The Terminator

Monday, July 02, 2007

When people criticise Terminator 2, they usually point out how annoying Edward Furlong is. Then they cite the 'thumbs up' and the dodgy robot sentimentality. And after this they point out how much tougher The Terminator is, as if it's devoid of corn. Are they forgetting what a drip Linda Hamilton is in this film ('guard it for me, big buns')? Are they overlooking how cheesy the romance between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese is? Do they forget how embarrassing Sarah's flatmate is? None of this spoils my enjoyment of what is a great film, but the nitpicking of Terminator 2 and the concessions that are made to The Terminator baffle me somewhat – both are fantastic action movies, but both have their flaws.

Watching it for the first time in years, the thing that made me laugh the most about The Terminator was the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine. In one scene Reese tells Sarah that he came through time for her ('coming' through time almost being literal, as his appearance in the film has him shaking, with steam pouring off him, like he's experienced an earth-shattering orgasm), and then after he admits to being a virgin, and to carrying a photo of her around with him, they have some tearful sex as a piano version of the title theme plays. Woah. So basically Reese has come through time to fulfil a masturbatory fantasy of popping his cherry with his boss's mum; a boss who is also, unbeknownst to him, his son? Well, I guess snatch is as good a reason as any to save the world.

But the fact that Reese is a virgin makes me ponder what the resistance is doing in this post-apocalyptic world. Surely such a dire situation would call for prodigious breeding. Strapping young men would surely be required to service young ladies aplenty to help perpetuate the species and build the army (and what better release after fighting lots of gnarly robots?). But alas, from what I can gather, the human army doesn't have any such program. No wonder Reese had to travel through time – radiation-soaked poontang just hasn't got the same appeal as some good, clean 80s beaver.

Joking aside, the central relationship, while sappy in its beginnings and embarrassing in its consummation, does work well for the final section of the film. Without it the final act would have just been a traditional action finale, with a predictable confrontation and lots of false endings. But because Cameron invests the film with some emotion – the actors somehow manage to cut through the cheese – it makes the Terminator's stalking of Sarah all the more terrifying, especially after Reese is killed. You're so used to her relying on him that she suddenly seems incredibly vulnerable and isolated, which makes her victory at the end more significant but rather hollow, too. The downbeat ending certainly works well for the film.

But although some aspects of the romance aren't particularly convincing, at least they're less embarrassing than Sarah's flatmate Ginger and Ginger's boyfriend. These are characters we're meant to fall in love with; we're meant to weep for their tragic demise. But their dirty phone calls and big hair and Walkman sex (watch Ginger pouting and nodding as she turns the headphones up as her boyfriend begins pumping her) are so ridiculous that I couldn't help but cheer as the Terminator brutally slayed them. I only wished their deaths would have been more painful and prolonged.

However, that's a big part of The Terminator – even though he's the bad guy, we're meant to get a kick out of Arnie killing people. And indeed we do. My favourite killing has to be that of the gun store owner. 'Which will it be?' the man asks. 'All', says Arnie. And then when Arnie begins loading one of his guns the man tells him he can't do that. 'Wrong' is Arnie's pithy reply. Wonderful!

A close runner up to this is when the Terminator kills the first Sarah Connor. 'Sarah Connor?' he asks, and then when she replies 'Yes', he blows her away. Simple but effective, and further proof, if any was needed, not to answer the door if any strange Austrians in punk outfits come-a-calling, especially ones carrying concealed weapons.

But as enjoyable as these individual slayings are, they kind of pale in comparison to the police precinct massacre. The men in blue get blown away left, right and centre, and secretly, everyone in the audience begins to cheer – a large part of The Terminator's appeal lies in a kind of wish fulfilment; we all wish that we could be as morally liberated as the Terminator; anyone who annoys us or gets in our way gets blown to kingdom come.

Which reminds me of one of my favourite moments in the film. There's a bit where The Terminator is scanning Sarah Connor's address book. A cleaner stops outside and asks Arnie whether he's got a dead cat in there. The Terminator scans a few possible replies and then responds with 'Fuck you, asshole'. Oh what joy it must be to be an emotionless cyborg – profanities and threats can be thrown out without fear of repercussions.

But I think Arnie deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the success of The Terminator. Sure Cameron's direction is excellent, and Hamilton and Biehn both do decent jobs, but it's the creepy image of an eyebrowless Schwarzenegger that makes the film so watchable. It may sound like an insult to say that Arnie is great at playing a robot, but it's true – his portrayal is scary, disturbing and completely convincing. Plus he has buns of steel…quite literally (and a little willy, too, if you watch carefully – I guess you can't have everything).

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