Starring: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Winfield, and Bill Paxton!
Directed By: James Cameron
Where i Watched It: Amazon
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The plot: This is where it all begins. The film that started it all. A man and his vision. A dream. To find the perfect catchphrase. “I’ll Be Back”. I’d like to think that someone out there doesn’t know what a Terminator is, the existence of this film, has never heard of SkyNet, or John Connor, but I just believe you know this is the birth of the franchise that launched everything from toys to theme park attractions. And, yes, he did come back.
What Works: I even have to admit that my Terminator education is a bit funky. I have an oddly special relationship with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, because it was my first R rated film. My friend was one of those kids who was allowed to watch anything, and when this came out on VHS, he had it. And when the parents weren’t around, the little kid who loved Saturday Morning Cartoons saw a man’s finger lengthen through someone’s head. We all remember our first R rated film. Sadly, that friend is no longer on this earth, and I haven’t been able to watch Terminator 2 Judgement day since then. It’s a great movie, and I can watch any of the other films in the franchise, but not Judgement Day.
So, why did I decide to watch the Terminator? Because I’ve been seeking out more titles with robodescription, and ironically, a movie about robots taking over the world has robodescription. Possibly the only movie that could get away with it, as I definitely found that amusing.
I watched all these films out of order anyway. I saw the first film between the 3rd and 4th. So, for me, it’s hard to see this film the same way someone else did who saw them in sequential order. But this franchise will always hold an incredibly special place in my heart.
Revisiting this, I’m not as familiar as I thought I would be with the visuals coming back to me. i remembered a few sequences, like when Arnold walks into the nightclub, and the police station sequence. But chunks just didn’t come back to me, and I don’t know if it’s because this film could never be my favorite in the franchise, or if I just wasn’t that enthralled with it back when I could see.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very effective moments here. That’s why this thing launched a franchise. But I think we can all on some level agree that The Terminator was absolutely improved upon in the sequel, and also that this is not James Cameron’s best directorial effort.
What The Terminator does well is create this unique world that you immediately become invested in, not because of a TV show you watched, a book you read, or a comic book you kept up with growing up, but because they nailed the crafting of this universe. So even though The Terminator is not a technically perfect film, it opened everyone’s imaginations of what could be. And a lot of 80’s films managed to do this without much help, certainly without being associated with Marvel or DC.
Out of the 80’s birthed franchises that stood the test of time, from the second two films in the Star Wars trilogy, the second two Indiana Jones, the Back To The Future, Predator, Aliens, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and all the other pop culture and nostalgia of the period.
And positioned squarely in the middle of all of that is an unstoppable killing machine with an inexplicable foreign accent, that makes you both terrified of him, yet oddly enthralled with the existence of his character. It’s how The Terminator treads that line between science fiction and horror, without technically fulfilling on the promises a horror film usually offers.
In the horror genre, we typically find ourselves rooting for the killer, because the characters in the movie are largely so underdeveloped, most of them are expendable to the point where you want them killed off, thus rooting for the antagonist. Sure, you have your Final Girl, but in many ways, Sarah Connor is one of the greatest Final Girls in cinematic history. The Terminator keeps coming for her, much like Michael Myers to Laurie Strode, and she keeps defeating and eluding him. Sure, SkyNet becomes the primary villain when Arnie is repurposed in judgement Day, but Sarah Connor remains a target, and a final girl.
I may not love everything about this first film, but I respect the hell out of what it did, how it managed to do it, and what it actually means for the history of cinema. It can easily be laughed off as low budget 80’s action fluff, but James Cameron never lets any of his projects be reduced to commonalities. They are always far more complex, and world building than we truly give them credit for.
To add a section where I say what doesn’t work isn’t really fair. Even though this is neither my favorite in the franchise, nor am I giving this an A grade, the film works. There isn’t anything that doesn’t work. It’s the kind of reflection that in 2022 we are able to have about this film, seeing it’s inevitable impact on cinema, the careers of those involved, and across two different genres.
I will not call this perfection, but I refuse to say it doesn’t work. It’s quintessentially 80’s, with that kind of 80’s over acting typical of this genre. It’s somewhat melodramatic, and there are characters in. This that exist that are far too profoundly stupid for their own good. It’s funny that I look back on something near the beginning of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career and can honestly say that he was not the worst actor in this film. At least he delivers on what I’m sure was expected.
But some of the supporting and minor characters? I’m not surprised I never saw them again. I’m sure SkyNet just had them terminated.
The Blind Perspective: So this is where we really get into the shit. I already told you this is robodescription, or as some call it, text to speech. It sounds slightly more human than the last one I listened to, but it has the tell tale sign of having no one claim any credit at the end. No company, no narrator, no narration written by. And it’s clear, no one actually cared when they made this.
In some ways, this is actually the best audio description ever. I always advocate that in science fiction films, we need as much description as possible to help us visualize things that don’t exist in the real world, and only within the confines of this film universe. This description absolutely does that. It also describes the action sequences in great detail.
So other than the robot voice, what didn’t I like? No one actually thought about the timing. The audio description frequently runs on top of dialogue within the film, and the sound mixing is way off. When the audio description comes in, it becomes next to impossible to hear the film’s track behind it. The audio description wasn’t leveled correctly when affixed to the celluloid product, so it dominates everything. You find yourself listening far more to the dominating audio description track than being able to hear the film. And then, on top of that, it’s a robot voice.
I also found it grating that Schwarzenegger’s T-100 is referred to as Terminator. So you have a sentence like “Terminator opens the door and walks inside.” Like it’s his name. He’s part of a family, and his parents gave him the first name of Terminator, or that’s his very odd last name. The film avoids ever putting “The” in front of Terminator, which makes it all the more odd.
I’m grateful for accessibility, and I will always advocate for audio description on every film, but this is like building a wheelchair ramp to nowhere. Simply building a wheelchair ramp doesn’t get you brownie points unless it’s useful.
Final Thoughts: Like I said, this franchise is special to me, but this is not my favorite in the franchise, nor is it my favorite James Cameron film, or any of the actors who rose to stardom out of this. That being said, I respect the hell out of it, it demands to be watched, but not with this god awful audio description.
Final Grade: B+