Saturday, July 11, 2015
Franchises: The Terminator. The Terminator (1984)
And that's exactly what happened that Christmas when I got it, along with Terminator 2 and Predator (from the very same aunt whose boyfriend I had watched it with), making them the first R-rated movies I ever owned and another reason why they're so special to me, particularly this movie. There's no telling how many times I watched the VHS of this movie, along with Predator. It easily must have been over thirty times, maybe even more than that. It was a film that I never, ever got bored with and whose dialogue and scenes I learned verbatim after a short time. It was also the film that taught me about TV censorship since when I watched the VHS for the first time, I saw a lot of stuff that I didn't remember seeing on cable, such as the Terminator cutting his arm open or cutting his eyeball out in such gory detail, not to mention the sex scene where you see Linda Hamilton's bare breasts (I thought you only saw nudity in that much detail in porno movies). When I saw the movie on cable again and learned more and more about how movies worked and such, I realized that there was often a lot more to them, especially horror and action movies, than what you ever saw on TV. Because of that, I've always considered this to be the movie that served as the beginning of the end of my movie-watching innocence. From here on, I began actively seeking out harder, darker-edged stuff, especially after I bought my first DVD player in 2002 when I was 15, and I knew that other, harder movies that I had already seen, such as the ones I've mentioned, probably had a lot more to them than I had seen on TV, which ended my innocence with them as well. But I digress. To this day, The Terminator remains one of my absolute favorite movies of all time. In fact, I'll come right out and say that this is my personal favorite of the entire franchise. I enjoy Terminator 2 and I can watch Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and have fun with it for what it is, despite its flaws, but I don't think any of the other movies ever captured what makes this one so special. Maybe it's the film's relatively low budget that led to a darker, grittier feel that the bigger-budgeted sequels couldn't capture, the more graphic edge that this one has, or the fact that there's not as much humor, especially with the Terminator himself given his portrayal, and it's a much more straight to the point movie. I don't know what it is but, regardless, this movie is in a class by itself, a class that no one else, not even James Cameron, has ever been able to match.
While he may put a lot of high artistic aspirations and deep philosophies into his films, one skill that Cameron has in spades is that he knows how to make a damn good action movie. Despite its limited resources, this film nonetheless proves to be one of the most tightly-paced, exciting, and thrilling movies ever, barely stopping to catch a breath once it really gets going, which is fairly early on (not that it hadn't been entertaining before then). Even though it has a lot of exposition to go through in terms of what the Terminator is and why he's here, it doesn't stop dead in its tracks to do so like most movies do but rather incorporates it into the action, with Reese explaining everything to Sarah while they're in the middle of a car chase where they're wipping around corners and trying to evade the police or when they're hiding from both them and the Terminator. Even when Reese is taken in by the police and is talking to Dr. Silberman about what's going on, Cameron sees to it that the audience is kept interested by only hearing stuff that they haven't heard already, by keeping it moving, and by focusing on something else while stuff that's not necessary to know is being said. It's really good filmmaking and makes for a very fast-paced, entertaining sci-fi/thriller.
The movie starts off in a captivating way with a glimpse at the ongoing war between humanity and the machines in the year 2029, with HK-planes and tanks patrolling and blasting the countryside while human soldiers run for cover. After the credits and the arrival of the Terminator and Reese into 1984, we get a nicely stylish chase sequence where Reese catches the attention of the police when he takes a homeless man's pants and, after subduing one of the cops and taking his gun, he's chased into a department store where he gets himself a coat and some shoes while evading the police and slipping out via some exterior stairwells (the cold, blue-white lighting adds gobs of atmosphere to this sequence). After taking one of the cops' rifles from their parked patrol car, Reese slips off into the night to search for Sarah Connor. Following a section of the movie where the Terminator gets his guns and brutally shoots the "wrong" Sarah Connor after tracking her down to her suburban home, we get another look at the future from Reese's point of view, where he dreams about being caught up in a battle where, after running alongside one of the HK-tanks, the female soldier that's with him gets blasted into pieces by the tank's laser cannon after throwing a grenade at it. The one that Reese threw before, however, manages to destroy the tank and afterward, he rushes to a truck with a laser turret in the back that takes off while shooting at a pursuing HK-plane, which manages to flip the truck over and trap Reese in the burning cab. As he screams, Reese snaps back to reality, turns off the radio of the car he's taken, and drives down the road. Later on, while Sarah, upon learning that a second woman with her name has been found murdered, feels that she's being stalked by Reese and ducks into the Tech-Noir club to lose him, the Terminator arrives at her apartment and sneaks in through the outside patio. He brutally attacks Ginger's boyfriend Matt, throwing him around the room as the guy tries to defend himself as best as he can, while Ginger is obliviously listening to her headphones while getting herself some food. When she walks to the bedroom, Matt gets thrown the door, beaten to death, prompting Ginger to drop the food and scream when the Terminator emerges from the room. Ginger tries to run but the Terminator shoots her in the back and, as she tries to crawl away, slowly walks over to her and shoots her several more times. Immediately afterward, Sarah calls and unknowingly tells her intended assassin where she is, prompting him to search through desk the phone is sitting on, where he finds her address book and her license, which gives him a picture of his target.
