In the days before real life looming apocalypses of global warming, terrorism and the end of days circa 2012 took their place of central importance in the North American pop landscape, Hollywood occasionally found it quite fashionable to ravage theatre audiences with 'what if' projections of futurism run amuck that cursed the human race to near extinction. Of these like-minded scenarios, director James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) was - at least for a time - certainly the most depressingly creative.
As scripted by Cameron, Gail Anne Hurd and William Wisher Jr. the tale of a post-apocalyptic 2029, where artificial intelligence has sought to obliterate mankind from the earth, seemed quaintly compelling and yet totally unrealistic. After all, these were the days before either the 'thinking computer' or the internet; both technological advancements that ironically have brought us closer to The Terminator's vision of tomorrow.
In the battle for survival, the humans have a small chance at defeating the machines, prompting the latter to send back through time to Los Angeles circa 1984 a cyborg assassin that is programmed to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the as yet unborn future leader of the human resistance. This killer - a terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) will stop at nothing to see that Sarah never realizes her future destiny.
All is not lost, however, as the human faction have also mastered a teleportation device to send back to 1984 Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn); the father of Sarah's as yet unborn baby. The Terminator arrives first and sets about murdering anyone in the L.A. phone directory who has the name Sarah Connor. Oblivious to the danger she is in, Sarah and her roommate Ginger Ventura (Bess Motta) plan a night out on the town with Ginger's boyfriend Matt Buchanan (Rick Rossovich) and a blind date for Sarah who never shows up.
Unhappy chance for Ginger and Matt, because the Terminator arrives for his next kill at the apartment Ginger shares with Sarah after she has already left. Meanwhile, Sarah learns of the serial killings of two other women with her name and attempts to warn Ginger by phone. Leaving the safety of the restaurant she's in, Sarah next finds herself being followed down a lonely street by Kyle. Believing that he is the serial killer, Sarah ducks into a dance club where the real Terminator is waiting to kill her.
Kyle enters the club. In the hailstorm of gunfire exchanged between him and the Terminator many are wounded. But Kyle rescues Sarah from certain death. After a harrowing car chase, police arrest Sarah and Kyle, taking them to the local precinct where Sarah is informed by Police Lieutenant Ed Traxler (Paul Winfield) that Ginger and Matt are dead. Driving a stolen vehicle through the front window of the station, the Terminator proceeds to annihilate the entire police force. Kyle and Sarah narrowly escape and for the next several days Kyle informs Sarah of her role in preventing the total destruction of mankind.
Sarah reluctantly accepts her lot and she and Kyle make love; he impregnating her with the future leader of human freedom. After several close shaves, the Terminator catches up to Kyle and Sarah inside an abandoned factory. Kyle valiantly attempts to stop the Terminator from murdering Sarah but is killed by the Terminator instead, leaving Sarah to fend for herself. She succeeds by crushing the skeletal remains of her futurist assassin in a machine press. However, several months later Sarah is seen pregnant and driving her jeep into a gas stop near the U.S./ Mexican border. The old proprietor of the establishment tells her that there is a storm coming - referring to inclement weather - but to which the now world wise Sarah soberly declares "I know."
Produced on a shoestring budget for Hemdale and Orion Pictures, The Terminator went on to gross $78 million worldwide and establish both James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger as forces to be reckoned with in the film industry. Initially, Cameron conceived of the Terminator as a small man who would conspicuously blend into the background. Offering the part first to Lance Henriksen (who would end up playing Police Detective Hal Vukovich instead), Cameron was forced to rethink his choice in casting when his pick for Reese - Arnold Schwarzenegger - expressed his interest in playing the evil cyborg instead. It was a pivotal decision in Schwarzenegger's then precariously perched movie career that would ultimately make him a star.
Viewed today, The Terminator isn't quite as impressive or apocalyptic as it seemed in 1984; perhaps partly because the advancement of digital effects have made much of this film's pyrotechnics quaintly surreal and tame by comparison. Yes, the narrative still works on a superficial level with Schwarzenegger's methodical menacing the biggest asset. But on the whole, the movie seems to have dated badly in its bleak view of the future; an implausible alternative to the arguably more predictable bleakness we face from the real world of today.
MGM Home Video's Blu-Ray easily bests any of its previous standard DVD incarnations. The image lacks the overall punch in color fidelity, but remains relatively true to the original filmic origins. Flesh tones are more accurately realized, with Schwarzenegger's pasty pale make up giving his cyborg skin a slightly artificial sheen that suits the character well.
Fine details are realized in close up and medium shots, but long shots still tend to have a softer feel with not quite as much fine rendering in background detail. Perhaps, this is due to the limited budget of the film when it was shot or simply the slow degeneration of Eastman Kodak film stock from this vintage. Whatever the case, the image is solid and will not disappoint, even if it does not exactly impress. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital, dated but adequate for this presentation. Extras are direct imports from MGM's standard DVD issue and include a look back with candid interviews from James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as a peak behind the scenes at Stan Winston's then state of the art effects.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)