Jesse Bullington and I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to embark upon a quest: watching “classic” adventure movies that informed one or both of our childhoods. These columns will run every Wednesday on our blogs, excluding the last post of each month, which will appear over at Fantasy Magazine. Today we turn to science fiction to provide us with high adventure of the omg teh technologiez!! type:

The Film: The Terminator (1984)

WHOSE RESPONSIBLE THIS??? James Cameron, who directed and co-wrote with his then-wife Gale Anne Hurd (now a very successful producer in her own right), with “additional dialogue” written by William Wisher, Jr. (who also wrote The 13th Warrior). Harlan Ellison later sued over, er, similarities between the movie and his Outer Limits scripts for the episodes Demon with a Glass Hand and Solider—the matter was settled out of court, with an acknowledgement to Ellison tacked on later prints. Acting, if you will, by Arnie (da-hoy), Linda Hamilton (Children of the Corn, the crazyass Beauty and the Beast tv show with Ron Perlman), Michael Biehn (The Abyss, Navy Seals), Paul Winfield (The Serpent and the Rainbow), and Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Near Dark), with wee little roles for Bill Paxton (Near Dark, Aliens) and Dick Miller (More B-movies than you’ve ever seen).

Quote: You really don’t need our help coming up with a quote from this.

Alternate quote: Seriously.

First viewing by Molly: Last week. Yes. I made it to almost 29 years of age without seeing Terminator. I’ve never seen Dirty Dancing, Alien, or Terminator 2, either. Are you new to this column or something?

First viewing by Jesse: The night before we went to see Terminator 2: Judgment Day in the theatre. So, nine years old.

Most recent viewing by both: Last week.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Beyond knowing the “I’ll be back” catchphrase, I suppose none. I remember seeing the previews for Terminator 2: Judgment Day and thinking it looked pretty cool. The likelihood of my parents allowing me to rent or see either was nonexistent, though, so I largely ignored the phenomenon.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: Honestly, not nearly as high as it was for a lot of kids my age. The reason, I suspect, is that I had already watched and become obsessed with a different film concerning androids, action, and the fate of the free world: Eliminators. The Terminator might have been cool, but after coming down from Eliminators there was a distinct lack of ninjas, dune buggies, and Denise Crosby. Terminator 2, on the other hand, did significantly better by nine year old Jesse’s estimation.

Random youtube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:

Molly’s thoughts prior to watching: I was excited. After all, I was a blank slate as far as this movie was concerned, and my affection for Arnold had grown substantially after Jesse and I watched Conan. John and Jesse tried to talk some trash about it being slow and/or boring, but Raechel assured me it was well worth my time.

Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Again, I liked it when I saw it but don’t think I ever went back to it after that childhood viewing, meaning almost twenty years had passed since watching it. I had confidence in Cameron’s ability to make a watchable action movie but had no idea if Molly would be terminally bored or blown away—movies like The Terminator don’t leave a lot of room in between. More than anything else I was eager to see how the practical effects held up, and anything with Lance Henriksen’s beautifully weathered face will get me to sit still—I’ve seen Pumpkinhead: Ashes to Ashes, for chrissake.

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: I’d hoped it would be good, and I was rewarded for that hope. Though some of the practical effects left me giggling (the one post-apocalyptic cityscape they show constantly is just terrible, as are the various unconvincing latex Arnold-masks) I was pleased by how goddamn good this movie is. Really! It wasn’t slow, but rather had that slow-burn quality of 80s action movies, and I really appreciated that. It saddens me that in this Age of Michael Bay, a movie that is only, say, 50% explosions/stuff getting shot is considered “boring” by intelligent folks like Jesse and my husband (Jesse calls shenanigans—I said I thought Molly would find it boring. The times I’ve tried to expose her to Jarmusch and Bergman have led to much squirming and yawning, and I think we can agree Cameron is comparable to those directors, amirite?) (Molly says: did—did you just compare The Terminator to Dead Man? And/or The Seventh Seal? Whut?). Taste the burnsauce (Jesse says: too hot!)!

