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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Michael Biehn
Linda Hamilton
Paul Winfield.
Directors
James Cameron.
Screenwriters
Harlan Ellison
James Cameron
Gale Anne Hurd
William Wisher Jr..
Running Time
108 minutes

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EMPIRE ESSAY: The Terminator
Arnie corners the market in cyborg killing machines


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Plot
A cyborg assassin called "The Terminator" is sent back through time to 1984 to kill the seemingly innocent Sarah Connor - a woman whose unborn son will lead the human race to victory in a bitter future war with a race of machines. If the Terminator succeeds, mankind is doomed. Sarah's only hope is a soldier from that post-apocalyptic war, who has chased the Terminator back through time. The future of the human race depends on which one finds her first...


Review
When James Cameron started shopping around his Terminator script in the early 80s studio enthusiasm was, to put it mildly, muted. Why should it have been otherwise? Cameron, after all, was then a relatively unknown quantity whose first and only movie (Piranha II: Flying Killers) hardly ranked alongside Citizen Kane in the pantheon of great Hollywood debuts. Nor did the collective studio pulse quicken at the idea of D-list character actor Lance Henriksen playing the film's eponymous death machine.

Finally, Cameron decided that merely running through a bog standard pitch wasn't quite getting the message across and, before a meeting with the independent production company Hemdale, persuaded Henriksen that the executive responsible needed to be shown the power of what he intended. "I went in decked out like The Terminator," recalls the actor. "With gold foil from a cigarette packet over my teeth and a cut on my head. I kicked the door open and the poor secretary just about swallowed her typewriter. I sat in the room with (the executive) and wouldn't talk to him. I just kept looking at him. After a few minutes of that he was ready to jump out the window."

Hemdale agreed to back Cameron and, once Henriksen nobly stepped aside in favour of the then hot-ish Arnold Schwarzenegger, put up a sizeable chunk of the film's $6m budget. It proved to be an investment that would be paid back many times with The Terminator racking up a box office gross of around $60m. Indeed, Schwarzenegger's shades-sporting time-travelling cyborg would become nothing less than a cinematic icon as he laid waste to Los Angeles in an attempt to kill Linda Hamilton and hence irrevocably change the future to humanity's detriment.

Yet, even after being given the greenlight by Hemdale, there is no doubt that the fortunes of the film itself could have gone either way. Certainly, back in the mid-80s, having Arnold Schwarzenegger in your film was no guarantee of success. The Austrian Oak's previous movie, Conan The Destroyer, had performed disappointingly while his next, the Brigitte Nielsen-staring Red Sonja, would pretty much sink without trace. To mainstream cinemagoers Schwarzenegger was little more than a joke, a mumbling behemoth whose grasp of both acting and the English language, appeared minimal at best. Moreover, The Terminator's budget, while sizeable compared to Piranha II, appeared disastrously small given the amount of Stan Winston-assisted special effects that the director had in mind. Finally, there was the problem of how much of the film Cameron had half-inched from other sources. Certainly fans of Michael Crichton's Westworld couldn't help but notice the similarity between the Terminator and Yul Bryner's invincible robo-cowboy while the film's premise of a sentient all-controlling computer that would wage war against humanity was similar to a short story by sci-fi author Harlan Ellison.

"I loved the movie" says Ellison. "Was just blown away by it. I walked out of the cinema, went home and called my lawyer." (Ellison would eventually receive a credit after threatening legal action.) Indeed, the fact that Cameron's film would become one of cinema history's headline-grabbers rather than a shoddy footnote is largely due to the obsessive, if not downright maniacal, determination of its director. A college drop out, the Canadian-born Cameron honed his technical skills, like so many others, at Roger Corman's New World company before graduating to fully-fledged director on Piranha II. Unfortunately the filmmaker fell out with the movie's Italian producer who informed Cameron that the dailies were "shit" and locked him out of the editing room — forcing the director to break in at night and secretly splice together his own movie.

