Turn Back The Clock
The Terminator Trilogy
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
“I’ll be back.” Who doesn’t hear that line and associate it with one of the most popular science fiction films ever created. Those words uttered by Arnold Schwarzenegger are indelibly written in the minds of everyone who has ever seen the movie The Terminator and/or its subsequent sequels. Any science fiction fan can tell you the plot behind the movie series. Most could tell you about the deleted scenes. Some could even tell you about the comic books and novels. Since The Terminator happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies (next to Star Wars), I can probably list all of those things and more, but I have found the most enjoyment in the movies. That being said, let’s discuss the trilogy, shall we?
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When I was about fourteen, The Terminator hit the big screen with its futuristic story and timeline twist. The movie was critically acclaimed…amongst my friends anyway…as one of the best action features of the time. Unfortunately, I was unable to catch the movie on the big screen and had to settle, years later, with seeing it on video. I became an instant fan of the movie, the cast, and James Cameron.
The movie, itself, is a constant back and forth to the future. The premise of the movie relies heavily on destiny and fate and how a moment that occurs in the present can have a profound effect on the future. The Terminator begins with Arnold Schwarzenegger, lacking clothes and personality, appearing out of thin air. In his procurement of his clothing, we discover that this strange muscle-bound being is something less than human. We are then introduced, in much the same fashion, to Kyle Reese (played by Michael Biehn). This character’s flash appearance is followed by extreme pain and we are given to believe that Reese is a bit different from the first character. Finally, we meet Sarah Connor (portrayed by Linda Hamilton), a young hard-working, hard-knocks girl lacking direction.
We soon realize that it is Sarah Connor around which this entire movie centers. In later scenes, we learn that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, a theoretically unstoppable Terminator cyborg, has been sent from the future to murder Sarah. The cyborg has human features – blood, sweat, skin – but underneath this human countenance is a hyper-alloy chasse – a weapon that feels no pity, no remorse and will not stop until its mission has been completed.
Kyle Reese is a soldier sent back by her son to prevent her death at the hands of the Terminator. In doing so, he must reveal occurrences in the future to an uncooperative Sarah, in hopes that she will accept her destiny and allow him to help her. Sarah finds it difficult to comprehend her heroic role in a future completely controlled by machines in which humans are targeted for extermination. How can she be the mother of the man who brings the machines’ reign to a screeching halt?
What follows is a cat and mouse chase filled to the brim with action. Car chases, shooting, explosions, hand-to-hand fighting – this movie leaves you on the edge of your seat the entire hour and forty-seven minutes. As the movie progresses, we see increasingly more evidence of the Terminator’s lack of humanity as battle damage reveals more and more of his mechanical armor-chasse countenance. The make-up effects for the film, provided by Stan Winston, were incredible for the time. Except for one scene in particular, in which Schwarzenegger’s face is quite obviously replaced with that of a special effects dummy, most of the effects are highly believable.
The actors portraying Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor have incredible charisma. They’re portrayals are convincing enough to establish a bond with their audience. We want Kyle to succeed in saving Sarah from the Terminator. Some of us even wanted the two characters to achieve a bond more than just hero and damsel in distress, such was the bond created between character and audience.
The ending is a complete twist of fate that leaves you longing for a sequel. We had to wait a full seven years for that to happen. It gave fans years to think about the fact that the future is not set and the ramifications of this idea. What interesting stories evolved in our minds while awaiting James Cameron’s sequel.
Seven years later, James Cameron produced Terminator 2: Judgment Day and I vowed that I was not going to miss the full-on experience one can only get in the movie theater. I wasn’t disappointed.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, also known as T2 to its fans, picks up the story ten years later. John Connor (Edward Furlong) is a rebellious juvenile delinquent in foster care. His mother, Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), is in a high security psychiatric center after a botched attempt to take out Cyberdyne Systems, the company who will create the deadly machines destined to cause nuclear disaster in our future and bring about the reign of the machine. After years of preparing herself and her son for the war with the machines, Sarah began to remember Kyle Reese’s message brought back from her son in the future – the future is not set…there is no fate but what we make. Taking this to heart, Sarah’s new mission is to prevent the nuclear holocaust and subsequent war with the machines at all cost, hence her current predicament.
Everyone thinks Sarah is insane, including her son…until one day, when a seemingly unstoppable machine saves his life from a like-wise seemingly unstoppable machine. That gives John Connor cause to rethink his opinion about his mother. We soon learn that the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been sent back in time by John Connor to protect his 10-year-old self from another Terminator cyborg. This time, the cyborg is a prototype Terminator. The T-1000 (Robert Patrick) has even more capabilities than the original Terminator T-800. This new Terminator is made from liquid metal alloy and can emulate anything of equal size that it samples by touch. It can also form solid metal shapes such as stabbing weapons. It soon becomes evident that the new Terminator model is more sophisticated than the older model and the T-800 must be innovative in his approach if he is to protect John Connor..
