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The Terminator (1984)

May 20, 2009

9/10 Childhood Nightmares

God, this is one hell of a movie.

Set in the 1980s, The Terminator is about the woman who will one day give birth to the future leader of the human resistance in the war against the machines, the killer cyborg that’s sent back from the future to kill a her, and the resistance fighter who’s sent back from the future to protect her. Yeah, that’s probably the best way to sum it up.

I’ve had a lot of heated debates with my friends as to whether this movie is better than Judgment Day, and while I’m usually in the minority, I will always stand by the original as my favorite. Key word there being “favorite”, not necessarily better.

The special effects don’t stand the test of time, the story involves time travel, so naturally there are plot holes, and it definitely doesn’t have the great production quality of its sequels. But you know what, who cares? All of that crap is overshadowed by the movie’s in-your-face story and the genuinely human characters that are fighting for their lives right to the very end. It’s sci-fi, it’s horror, it’s action, and it’s got some pitch black comedy in it to boot. Somehow it all fits together beautifully.

This movie is as much a completely original, intense, and badass experience as you’re likely to come by, and it scared the shit right out of me when I first saw it. Maybe I shouldn’t have seen it when I was 11, but we’ll see who’s laughing when you’re looking over your shoulder at night to make sure a crippled Terminator skeleton isn’t crawling over to kill your ass!

This is also the best that Arnold has ever been. And while he’s great in Judgment Day, the Terminator is such a better bad guy then he is a good guy. There’s a reason everyone still says “I’ll be back”. It’s because Arnold doesn’t fuck around.

The reason I liked this movie isn’t far from why I’m a big fan of the Evil Dead movies. The Terminator could have been a laughable mess – just re-read the story synopsis again – but just like Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead, James Cameron didn’t let his financial and technical limitations stop him from turning this low-budget indie movie into one of the defining movies of an entire decade. And say what you will about Cameron, but the guy has made some damn good movies. Except Titanic. Sorry, ladies.

If James Cameron can turn a script like The Terminator into movie gold on a shoestring budget, then anyone can do it. And that’s why I like this movie more than its sequels, because it’s a testament to the power of storytelling if there ever was one. Nowadays, where action movies and summer blockbusters are defined by eye-candy and figuring out ways to one-up The Matrix, The Terminator is a much-needed reminder that sometimes all you need to make a great movie is a fresh story with some serious attitude.

So if you’ve only seen the sequels, do yourself a favor and check out how the whole thing started.

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