Save for a nightmare that Sarah has about the future of a Terminator (Franco Columbu, a bodybuilding buddy of Arnold's who, when I first saw the film, I actually thought was Sylvester Stallone) infiltrating a bunker of refugees and killing everyone in sight, including the dogs that figured out what he was, there's a lull in the action until the Terminator tracks Sarah and Reese down to the motel they've been staying at. He kicks the door in and starts shooting, only to find an empty room. While he searches it thoroughly, kicking down another door, Sarah and Reese, who managed to slip out, possibly through an unseen window, take a truck in the parking lot from its owner. The Terminator hears the truck starting up and runs back outside, only to be rammed into and momentarily incapacitated. As they drive off, he gets back up, picks up his weapon, and gets onto his motorcycle to continue the chase. Reese and Sarah peel down the street and immediately see that the Terminator is on their tail and catching up fast. When they come up on a tunnel, he begins firing at them with his automatic rifle, hitting the back of the truck. Reese and Sarah trade places, with her driving while he leans out the passenger window to chuck pipe bombs they made earlier at the Terminator. Sarah has to swerve around vehicles in both lanes in the tunnel while Reese throws the bombs, which prove to be completely useless as they don't even slow the Terminator down and he continues firing at them. After exiting the tunnel, Reese prepares to throw another bomb but the Terminator shoots through the truck's back window and hits him, causing him to drop the bomb and it explodes right alongside them. Sarah realizes that Reese has been hit as the Terminator realizes he's out of ammunition and tosses his automatic rifle aside for his laser-guided .45. He catches right up to Sarah in order to get a clear shot, which allows her to swerve into him and make him hit the curb, knocking him off his bike. Sarah, however, doesn't fare much better when she hits the curb at top speed and the truck gets flung over to the other side of the road, landing upside down, while the Terminator skids along the road with his bike. Things get calm for a second as the Terminator regains consciousness, only for him to get plowed over by a big tanker truck, which severely damages him, especially his leg, and he grabs onto the back of the truck to save himself. When the truck comes to a stop, he kills the driver when he comes outside to check for damage and commandeers the truck, forcing the passenger to get out. He engages the truck and begins driving it around to the side of the road where Sarah crashed, as she, who saw the whole thing, frantically tries to pull herself and Reese out of the flipped over truck. They barely manage to avoid being run over with the truck and run off down the road, with the Terminator right behind them. As they come to a street corner, Reese falls to the ground and tells Sarah to keep running, who is able to keep ahead of the truck by only a few feet, with the Terminator going as far as driving on the sidewalk to try to run her down. Reese lights another pipe bomb and throws it into the truck's tail-pipe as it passes by him before taking cover in a dumpster. Sarah continues evading the truck until the bomb explodes and turns the entire thing into a huge fireball, with her taking cover around the side of a building while Reese stumbles out of that dumpster. Sarah watches the Terminator stumble out of the truck and fall down as he's engulfed in flames, breathing a sigh of relief when he finally stops moving.
Sarah and Reese reunite amongst the flaming remains of the diesel truck and it seems like it's over... when the Terminator, his metal endoskeleton emerges from the wreckage and looks at them menacingly. Reese sees him first and gets up to run as Sarah then spots him and joins her lover as the Terminator begins the chase again, despite having a damaged left foot that he's dragging. Reese and Sarah duck into a nearby building and run down a darkened hallway, trying to find a place to take cover, as the Terminator slowly follows them. They manage to make it through one door into an automated factory and slam it shut and put the locking bolt down behind them as the Terminator begins ramming his shoulder into it. Reese and Sarah head on into the factory, with Reese activating the surrounding machines in order to make it harder for the Terminator to track them. After doing so, Reese nearly collapses from his injuries and tries to make Sarah leave him behind but Sarah, seeing that the Terminator is on the verge of getting through the door, makes Reese get back on his feet and helps him along. The Terminator manages to slip his arm through a massive hole he's torn in the door and lift up the bolt, allowing him to get inside. While Sarah and Reese slip through the factory, using whatever cover they can, the Terminator finds it hard to get a lock on their position due to the running machines around him but is undeterred and begins searching for them manually, looking under bits of machinery and such. Eventually, Reese and Sarah run into a dead-end but when they try to go back, they come face-to-face with the Terminator, who locks in on them and follows them up some stairs onto a railing. Reese forces Sarah to run off down another path while he deals with the robot himself, smacking his head several times with a metal pipe he picked up earlier. The Terminator, however, manages to get the upper hand, knocking the pipe out of his hands and then smacking him across the face, sending him falling onto the walkway. The Terminator then closes in for the kill but Reese lights one last pipe bomb and shoves it into the robot's torso before tumbling down some stairs as the Terminator blows up. Once the explosion has passed, Sarah, after painfully pulling out a piece of shrapnel from the side of her left leg, crawls over to where Reese lies next to the Terminator's severed torso and turns him over to discover that he's dead. She doesn't have time to mourn, though, as the torso springs to life and begins crawling after her. With her legs injured, she's barely able to move herself by crawling across the walkways and machinery, with the Terminator keeping pace with her despite his similar condition and coming close to grabbing her at points. Unknowingly or not, Sarah leads the Terminator into a hydraulic press, crawls out of the opening, and slams the grating down, trapping him. He manages to get his hand through the grating in an attempt to strangle Sarah but she turns the tables and activates the press with the controls behind her, telling the Terminator, "You're terminated, fucker." She then watches as the Terminator is slowly crushed flat in the press until his red eye goes out, signifying that he's finally been destroyed. Sarah crawls out from underneath the arm and tries to compose herself as the police arrive.