Realizing that his mother is in danger, John orders the T-800 to break her out of the psychiatric hospital. Sarah Connor has her own ideas about escape and is already in the process when her son, the T-800 and the T-1000 arrive. Sarah has a hard time trusting the T-800, but after seeing the T-1000 in action, is convinced that the T-800 will protect John until “death”. With that thought in mind, Sarah sets out to assassinate Miles Dyson (Joe Morgan), Director of Special Projects at Cyberdyne and future creator of Skynet, the computer that eventually takes over the world.
Unable to go through with the assassination, Sarah is distraught until she, her son and the T-800 come up with a plan to convince Dyson of destroying his work. They reveal to Dyson all that they know and he reluctantly admits that they will have to go to Cyberdyne if they are serious about destroying his life’s work. The T-1000 soon discovers their location and comes after the group with a vengeance.
Unlike the very dark original movie, Terminator 2 is much brighter. There is quite a bit of levity in this film as the young John Connor turns the T-800 into something of a friend, teaching it to act more like a human than a cyborg. In addition to his trademark, “I’ll be back,” Schwarzenegger has a new catch-phrase that everyone was reciting after T2’s debut. The words, “Hasta la vista, baby!” caught on like wildfire. I, for one, enjoyed what was done with the characters in this movie. While John Connor struggled to make his T-800 seem more human, his mother, Sarah was becoming less human with the day-to-day struggle of trying to save the world. Nice twist!
Schwarzenegger and Hamilton were incredible in their role reprisals. Edward Furlong was a tad whiny and annoying at first, but somehow, his character grew on you. Every once in a while you’d want someone to give him a smack, but for the most part, he was endurable. Robert Patrick was incredible in his portrayal of the T-1000. The facial expressions alone were key to the role, which relied heavily on special effects from the likes of Stan Winston and Industrial Light & Magic. He was actually likable as the villain in much the same way as Schwarzenegger was likable in his role as the villain in the original Terminator movie. The character of Miles Dyson was much less likable. In fact, he was such an unlikable character for me that, even in the moment of his redemption, I just couldn’t help but wish for his demise.
The special effects offered up by Stan Winston and Industrial Light and Magic were nothing short of amazing. Always looking toward the future, producer James Cameron put the idea of a liquid man to ILM and let them run with it. The results were remarkable. Their CG work and Stan Winston’s contribution of make-up effects and mechanical creatures were an incredible asset to the believability of this movie. With the advent of digital effects, scenes that would have likely been impossible before were now being seamlessly brought to life.
Often times, sequels never measure up to their predecessors, but T2 did that and more. And again, we were left wondering. How much had the future been changed by what just occurred. Would the nuclear holocaust have been averted? What would that mean for the future of John and Sarah Connor? We would have to wait over a decade for that answer.
Over the years, there had been talk about a sequel to the Terminator movies, but it was mostly just conjecture. Then, in 2003, that conjecture became a reality with Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to the screen as the T-800. Once again, the T-800’s objective is to protect the life of John Connor (Nick Stahl), a man now in his early twenties. However, there is another objective – the T-800 must also protect the life of Kate Brewster (Claire Danes), the future wife of Connor. In fact, it is Brewster who has reprogrammed this Terminator to return in the wake of another Terminator cyborg being sent back to systematically destroy all of the leaders of the human resistance to Skynet.
This new Terminator, a T-X model, is a much more sophisticated model than the T-1000 and its predecessor, the T-800. This model, built as a human female replica, has many of the abilities of the T-1000. It also has built in weapons, such as a laser rifle and a flamethrower. In addition, the T-X (Kristanna Loken), commonly referred to by movie fans as the Terminatrix, has the ability to interface with and control any machine it comes in contact with. With the T-800 in a desperate struggle to keep his mission parameters intact, John Connor becomes bent on a mission of prevention. Much as his mother believed, if he could prevent Skynet from taking over, the future would be forever changed and the horrific future that he thought he had averted with the last T-800’s appearance would never become a reality.
This movie, produced by Jonathan Mostow, is slightly different than the previous Terminator movies. Jokes and levity abound in this flick. Take for instance the scene in which the T-X is pulled over by the police for speeding and reckless driving. Noting a billboard of a curvaceous woman, the T-X’s bust size suddenly grows considerably to make her countenance more pleasing to the officer. Schwarzenegger’s signature “I’ll be back” is replaced with “I’m back.”
