Reviews of The Terminator (1984) and related work
- Sequel: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
- Spin-off: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)
- Sequel: “T2 3-D: Battle Across Time” (1996)
- Sequel: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
- Sequel: Terminator Salvation (2009)
The Terminator (1984)
A waitress is visited by two men. The first of them tells her that she will eventually give birth to a leader who is necessary to win a future war, into which the first man himself claims to have been born. The second man doesn’t say much. He has come to alter the future.
Low-budget neo-noir-action and love story with cyberpunk and coming-of-age themes. Budget problems, bad hair, religious symbolism, high-powered love, a couple of issues with the script (why ask for plasma?), borrowing from Westworld (1973), but there is still so much primally cool stuff in here. The similarity between Reese and the Terminator, the utterly pragmatic behaviour of the machine (the scene where he murders a random Sarah stuck in my mind when I saw it as a child), the unstoppability of the thing, the images of the war, the great lines, the general darkness, the time travel tricks: all good stuff.
‣ Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Review refers to the “Ultimate Edition” DVD version.
Ten years later, probably 1994, could be ’95. A mad Sarah Connor dreams about the end of the world which she knows is rapidly approaching, fantasizing about her own pastoral waitress-self blown to dust in nuclear fire. She has offered her body to psycho gun runners and others who were willing to teach John what she felt he had to know. He doesn’t like her. She’s in a mental institution when two more men are sent from the future. This time, neither is human.
High-budget cataclysmic neo-noir-action concluding the original story. Fantastic opening, great music and characters, wonderful apocalyptic visions. The uses of the T-1000 are intriguing and the gradual devastation of the T-800 is very cool. The “morality” is actually quite well done: you can get them to go for the knees and cripple people. Original and well executed action scenes, particularly the hyperreal sound. Dyson and his crew are sympathetic. The games with time travel are great again, and most of the comedy really works. Even the little bits of philosophy on human nature and responsibility are well above average for Hollywood. I despise the vacation line, I don’t like the read/write switch or its humanizing effect, the Dyson children are freakishly cute, and there’s both Christian dross and a strong sense of the film as a career vehicle, in addition to art and entertainment.
References here: “Aloha, Lupin” (1980), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993), “T2 3-D: Battle Across Time” (1996), “Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible” (2010).
‣‣ Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008)
Review applies to the first season.
Resuming from T2 and rightfully ignoring T3, at the start of the story, John is 15 and has lived on the run with his mom. She’s the narrator, namedropping literary classics way out of character, and not half as deliciously crazy or looking anywhere near as powerful as Hamilton did in the role.
Another Terminator is sent to kill John, yet another sent to protect him, as usual, and the whole team time travels to contemporary (2007) LA. This is apparently done to avoid Sarah dying of cancer and also (magically?) enables the family to stop running, stay in one place and attempt to stop the construction of Skynet, which is predicted to happen there in 2011. A whole bunch of extra time traveller Terminators are walking around, paving the way for Skynet by collecting building materials etc.
Mainly drama, actually. Apparently The New York Times referred to it as “one of the more humanizing adventures in science fiction to arrive in quite a while”, an ominous self-contradiction.
Judgement Day dissolves to Halo. Product placement is heavy, as you’d expect, and there are plenty of soap-opera-quality confrontations between pretty people. Those people obviously consider an ability to believe in Yahweh to be a crucial strength of humankind, sadly suggesting that the (many) scriptwriters have that view of the world or else they’ll lie to sell. Meanwhile, the time-travel paradoxes just keep getting worse and more family-centric, thermite is used unrealistically, and the form of “hacking” people do in this series is simply shit, harking back to 1980s depictions. I admit Cameron is a significant part of the attraction, an adorable monster whose existence is, just barely, motivated by her ability to monitor John at school. At the same time I realize she’s just another “Seven of Nine”, a big part of this attempt to water down a beautiful piece of neo-noir.
‣ “T2 3-D: Battle Across Time” (1996)
Seen in 2017.
Seen on Youtube, in a 20-minute cut compiled by the “ThemeparkThrills” channel.
A commercial for Cyberdyne set in the present time of the production, followed by a stunt show and sequel narrative where a T-800 unit, apparently the same one destroyed in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), takes John into the future war and mounts a direct attack on a fortress supposed to host Skynet itself.
Theme park show with 3D video. The twilight realm between a spin-off, a theme park ride without a story, and a second sequel with the original actors. Even with Cameron’s approval it cannot reasonably be interpreted as a continuation of his vision. The idea of another T-800 being reprogrammed and deciding to include John in such an attack on a centralized above-ground facility, with the shotgun and motorcycle from T2, ignoring the established premises for time travel, can serve no purpose other than empty spectacle. The mini-hunters and T-1000000 are ugly and useless, while the T-70s and the satirical tone of the infomercial recall Robocop (1987) as opposed to T2’s credible corporate culture.
References here: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).
‣ Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
T2’s plot again, but set in John’s adulthood as the averted cataclysm suddenly turns out to be inevitable for no reason. The military has built Skynet and must lift all of its restrictions in order for it to fight a computer virus. John meets his wife. Arnold is the hero again. His opponent determines that larger breasts are needed for the mission. She is a step down from the T-1000: she cannot melt through anything or repair her crappy integrated weaponry.
Mainstream action, far from everything that makes literary science fiction interesting. The fact that innocent young minds built Skynet in T2, using the parts, was one of its ingenious details: a minimal ripple in causality. That was an insecure, uncaring universe, much like reality. Here, that whole cosmology is undone. T3, like “T2 3-D” (1996), operates on the deterministic principles of a medieval mystery play, cramming in way too much comic relief and cheesy action. On top of that, there’s nationalism, meant-for-each other romance done the wrong way and bullshit science fiction, in particular the functioning of the nanobots and Skynet. The characters hold no interest. The music is bad. The humanization of the Terminator is complete as his willpower conquers nanobots in his brain. The good stuff (decentralization of Skynet and spiffier special effects) drowns in glaring, stupid imitation.
‣ Terminator Salvation (2009)
Seen in 2013.
John Connor is rising through the ranks of the future Resistance, fighting Skynet.
Post-apocalyptic action with an utter lack of ambition at the scripting level. There is no real attempt to imagine how a self-preserving AI would realistically fight, and hence, what the war would look like. There is no attempt to discuss differences in weapons production etc. The GUI stuff—Marcus navigating William Gibson’s cyberspace and talking to human faces—and the kill signal ploy are intended only to convey a sense of plot where there is no plot. Sarah Connor now urges John to follow his heart, and there is a repeated assertion that having a heart is what separates humans from AI. Hardly science fiction, and not much else.