Filmsite Movie Review
The Terminator (1984)
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The Terminator (1984), the first of five science-fiction action-thriller films (through 2015), has often been considered by most film reviewers to be a better-crafted film than its popular sequels, with fewer special-effects and pretention. Perhaps it was immensely popular because the concisely-represented film had a very simple and uncomplicated premise or storyline: A killer machine hunting down a woman. However, the film's most paradoxical, mind-blowing circular element was that the time-traveling individual, who was sent back by his own father to protect the female protagonist, was also the father of her child.

One tagline described the plot in detail:

In the Year of Darkness, 2029, the rulers of this planet devised the ultimate plan. They would reshape the Future by changing the Past. The plan required something that felt no pity. No pain. No fear. Something unstoppable. They created 'THE TERMINATOR'

Its major follow-up films included two more films - to make a trilogy - and further sequels:

The low-budget R-rated film grossed $38.8 million (domestic), with a production budget of only $6.4 million. The sci-fi action film was the 21st highest-grossing domestic film of the year 1984, far behind the # 1 domestic hit Beverly Hills Cop (1984) at $234.8 million. It made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, and "I'll be back" became a popular catch-phrase.

Writer/director James Cameron's sleeper film (only his second feature film), co-written with producer Gale Anne Hurd, was an exciting, well-paced action thriller with apocalyptic, monster, and sci-fi adventure story elements. It harkened back to a collection of sci-fi films (such as The Time Machine (1960), Cyborg 2087 (1966), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Westworld (1973), and Halloween (1978), plus Mad Max (1979), The Road Warrior (1982) (aka Mad Max 2 (1981, Australia)) and Blade Runner (1982)), and also to TV episodes of The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), The Outer Limits (1963-1965), and Star Trek (1966-1969).

Stan Winston's special terminator and visual effects, created by Fantasy II Film Effects, vividly and effectively presented a film-noirish environment and realistic stop-motion animation as the Terminator was transformed into a mechanical exo-skeleton when his flesh and blood were stripped away in the course of his unstoppable pursuit.

Heavy-accented, Austrian body-builder and wooden actor Arnold Schwarzenegger performed in a career-shaping role as the title character - a robotic killing machine (27 people died at his hands by film's end). It was also a very rudimentary and brutish role - with only 74 words of dialogue. This role soon led to many more such formidable, box-office appealing characterizations in films from the mid to late 80s and into the 90s:

  • Commando (1985)
  • Raw Deal (1986)
  • Predator (1987)
  • The Running Man (1987)
  • Red Heat (1988)
  • Total Recall (1990)
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  • True Lies (1994)
  • Eraser (1996)

Likewise, Cameron's career was launched by the success of this film - with its brilliant chase sequences and trademark action set-pieces. However, there were no accolades for the special-effects or the characterizations from AMPAS - no Academy Awards nominations.

See Greatest Film Series Franchises:
The Terminator
Terminator Films
Time Frame
The Terminator (1984) Post-apocalyptic 2029 Los Angeles; an indestructible, invincible, inhuman android Terminator T-800 (Schwarzenegger) was sent back from the future year 2029 to 1984 to eliminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who would one day be the mother of a son (an off-screen John Connor) who would lead a human Resistance movement-rebellion against the evil cyborg leaders of Earth's future. At first, the killing machine mistook other 'Sarah Connors' located in a Los Angeles telephone book for the real one and eliminated them. Another teleportation time traveler to 1984 was Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a nuclear holocaust survivor who volunteered for the future John Connor on an opposite quest to rescue and save innocent Sarah's life and ensure the conception and delivery of a son (who became a Resistance leader and his future boss!). He inadvertently fathered the child himself.

