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A Cult Classicinator,
This review is from: The Terminator [DVD] (DVD)
Schwarzenegger; love him or hate him you have to give him credit for knowing what he is and what he isn't. He knows his acting presence is never going to be mentioned with the same breathless awe of Meryl Streep. Arnie does a great job of choosing roles that suit him perfectly. One of those roles is the near monk-like silence of the cult classic killing machine known as the Terminator.
We can overlook the fact that Skynet chose to send back a Terminator with a heavy Austrian accent to 1980's America because over the twenty or so times I have seen this film I really could not care less. This is probably Schwarzenegger's greatest film. The role doesn't ask too much of him and he plays it perfectly. As soon as Arnie is teleported, crouching fully naked beside a dump truck he is the Terminator. Many people would demean him, claiming it only works because he cannot act. I disagree. Acting is making the viewer believe and whilst watching this film you don't see former Mr Universe, you see an unstoppable cyborg killer would will not stop and not rest until he has completed his task.
What works for The Terminator is the simple premise and James Cameron's ability to put a new spin on something we've seen before. He did it with Alien and like it or not he did it with Avatar. The rules of time travel are well worked out and simply explained. Nothing dead can travel back in time (Hence why we get treated to Arnie and Michael Biehn's buttocks at the start of the film). The Terminator itself cheats this rule by being living organism over metal skeleton.
Perhaps most striking about this film, given that it was made in the action hero 1980s where machine gun wielding bodybuilders was the norm, is that the hero character is female. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is now an icon. She's not the atypical screaming woman who's running up the stairs instead of out the door. She's a normal woman, working part time at a diner, living with a roommate and struggling to find a boyfriend that isn't more concerned about his car. When the time comes, she steps up to the demands of the film. She never thought she could be a hero or brave or fight a cyborg from the future but she does all of these things and the film is really about her and her journey.
Much of the colour and explanation comes from the haunted but utterly devoted Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) who successfully balances the forlornness of the future with his love for Sarah and determined resolve to protect her. He is the underdog in this fight and it's hard not to root for someone so passionate.
A supporting cast of Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen and Earl Boen as the psychiatrist add a light-heartedness to a very bleak and depressing environment. It works. Cameron's direction and pacing transition well between visions of a possible future and the unravelling present.
There is a reason this film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry a requisite being `culturally, historically or aesthetically significant'. The Terminator is all these things. It is a film that has referenced and inspired so many others and if it's not on your list of films to watch before you die, then you are a fool.