It has been just over 27 years since James Cameron released his Sci-Fi action film, “The Terminator.” But it seems now that the film is more than just a thrilling action film. The technological science that was introduced in the film in 1984 appears to be more of a reality in today’s world.
Cameron’s use of visuals and action sequences to comprise a well-crafted and compelling technologically advanced story seemed far fetched, but audiences appeared to have accepted it. Audiences seemed to enjoy the older, but classic, great action film surrounding a great science fiction story. And with the advancement in technology and computers today, this film has an even more substantially compelling story of how technology is ultimately humankind’s downfall.
I’ll come back to that. First and foremost what made this film great was not only the story and the seemingly relevance it has today, but the visuals that were used to tell this story. It’s interesting to note that watching the film with the sound muted, I could still follow the story. I only applied this technique for the first half hour or so in one viewing one time, but that shows how effective the visuals were in the film. This film used action visuals to tell the story and there are many in the film such as police chases, chases on foot, flashbacks, or flash forwards, of a futuristic war, and a dance club shootout. The majority of the action takes place at night, which was an effective design decision because it adds to the danger and excitement of the story.
The opening sequence was a futuristic war with visual narration that explained what was about to happen. It set up the premise of the story. The next sequence, after the teaser and opening credits, showed a garbage man in a sanitation truck at night collecting a garbage container. Then, the power goes off as the wind begins to blow. There is lightening and a flash of light. This illustrates that something is about to happen. The next shot is of a large, muscular naked man, the Terminator. Choosing Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the Terminator added to the dark, dangerous feel to the character and film. Originally, this character was written as a normal, average guy that could fit into any crowd. And another interesting note, while watching some of the special features on the DVD, is that O.J. Simpson was originally slated to play the Terminator. Obviously it worked much better with Schwarzenegger in the role. The viewer can tell by looking at the Terminator that there is something not good about him. We notice this again when he comes upon a group of punks and punches a hole in one of the punks’ chest and one of them gives his clothes to the Terminator.
The same visual is used for Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) when he arrives. In a dark alley, near a homeless man, Reese arrives in the same fashion as the Terminator. Reese is shaking for a bit after he appears and he doesn’t kill anyone to get clothes. There’s the difference between the two men. Reese finally escapes from the police and gets to a phone booth. He looks up the name Sarah Connor, as does the Terminator the next morning so audiences know they are both looking for Sarah Connor.
When the audience first sees Connor (Linda Hammilton), she appears as a young, happy, care-fee woman. Over the course of the film, she develops into a stronger woman who is a little weary of the future. The character she continued in the second film.
The main action of the film takes place in present day Los Angeles in 1984. This allows the audience to become familiar with a time and place, and therefore can settle into the world of the film. There are glimpses of the futuristic war that add to the dark visual aesthetics of the film, which is visually contrasting to the modern, everyday world that the heroes and the audience know.
The film is basically comprised of three major chases with the remaining time used for character and backstory information with a few other smaller action sequences thrown in. The first major chase begins after the dance club shootout as Reese and Connor try to escape from the Terminator; another one is their escape from the hotel, and then this leads to the final chase and showdown as they enter the factory. The chases lead to a discovery of information about the story, as well as Cameron’s use of dialogue incorporated with the action sequences and visuals to gain information and not slow down the action of the film.
All of these visuals and action sequences drive the story. And that compelling story is focused on technology. Looking back at some of the technological achievements that have been made after first being introduced to them in movies, one can see that the technology of the Terminator films may not be too far off. We see this in a silent 1902 film by Georges Melies, “A Trip to the Moon,” where flying to the moon was thought of as a distant, crazy notion, but we all know became reality. Other films followed suit, introducing robots such as in “Forbidden Planet” and “I, Robot.” The Terminator introduced this idea of an all-powerful computer becoming intelligent and wiping out mankind. And it seems that technology is not far behind. For example, there exists a robot called the Rubot that is programmed to solve the Rubik’s Cube. When its done, it puts down the cube. Bruce Simmons says in his article, The Technology Of Science Fiction Is Here Now, “It’s pretty simple but is that the start of self awareness, when he knows he’s done? … just a subroutine designed to recognize that all sides of the cube are now the same color.” But whose to say it won’t become self-aware? Then there’s the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) that held a contest between a human and robot-operated vehicle to see which can get through a simulated course, much like I saw on an episode of CBS’ hit show NCIS a few years ago.
In the mid-80’s, Honda had created a robot called ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility). From simply teaching the unit to walk simple steps to actually walking up stairs or sloped surfaces, to today being programmed to “work with other ASIMO units” and to “serve people autonomously,” according to Simmons in his article, technology has made great leaps forward. So, now the science of The Terminator may not be too far fetched.
If you haven’t seen “The Terminator,” or haven’t seen it in while, it is worthwhile to check out. It’s a great action film with a gripping science fiction story that echoes the advances of technology today.
Lucey, Paul. Story Sense: Writing Story and Script for Feature Films and Television. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1996.
http://screenrant.com/tech-terminator-iron-man-is-here-brusimm-7985/all/1/. Accessed on Nov. 11, 2011.
Cameron, James. The Terminator. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd and directed by James Cameron. 107 minutes. Orion Pictures, 1984. DVD.