This one movie whose soundtrack I have on CD because I enjoy it that much. The music by Brad Fiedel, which was created almost exclusively with the use of synthesizers performed live, perfectly accencuates the mood that James Cameron is going for in the film and it remains my favorite score of the franchise. I love the way the main Terminator theme sounds here the most, coming across as very somber and apocalyptic, like it truly is the end of the world, especially when you hear the full extent of it over the ending credits after Sarah drives off to face the future. You hear the theme in various incarnations throughout the film, most notably in the form of a romantic piano version when Sarah and Reese make love, a slower, more atmospheric one when the two of them are reunited after the tanker truck explodes, and low, sad version that's played when Sarah discovers that Reese is dead. Another recognizable theme is the threatening, constantly pounding motif that almost always accompanies the Terminator whenever he's around and adds to the feeling of menace that pervades him. Fiedel has described it as a means to get across the idea of the heartbeat of a mechanical man and often alters the intensity of the pounding, sometimes making it lower, like when the Terminator first arrives (which is accompanied by a very creepy, electronic atmospheric sound) and other times making it very loud and noticeable, like when the Terminator is going around, getting his weapons and such. Fiedel also uses the theme at a couple of points when Sarah feels like she's being stalked, like when she spots Reese in the Tech-Noir club while waiting for the police, reinforcing the idea that she's afraid of the wrong person. The electronic nature of the score is another thing that makes it feel like a horror film, even during the action scenes. Some may find it outdated in the way it sounds but I love the theme for the sequences where we see the war going on in 2029 and for the car chase scenes, particularly the one through the tunnel near the end: it's exciting and gets the adrenaline pumping but it also reminds you that this is a nightmarish scenario and that there's a lot at stake here. The theme that plays during the nightmare that Sarah has about the future gets across the feeling of hopelessness that humanity is living with and the music during the climactic factory chase sounds the most nightmarish, particularly when the Terminator's severed torso springs to life and chases after Sarah. The piece that plays when she destroys him in the press has a long, drawn-out sound that adds to the feeling of finality, that this evil thing that's been after her the entire film is finally dead.
I even like some of the songs on the film's soundtrack, especially the two by Tahnee Cain and Tryanglz that you hear during the scenes at Tech-Noir. My favorite is Burnin' in the Third Degree, which plays when the Terminator enters the club while Sarah is waiting for the police: it has a really cool sound and beat to it and it sounds even nicer when it goes into slow-motion when the Terminator zeros in on Sarah. I also like Photoplay, which you hear when Sarah first enters the club. Again, I just like the sound of it and think it has a catchy beat. I also don't mind their other song, You Can't Do That, which Ginger listens to while she and Sarah are getting ready for their dates. I've listened to the whole song on the CD and I don't think it's that bad of a song. I'm not a big fan of Intimacy by Lin Van Hek, which Ginger listens to when she goes to make herself a sandwich after having sex with Matt, and I don't even remember where Pictures of You by Jay Ferguson and 16mm was in the film (maybe it was what Ginger was listening to while having sex with Matt); otherwise, not a bad collection of songs.
Before we wrap things up, I'd like to comment on the new stereo audio track of the film, which I think was first put out on MGM's 2001 special edition of the film (the copy that I have). While the film does sound better there than it ever has before, I don't care for the new sound effects, some of which are from Terminator 2, that were added in and replaced some of the previous ones like the gunshots and laser blasts. Having watched the old Artisan VHS for most of my young adult life, I became accustomed to the old-fashioned, 80's sound effects there, particularly the sound that the Terminator's laser-guided .45 made whenever it fired (I love that classic gunshot sound in general), and so, whenever I watch the movie now, I always switch the audio to the original mono so I can hear those sounds. It's my preferred way of watching the movie, which is why I'm disappointed that the new audio track is always used now when the movie is played on TV, and I'd be interested to know if anyone else feels the same way too (I also remember the music sounding a bit different there too, which I wasn't thrilled about either).