The actors, with the exception of Schwarzenegger and Loken, appear out of place in this film. It’s as if they are stand-ins rather than the real actors. They just don’t seem to fit, especially in the case of Nick Stahl and his portrayal of John Connor. He just didn’t seem to be the right choice of actor to play such an intense role. Loken, no stranger to action films, was perfect in the portrayal of the Terminatrix opposite Schwarzenegger’s Terminator.
The action in the film is adequate, but slow to arrive. Once it does finally arrive, it’s over quickly. The best scenes of the movie involve the old vs. new battles between the T-800 and the T-X. The fight scenes are as fun to watch as that of the fight scenes between the T-800 and the T-1000 in Terminator 2. Once again, ILM and Stan Winston were on hand to achieve greatness in these scenes.
Other than those few action takes, the storyline is rather on the lame side. In addition, quite a few gaps are left with the advent of this storyline. T-800 suggests that the union of Kate Brewster and John Connor will yield children with great importance in the future. What are we supposed to take from that? Does that mean that John Connor is actually the father of Kyle Reese? Does it mean anything important to us? We will never know – the information is never expanded upon.
The ending itself is rather anticlimactic and somewhat disappointing. The characters have resigned themselves to their fates, but there are too many unanswered questions. If the T-1000 was a prototype Terminator, did the actions of Sarah, John, and the T-800 at the end of Terminator 2 cause Skynet to have a greater time for experimentation? Did the heroes inadvertently give Skynet more time to perfect on the T-1000 prototype, culminating in the creation of the T-X? The T-800 that is sent back to save him is also the T-800 that kills him in the future. Will that knowledge prevent his death in the future? Now that the T-X has killed several future resistance members, what does this mean for the future resistance movement? Terminator 3 generates more questions than answers. I left the theater with a sense of being less than satisfied with the results and wishing that James Cameron had opted to take the helm again rather than Jonathan Mostow.
I received my Terminator DVD collection in bits and pieces, so I don’t have the most recent trilogy set. Instead, I will give you my thoughts on the DVD editions that I currently own.
The Terminator: The movie is available for viewing in multiple languages, with or without subtitles. Viewers are treated with the ability to see the original theatrical trailer for the movie, but that’s about as far as the special features go on this DVD, unless you have a computer equipped with DVD ROM capability. I unfortunately do not, but as I understand it, there isn’t much to see there either.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Extreme DVD Edition: This 2-DVD set allows you the ability to view the movie in the format it was originally released, or with the deleted scenes skillfully edited into the film. I would watch it complete with the deleted scenes. The addition of the scenes does nothing to ruin the integrity or continuity of the film and the scenes are enjoyable in their own right. I must say that I enjoyed seeing Michael Biehn reprising his role as Kyle Reese in a Sarah Connor dream sequence. *sigh* You can also watch the film with commentary from James Cameron.
No Feat But What We Make is a 24-minute documentary on the use of CG in the movie and its importance to the future of film-making. It begins with James Cameron’s first use of digital effects in the movie The Abyss. It’s interesting to learn that Cameron had the idea of a liquid man as early as the original Terminator movie. But, at that time, it was impossible to make his vision a reality. With the successful use of CG in The Abyss, the concept became more conceivable and Cameron was able to give the idea to ILM with the certainty that it could be achieved. Even more interesting is the admission by Peter Jackson that it was this use of digital effects in Terminator 2 that inspired him for his special effects in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The documentary also addresses those who are opposed to the new technology. James Cameron, Stan Winston, and Peter Jackson all agree that having the ability to use this new technology takes nothing away from storytelling. It in fact enhances it and forces movie producers to pay particular attention to the storytelling process.
T2: On the Set is a candid and often times funny montage of life on the set of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Also available are a Terminator timeline and DVD ROM features which I can’t access, but apparently contain some cool stuff – you can morph imported images into T-1000 or T-800 series Terminators and you can construct and field-test an ultimate fighting machine.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines contains a huge amount of special features. These include documentaries, video trailers, featurettes and more and are introduced by none other than the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie is available to view with your choice of two commentaries.
The Visual Effects section contains featurettes in which the following scenes special effects are broken down and explained: the Crane Chase, the Future War, and Crystal Peak. You can also create your own visual effects. The Skynet Database gives you access to information about all characters in all three movies, both mechanical and human. Toys in Action is a documentary by Todd McFarlane about what goes into the creation of the high quality Terminator figures created by his company. The Storyboard featurette shows the Crystal Peak scene in both real and storyboard format. Dressed to Kill is a featurette discussing the costumes featured in the movie. Terminal Flaws is a fairly funny gag reel. You have access to view the making of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and the trailer for Terminator 3: War of the Machines. You can also view a special scene called Sgt. Candy’s Scene, which was filmed specially for the video game and explains the origin of the Terminator look and voice pattern. Once again, you have access to the Terminator Timeline and special DVD ROM features.