The low-budget film grossed $38 million (domestic), and made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star; "I'll be back" became a popular catch-phrase.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Around the year 1994-1995; muscular warrior woman Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was now institutionalized after attempting to blow up Cyberdyne Systems, and for acting delusional and insane over thoughts of an apocalyptic Judgment Day, predicted for August 29, 1997. She was the single mother of rebellious John Connor (Edward Furlong), now a pre-teenager and foster child - and the child-savior of future humanity in a war with a deadly machine complex called SkyNet; the fatherless boy was threatened by a seemingly-indestructible, liquid-metal Terminator android named T-1000 (Robert Patrick) who had the uncanny ability to 'morph' his body into any solid shape, impersonate other persons and even camouflage himself with the background; an older model Terminator T-800 (Schwarzenegger) was sent from the future to protect him; the SkyNet labs were demolished to wipe out any trace of Terminator technology.

The R-rated film grossed $205.8 million (domestic), and was the highest grossing film of 1991. It acquired four Academy Awards (Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Effects Editing) from its six nominations.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) Set about 10 years after the events of the second film in the year 2004 in Los Angeles; Sarah Connor had died in 1997; twenty-something, post-apocalyptic leader John Connor (Nick Stahl) of the prophesied war against the machines was targeted by another Terminator or Terminatrix - an advanced sexy female named T-X (Kristanna Loken); he must again be protected by an outdated, monosyllabic, and obsolete T-101 (Schwarzenegger) from the future.

This sequel had a new director, writers, villains, and co-stars, with Schwarzenegger the sole returnee; the film grossed $149 million (domestically) on a budget of $200 million.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008) In sequence, this Fox TV series took place after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), with English actress Lena Headey as the title character, who made her entrance into the film stark naked on a LA freeway, ready to protect her teenaged son John (Thomas Dekker) and battle an army of revolutionary robots and other threats.
Terminator Salvation (2009) A prequel to The Terminator (1984), set in the post-apocalyptic year 2018 in Los Angeles, 34 years after the original. Although the film's prologue was in the year 2003, it set the stage for the main story in a post-apocalyptic California (Los Angeles) in the year 2018, 14 years after the nuclear attack (Judgment Day) in 2004 that ended the previous "Terminator" trilogy.

Older T-600 foot-soldier Terminators, controlled by the AI computer network named Skynet (with its central location in San Francisco), roamed the wasteland to combat the few remaining, beleaguered Resistance forces, heroically led by adult John Connor (Christian Bale) during the early days of the human Resistance - 11 years before Kyle Reese was sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) from the first Terminator. A death-row inmate, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), executed in the year 2003, came back to life in 2018, eventually revealing himself to be a human-machine hybrid created by Cyberdyne Systems and Skynet. Together, Connor and Wright infiltrated Skynet Central, where they battled a new, more formidable cyborg, the T-800.
Terminator Genisys (2015) Directed by Alan Taylor, this reboot film featured a new cast, except for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took the role of "The Guardian." The new cast members included Jason Clarke as John Connor, Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor, and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese.

There was a fractured, altered or changed time-line in this film. The film opened in the year 2029, with John Connor again leading the rebels against the forces of SkyNet. He sent his Sgt. Kyle Reese back to Los Angeles of 1984 to protect Sarah Connor, his mother. When Kyle Reese arrived, he discovered unusual changes - there were two Terminators: one T-800 (Brett Azar) sent to kill the orphaned Sarah at the age of nine, and one fatherly, semi-obsolete reprogrammed T-800 (Model 101) protector to save her ("The Guardian" or "Pops"). Also there was a menacing T-1000 Terminator (Lee Byung-hun) who could morph into various human shapes. Both Sarah and Kyle battled the two Terminators (the original T-800 and the T-1000). Through time-travel, Sarah, Kyle and the Guardian journeyed to the year 2017 (not to the year 1997 due to the altered time-line), since Judgment Day had been postponed from August 29, 1997 to October 2017. In the year 2017, SkyNet's precursor was revealed, a new Cyberdyne computer operating system known as "Genisys," and another opposing force was a T-3000 prototype Terminator. After the Guardian was submerged in a hot vat of polyalloy liquid (and upgraded), Sarah and Kyle were able to defeat Genisys before it came online, but then the system's core (protected by a blast shelter), survived the destruction and still threatened.
Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Regarded as a sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), set more than two decades after the events of the second film, thereby ignoring the four subsequent films, including the most recent: Terminator: Genisys (2015). In the plot, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) set out to protect young Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who was under the protection of Grace (Mackenzie Davis) - a human-Terminator hybrid, and her friend Miguel Ramos (Diego Boneta). There was also an advanced liquid-metal Terminator known as Rev 9 (Gabriel Luna), sent from the future - attempting to assassinate them. 71 year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his role as The Terminator. Jude Collie also starred as a young John Connor.