On The Terminator, Cameron decided, the movie would be done his way or not at all. And if that meant personally demonstrating stunts or even having to tell Schwarzenegger exactly where to put each of his limbs at any given time then so be it. "Jim would say, 'I want you to lay there Arnold,'" recalls Henricksen who played LA cop Sergeant Vukovich. "'Then, when I tell you, I want you to start lifting up with your head. Then your shoulders, Then I want you to sit up. Then I want you to look straight up.' He had to give up any ego at all."

Schwarzenegger threw himself into the part, enduring hours in the make-up chair and training in the use of guns so as to demonstrate a robotic lack of emotion despite the mayhem going on around him. It was a commitment, like that of the financiers, which would be handsomely rewarded. Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn may have been the film's nominal heroes but it was Schwarzenegger who would indeed "be back". "No matter what I did after that," says Schwarzenegger. "People always come up to me and ask, 'When are you going to do another Terminator?'"

Cameron, meanwhile, would find himself back on the sequel treadmill for his next project, Aliens — although this time no one would have the nerve to lock him out of anywhere.


Verdict
As chillingly efficient in exacting thrills from its audience as its titular character is in executing its targets.


Reviewed by Clark Collis

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for EMPIRE ESSAY: The Terminator
Empire Star Rating

A sci-fi action classic

As relentless as its antagonist, this is a great, terrifying and unforgettable nightmare of a movie. Cameron did an amazing job with such a low budget, as opposed to recently where he has had huge budgets but the quality of the end product is infinitely inferior to his older movies like this. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr Gittes at 17:42, 17 February 2013 | Report This Post


WE NEED MORE ACTION!

I have enjoyed watching The Terminator, there is some of the very best action and acting that this film offered us. I felt that this film needed a little bit more of it and that it ended a little too soon. I have seen the second one too, but I hope to watch 3 and 4 as well! My Rating: 9/10! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SebMModerns at 17:23, 28 June 2012 | Report This Post


bloody amazing

this is a classic! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jordan thomas at 11:40, 19 January 2012 | Report This Post


The Terminator Review

With its impressive action sequences, taut economic direction, and relentlessly fast pace, it's clear why The Terminator continues to be an influence on sci-fi and action flicks. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 23:06, 13 December 2011 | Report This Post


Thrilling, Scary And Just Good Fun.

Looking forward to going to see the fourth one next Saturday, I begin this from the very begining and boy, what a movie it is. It has a typcial 80s feel of it, chessy music and outragous outfits but it suits the whole film with a art. The Terminator played brilliantly by Arnold Schwarzengger, is out to get poor Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton from procduing a son that will save the world from the future war against machines. It's a thrilling movie with some really scary moments and just re... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 14:49, 06 June 2009 | Report This Post


An instant classic

This is one of my favourite movies ever- and that's a long list! It's no wonder that Cameron got this idea from a nightmare because the first time I watched this I couldn't stop thinking about it for months- I was walking around my school, not blinking, talking in a toneless voice and whenever the school bell would ring I would tell the teachers: "I'll be back."...they were seriously worried. But it's not just Arnie that makes this movie a classic - the tragic love story still gets a l... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by !xHoTRoDx! at 10:12, 16 March 2009 | Report This Post


Arnies best film - then again thats hardly fuckin difficult ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 16:29, 24 October 2007 | Report This Post


Arnies best film - then again thats hardly fuckin difficult ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bobbyperu at 16:29, 24 October 2007 | Report This Post


Good, but not that good. I think its a bit overrated. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by huny_monster at 21:03, 10 June 2006 | Report This Post


Seminal Sci-Fi/Horror

I saw it when I was about 7 years old and it was absolutely terrifying with it's concept of an unstopable robotic monster, a modern day boogeyman that just wouldn't die. Certainly one of the most groundbreaking movies ever made and more impressive from an unknown writer/director called Jim Cameron and made on a shoe string budget and a bit of gurilla film making. Arnold embodied the role with a horrifying presence due to his mannarisms, voice and huge physique and aided by Stan Winston. The film... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Workshed at 09:48, 04 January 2006 | Report This Post



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