a storm: a metaphor of what she’s going to face in her next future without knowing how.
Terminator 2 – Judgment day
The story of the Terminator could have ended with the first chapter, but 7 years later from the first movie, James Cameron takes his creature back again. What happens is something curious, though: for many people, this second chapter is better than the first. This time we have a reversal of the previous story while remaining consistent with the main plot.
Apparently, the danger of a war between mankind and machines hasn’t been averted but only postponed. A new terminator is sent back in time by Skynet, but this time it’s more advanced and its new ability is to modify its structure to transform itself in everything it touches, as well as the capability to liquefy. This time its target is the little John Connor who was adopted by a foster family because his mother (Sarah Connor) has been interned in an asylum because she was considered crazy for her stories about the future. At the same time, a terminator to protect John is sent by himself from the future. It’s a T-800 which was an enemy in the previous movie. So, even Schwarzenegger could play again the part of the terminator.
Sarah Connor, locked up in an asylum, is deeply changed. She’s not a quiet and innocent girl we used to meet in the previous movie anymore. Now she’s much more aggressive and rebel. In this chapter we see her handling weapons, assaulting and shooting even innocent people ruthless. The thematic of ‘change’ returns: people change unexpectedly, not only events, and they do it in inconceivable ways. Sarah was the one who couldn’t figure out how she would become. When she was talking to Kyle while he was telling her about the future, she couldn’t explain how she would train her son to do things she didn’t believe she would do.
The T-800 changed too, even though in a different way: it’s a new cyborg and it’s like the previous one, but this time is by Sarah and John’s side. Here’s one of the reasons made people prefer this movie rather than the first: there’s not only sci-fi, the run from a threat, but also the relation between John and the Terminator, which is going to learn some human aspect from him. Their bond is something that leaves a mark in this new adventure, whereas in the past chapter this aspect lacks: everything is dark and cold. These things make both chapters essential to fully grasp the different aspects of the story.
The T-1000, the new terminator, is played by Robert Patrick. This new evolute cyborg is more lethal and advanced. To make all the effects for this new terminator, they used CGI which is still noteworthy today. In addition, we must say that visual effects are used only where the same result wasn’t possible with special effects. This is another difference with the actual trend: making everything with CGI because is cheaper.
In the end, once again the war seems averted, but not tears.
The first two chapters are a combination with different aspects, just like the change of events and characters, especially the protagonist, and they seems inevitable.
Terminator 3 – The rise of the machines
It’s 2003, and the movie is no longer under James Cameron’s direction, but the story goes on even though only a few people appreciated it. Obviously, the new chapter is no match for the previous ones, but the movie is enjoyable anyway, even though it can’t be involving like the previous ones. There are a lot of references to the other chapters, however, the movie could be considered interesting with maybe a surprising ending.
Once again the nuclear war is postponed and can’t be stopped. Another Terminator is sent back in time to protect John Connor, as well as his wife. After Sarah’s death, John is afraid of a nuclear war that never happened. The terminator is always Schwarzenegger, even though lightly upgraded: now is a T-850, not a T-800. This time the enemy is a Terminatrix, a female terminator. The new cyborg is more advanced than the previous one and is looking for Kate (a John Connor’s friend and future wife) to kill her. Skynet is going to be launched as a defense system and it’s going to start a nuclear war against humanity.
This time, only Arnold Schwarzenegger is back to play his character, John Connor is no longer Edward Furlong, which could be a problem for the continuity of the story. However, it’s an enjoyable action movie, but many fans expected more, just because it should have been the end of the saga.
The story begins many years before the war during the execution of a prisoner called Marcus, who is given the opportunity to donate his body to science. A few years later, we are in the middle of a war between humans and machines, the future predicted in the previous chapters. John manages to attack a Skynet base discovering that some prisoners are used to experiment new terminators built with human tissue. Marcus escapes the base where he was locked in and runs into Kyle Reese who tells him what is happening. In the meanwhile, Kyle is kidnapped. When John meets Marcus, he discovers he is a new model of cyborg and he would want to kill him. Blair belongs to John’s resistance, he releases him because he saved his life previously. During a Skynet attack against John, Marcus saves him, so he does the same as long as he leads him to the Skynet base to rescue Kyle. In the meanwhile, the Resistance seems to have found a weapon to defeat machines: a wave radio at a certain frequency. Unfortunately, that is a trap that leads John to fight with the T-800. Marcus unconsciously was turned into a cyborg as an infiltrator by the Skynet’s side to attack where Resistance resides and to lead John in the enemy lines.