Directed by Tim Miller, with James Cameron as producer.

During the Terminator's mission, he delivered the oft-quoted, straight-faced line "I'll be back" to a desk police clerk. He did return, destroying the building by driving a monstrous vehicle directly into it.

[Note: This famous line was repeated in the sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), when he told his young charge, "Stay here. I'll be back." In the third film in the series, the T-101 said, "I'm back" and later said, "She'll be back" - in reference to the feminine cyborg assassin T-X or Terminatrix. In the fourth film, John Connor (Christian Bale) kissed his pregnant wife Kate (Bryce Dallas Howard) goodbye as he left on a dangerous mission to rescue young imprisoned Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) held by Skynet. He turned and assured her: "I'll be back," after she asked: "What should I tell your men when they find out you're gone?"]

Plot Synopsis

Prologue: The Year 2029 - Skynet War

The action film opened in the year 2029 in Los Angeles (revealed in a caption) in a dark, ruined post-apocalyptic area. It was a scene of annihilation and devastation ("nuclear fire"), as massive machines hunted down humans in order to exterminate the entire human race - a large tank-like vehicle with laser guns firing symbolically crushed skulls strewn across the landscape.

AI machines ruled the desolate world, led by a computer network called Skynet, explained in a super-imposed caption:

The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight...

The screen turned black, transitioning slowly to the presentation of the names of the major stars (with PC computer-like DOS letters), seen above the formation of the film's title (outlines of the lettering of the two halves of the title moving toward each other) in glistening, metallic, bluish-silver writing: THE TERMINATOR, backed by an ominous drum-beat.

The Present Day: Los Angeles, May 12, 1984 - The Time-Traveling Arrival of Two Individuals From the Future

[Note: May 12, 1984, was in actuality a Saturday, not a Friday.]

With another caption, the film then returned to the present-day of mid-May 1984 Los Angeles, a nighttime scene at 1:52 am, as the claws of a garbage truck reached for a dumpster during an electrical storm. A strange lightning-like discharge shut off the truck's ignition, and grew in strength as it encircled the vehicle. The black truck driver (Chino 'Fats' Williams) fled from the cab as a crouching figure materialized nude nearby - a show-stopping entrance scene. The muscle-bound, powerfully-strong individual rose up, glanced back and forth to scan his environment, and slowly walked over to the edge of the pavement to view the lights of the city.

The figure was an indestructible android assassin, the Terminator (36 year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger), a T-800 Series (Model 101) model from the future.

[Note: It was an unstoppable, villainous Cyberdyne Systems android (with a humanoid, human tissue exterior and cold chromium/metallic, skeletal interior - and a death's head skull). The Model 101 series robot was a muscular, 6 foot tall, indestructible, intelligent, killing-machine (without a moral conscience).]

Nearby on the perimeter of the parking lot in front of the Griffith Observatory, three young punk tough guys (Brad Rearden, Brian Thompson, and leader Bill Paxton) with spiked hair were vandalizing a viewing telescope, when the formidable Terminator walked over to them. After the leader joked: "Nice night for a walk, eh?...Wash day tomorrow? Nothing clean, right?", the android emotionlessly repeated their lines and then demanded their clothing ("Your clothes. Give them to me, now!"). The leader and the others ineffectually drew switchblades - two of them were heaved away, while a third was killed with a lethal and bloody gut-punch.

