In 2029 A.D., machines have risen up to crush humanity, and they have a plan to defeat mankind’s savior, John Connor. They’ve sent a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back to the year 1984 to kill John’s mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton), although the only information he has is her name and city. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) who is a member of the resistance in the future, follows the Terminator back in time to protect Sarah so that John Connor can be born.
The first film in the Terminator franchise from 1984 is an absolute classic. The film is small, spare, unforgiving, and closer in spirit to creeping horror movie than shoot-’em-up action that defines its direct sequel.
The mere existence of The Terminator is a minor miracle. The director, James Cameron, had started out as a special-effects artist, working on movies like Battle Beyond The Stars and Escape From New York. Before The Terminator, he had exactly one feature directorial credit to his name: Piranha II: The Spawning, a small horror flick.
Cameron then had a dream about a gleaming robot sent back from the future to kill him, and he set about turning that dream into a script. While waiting for Schwarzenegger to finish filming Conan The Destroyer, Cameron had time to polish the movie, and also to knock out a script for Rambo: First Blood Part II.
Although, Cameron first approached Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the time-traveling soldier, Kyle Reese: “Medavoy came up to me at a screening and told me that they already had the Terminator cast with O.J. Simpson.” When the actor later met with James Cameron, the director became intrigued by Schwarzenegger’s suggestions on the T-800’s motivations–suggesting several elements of the character that would make it into the final product. Cameron then asked Schwarzenegger if he would play that part instead. At first, Schwarzenegger was reluctant to play a villain, but he eventually warmed to the idea.
The movie turned out to be an absolute success, a crucial step in the director’s career, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s growth as an actor, and the genre as a whole.
Also, Linda Hamilton deserves as much credit for the movie’s success as Cameron or Schwarzenegger. Like Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Sarah Connor has an epic arc in the Terminator franchise, she may have begun as simply a love interest and sidekick, but faced with a larger than life threat, she evolved into a fighter and female action hero.
The movie’s relentless brutality, the unfeelingness in the way Schwarzenegger dispatches whatever humans serve as obstacles. There is perhaps some inspiration from Michael Myers in Halloween released 4 years earlier, with its unkillable killer and its moments of relief that just turn into more terror, but in this case an even more appropriate manuscript exposition for a character that is a robot (cyborg) that cannot be reasoned or bargained with.
“It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
– Kyle Reese
The film is full of scenes that would go down in movie history fame, for example, the climactic moment of The Terminator, where the metal-skeleton remains of the cyborg rise from the flaming remains of a burning truck, it is one of the great oh shit scenes in movie history. Another of those scenes is the police station shootout.
Police Station Shootout
This is the scene which introduced Arnie’s most famous catchphrase, and it seems almost understated. With target Sarah Connor being held at a police station, the Terminator politely asks the desk sergeant whether he can see her in. He’s invited to take a chair instead. ‘I’ll be back,’ he says, giving the glass security window a long hard look. True to his word, he’s back in the office a few moments later. In a car. The terminator then walks through the building terminator every police officer he encounters in its one and single goal – the kill Sarah Connor.
Arnie walking through a police station taking out dozens of cops might be morally reprehensible but it’s still one of the most powerful scenes that James Cameron has ever filmed.
The music in this scene is just perfect, composed and performed on synthesizer by Brad Fiedel, the overall soundtrack for the movie is very fitting and was probably paramount to the success of the movie. Fiedel has described the film’s music as being about “a mechanical man and his heartbeat”.
This article is part of the series Iconic Scenes from Science Fiction