This is certainly one of the most alternative chapters than what we used to watch. Although it may be a nice movie, it looks totally different from the others: there’s no fear of the future, we are in it and we see all the downsides. Moreover, this movie doesn’t add anything new to the story unless showing events from a different perspective.
This new movie of 2015 looks more like a reboot and less like a sequel. The plot completely overwrites the timeline of the first two movies making the previous chapters effectually useless. However, thanks to the time travel expedient, the timeline overwriting explanation makes this more acceptable.
The movie begins in the future when Skynet seems defeated, but unfortunately, it’s going to use its last weapon: to send a terminator in 1984 to kill Sarah Connor. Kyle Reese volunteers to go back in the past to stop the cyborg. At that moment a change happens though: John Connor is attacked by a new cyborg that takes possession of his body. The past is overwritten. So we are in an alternative 1984 where Sarah Connor is already trained to face terminators and she’s flanked by the T-800. Together, this time, they are going to defeat Skynet which now it’s called Genisys, as well as the mean T-800 and the T-1000, but also John Connor who comes back possessed by a new terminator.
A tidbit about this movie is surely the fight between the two Schwarzenegger (old and young), thanks to a great CGI that can bring back Arnold from 1984 just like in Terminator Salvation.
The atmosphere is closer to a classic Terminator movie, but not everything is convincing. The characters have nothing to do with the original ones: Sarah Connor (here Emilia Clarke) looks like a rebellious girl whereas John Connor (played by Jason Clarke) is not impressive, especially as an antagonist.
Moreover, even though the T-800 aging might look convincing, we are in front of a more humanized cyborg and sometimes more ironic which is something may clash with the character we got used to. Anyway, it’s Schwarzenegger the more interesting character.
However, the movie is quite good and interesting. The problem is in the characters who are ill-suited and sometimes they lack credibility in handling their reactions: for example, Sarah to her son, so does Kyle discovering he’s John’s father. On the whole, this film can be considered better than the previous one.
Terminator – Dark Fate
After several sequels, not all appreciated, this year Cameron is back with a new screenplay for a new Terminator, even though he is not the director. This sequel is a direct follow-up of the second chapter, so it completely erases what happened from the third film. This time, the new Terminator, called Rev-9, is sent back in time to kill Dani, a girl who is going to be the new saver of the humankind. At the same time, a hybrid soldier called Grace is sent to save Dani. So, this time, the target isn’t John Connor anymore, because following the timeline of Terminator 2, after John, Sarah e the T-800 preventing judgment day; a new T-800-like was sent and succeeded in killing John. This new event completely changed the timeline with new consequences for which Skynet is now Legion, and Sarah will help Grace to save Dani, but surprisingly even the T-800 will be with them because after killing John, the terminator felt useless without a reason to exist and settled down waiting for a new aim.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are back in their roles. And thanks to CGI, they made a very cool scene where the old protagonists appeared just like when we left them, possible by digital de-aging techniques which allowed to have the ‘old’ Arnold, Sarah and a ‘young’ Edward Furlong again as John Connor, just like they would have been in 1998. And this must be appreciated, at least for trying to create cohesion among the characters.
Of course, this sequel is a little better than the others, not only because of Cameron’s screenplay and Linda Hamilton in the cast but because the movie is more immersive. Obviously, this is very far from the first two chapters which no sequel will never be able to overtake. However, the flashback, albeit brief, managed to take us back in time, but it’s too short almost certainly because Edward Furlong wouldn’t be able to keep up the whole movie. So, his face was used only for the flashback but the fans surely would have preferred a story in which he was a protagonist along with Linda and Arnold to give us a great ending.
It remains that maybe we’ll always prefer to watch the first two chapters over and over again.