In a different, litter-strewn downtown LA alley, a second time-traveling individual named Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a soldier of the Tech-Com human Resistance movement of the future (led by Resistance leader John Connor) fighting against Skynet, was also teleported back. He dropped to the ground, nude, amidst electrical sparks. Appearing less capable and smaller than the first individual, he stole pants from a derelict, drunken homeless bum (Stan Yale), and fled from officers (Ken Fritz and Tom Oberhaus) in an LAPD squad car who pursued him on foot. He was able to steal a trenchcoat and Nike shoes from the maze of aisles in a discount department store, and after climbing down the second floor fire escape, made off with the officers' pump riot gun from their unattended vehicle.

Introduction of Sarah Connor - A Key Individual

Both Terminators were on a systematic search to hunt down a female named 'Sarah Connor' - but there was an unforeseen complication. There were three listed in alphabetical order in the phone book (now not a helpful tool, but a deadly tool to target an individual):

  • Connor Sarah 1823 Doncaster
  • Connor Sarah Ann 2816 Easthill
  • Connor Sarah J 309 Calder Cyn

Reese was the first to enter a phone booth and scan the three 'Sarah Connor' names in the printed telephone directory - he ripped out the page.

The next morning, an expository camera cut revealed the 'real' Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a 19 year-old brunette who was riding her Vespa in LA traffic. She parked in front of a Big Jeff's Restaurant (styled after a Big-Boy restaurant, but actually a Carrow's Restaurant), and chained her scooter to the statuesque icon of 'Big Jeff' himself, holding a double-cheesburger in each hand. She turned as she walked inside and spoke to the iconic figure: "Guard it for me, big buns." She was late for her waitressing duties, along with another employee named Nancy (Shawn Schepps). In the kitchen at the time-clock, she time-stamped her pay-card, revealing her name: "Sarah Connor."

The Terminator - now dressed in the garb of one of the punks, punched in the driver's side window of a parked station wagon. He unlocked the door, sat in the driver's seat, disabled the ignition assembly with one swift blow, touched the exposed wires together, and started the car before driving away.

In Big Jeff's, Sarah (in her pink waitress outfit) - precariously balancing plates on her arms - was overwhelmed by near collisions, the crowded aisles and tables, inaccurate orders, and pushy rude customers, causing her to spill a glass of water in a man's lap. A little boy in the next booth reached over and dumped a scoop of ice cream into the open pouch of Sarah's apron. Nancy came up to make a snide comment: "Look at it this way, in a hundred years, who's gonna care?" Sarah sighed.

Gun Shop Sequence: The Terminator's Acquisition of Fire Power

In the ALAMO Sport Shop (in the suburb of Van Nuys, marked with the number 14329) that sold guns and ammo, the Terminator inquired about four specific weapons from the clerk (Dick Miller):

  • a 12-gauge autoloader rifle
  • a .45 long slide with laser-sighting (red-dot)
  • a phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range (a weapon from the future year of 2029!)
  • an Uzi 9mm

The clerk complimented the Terminator on his selections: "You know your weapons, buddy. Any one of these is ideal for home defense. So, uh, which will it be?" The Terminator bluntly responded: "All," and then ignored the clerk's statement that there was a 15-day waiting period for the hand guns. [Note: The film commented upon the absurdity of the waiting period for hand-guns, although one could buy over-the-counter assault weapons without any delay. Also, there was an implicit attack on the ease with which a customer could steal guns and murder a store salesperson.] Although against the law, the Terminator loaded the 12-gauge shotgun with shells, and when the clerk objected ("You can't do that!"), the Terminator blasted him to death with a simple one word reply: "WRONG!"

Meanwhile, Reese was in a downtown alleyway, using a hacksaw to sever the wooden stock from the riot gun, and alter it into a pistol so it could be concealed and slung for easy access beneath his overcoat. He stepped out onto the street and joined other pedestrians.

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