The Terminator is, I noted, the quintessential 80s movie. Moreso than even many of the John Hughes offerings, I think. While a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is certainly a contender, The Terminator is this amazing pastiche of what was cool in ‘84: Punks in leather jackets being punks in leather jackets! Nikes! Trenchcoats! Guns! Sunglasses! Answering machines! Walkmen-wearing babes who chew gum constantly and wear said Walkman (1) getting ready for sex, (2) during sex, and (3) into the kitchen to make a giant post-sex sandwich! Payphones! A nightclub called Tech Noir! Synthesized music! A model tank rolling over model skulls! A bored psychologist! Cops! Polaroids! Arnold Fucking Schwarzenegger! It’s amazing.

Jesse was saying something I’m too lazy to verify about how the script was ripped off from the same script that would also become The Matrix, and I find that “conspiracy-theory reasonable” (Jesse says: I snopesed it and it seems the lawsuit in question was dropped, which of course means nothing to any conspiracy theorist worth his David Icke collection). It’s kind of the same movie in a lot of ways, with its fear of A.I./technology in general and amusing plot holes/belief that “just because” is enough of a reason for people to do stuff, since, seriously, people will be coming to this movie to see shit shot at with guns, anyway, right? To wit: why do the machines attack in The Matrix? “We don’t know who struck first,” I believe is how they cover that one, though it’s admittedly been a while. Why does La Resistance in The Terminator try to save Sarah Connor instead of, say, sending back people to prevent the creation of Skynet? Um! Maybe a person went back in time to 1995 and saw 12 Monkeys, therefore knowing such an effort to be futile? How, in The Matrix, did the original dude who “saw through the code” do that? Why does the titular Terminator drive a car through the police station after delivering the classic line, instead of just shooting stuff and breaking it with his fists? I don’t know! The most important thing is, of course, who cares! EXPLOSIONS! A TRUCK BLOWING UP BUT OMG HE’S STILL ALIVE! A METAL SKELETON BEING COMPRESSED TO DEATH IN SOME SORT OF FACTORY! WOOOOOOO!

I loved it.

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Hey, not bad guys—way to go! As is the case with the sequel—and, I imagine, the rest of the series—intelligence, and often coherence, takes a back seat to impressive action sequences and chases scenes. That said, the inherently paradoxical plot actually works better here than in T2, if I’m remembering correctly, and in any event, it totally has a silhouette of Arnold’s dingus and a dude getting his heart ripped out in one scene alone, so who cares if the script makes sense, amirite?

Earlier I mentioned being curious as to how the practical effects held up—pretty good, as it turns out. I tend to be a bit more forgiving than Molly where non-CGI stuff is concerned and so I even dug the flesh-stripped android effect at the end, even if it did resemble a chromed Harryhausen skeleton. (Molly says: whatever. I love practical effects more than CGI as much as the next person who breathes with his or her mouth shut, but there’s a difference between, say, that weird eyeball-winged thing in Hellboy 2 and, well, the chromed Haryhausen skeleton in Terminator. So there.), I think part of the reason I like it is that it does hearken back to said stop-motion animated beasties, and I tend to agree with another friend who opinioned that even poor practical effects encourage us to suspend our disbelief, whereas CGI too often knocks us right out of the experience. Arnie doing surgery on himself? Still awesome twenty five years later, even if the inside of a complicated skin job android only consists of three little pistons.

In reading up on the film for this column I think I may have hit on James Cameron’s main problem as a director, which rears its face even here—with the exception, perhaps, of Aliens, he doesn’t know how to properly pace a movie; if imdb is to be believed, The Terminator is his only film that clocks in at less than two hours. Not a problem per se, except even The Terminator seems like it could have been a bit shorter, but then it’s still a helluva lot less boring than a lot of the films we’ve revisited here. Plus, Soldier of Fortune magazine approved, so who am I to diss the legend?

High Points: Arnold doing his dumbass thing. Sarah Connor’s totally 80s roommate who won’t take off her walkman during sex. Raechel trying to convince us all that the soundtrack was good. The scene in the gun store with Dick Miller:

Final Verdict: Yeah, ok, it’s still pretty awesome, in a lunkheaded sort of way.

Next Week: over at Fantasy Magazine again, this time with a double feature of the Hobbit/Return of the King cartoons, despite Jesse’s whining and dookie-frowns about watching the latter of the two.