I think it’s safe to say that most everyone’s first glimpse of Arnold Schwarzenegger was as Conan the Barbarian. Muscle-bound, loin cloth-wearing Cimmerian warrior that liked to slash armies into mince meat by day and get it on by firelight with the mannish Cimmerian ladies at night. The film Conan the Barbarian was released in 1982, two years before we had a VCR and I was still too young for my parents to take me to an R-rated movie. So my first exposure to “Ahnuld” was in the late spring of 1985 when on a Friday night my parents rented this low-budget sci-fi flick called The Terminator starring Conan himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator was rated R as well, but now that we had a Betamax VCR at home I could be exposed to all that fun 80s violence, language, and occasional boob shot in the comfort(or in the case of the nudity discomfort) of my own living room.
The Terminator was a disturbing vision of what we had to look forward to in the future. Machines take over, imprison us, set off nuclear bombs, and attempt world domination. The small pockets of humans that are left band together and battle these androids and their skull-crushing death machines. The leader of the humans is John Connor. In order to make sure he can’t lead the meat bags to victory the machines send a hitman android, aka the Terminator, back in time in order to kill John’s mom before she can give birth to him so he’s never born, hence the robots take over earth. The humans are onto the scheming robots so they send one of their own back in time to protect John’s mom from her fate at the hands of a body-building android.
In-between all of this there’s plenty of action, suspense, passion, baby making, and two naked androids. For me at 11 years old and watching this movie I was seriously blown away. There was this gritty aspect to the film. Maybe that was the low budget, I don’t know, but the film had a raw quality to it. It was almost like the story of Halloween laid on top of a sci-fi flick. Sarah Connor was the stand-in for Laurie Strode, while the Terminator was Michael Myers. The bulk of the film is this cat and mouse chase around L.A. in the early 80s. Car chases through wet and neon lit streets, followed by a slow motion shot of the Terminator following Sarah into a nightclub that’s about as perfect as a scene can get. Of course the scenes with Schwarzenegger hiding out in his rat hole tenement with rotting flesh hanging on him from all the bullet wounds is great, especially the “Fuck you, asshole” line to the landlord banging on his door about the odor.
The cast was a bunch of relative newcomers. Arnold Schwarzenegger had made a name for himself with his previous film Conan the Barbarian, but he needed something else to solidify his stature as an action star. The Terminator was just that. His main goal in the film was to be menacing and come off as a soulless machine whose only goal was to kill an innocent young woman. He pulled that off in spades. There wasn’t any emoting involved for this role. Just pure menace and intimidation. Mission accomplished, Arnold. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor was perfect. She gave a performance that made you feel bad for her even before the T-1 came into the picture. A single gal trying to make it in the big city, looking for love but never finding it, then when she least expects it a giant from the future arrives to kill her. She came across as vulnerable, frightened, but not willing to go down without a fight. By the end she’s that warrior we see in T2 : Judgement Day. Michael Biehn as Sgt. Kyle Reese does a fine job as the human sent from the future to protect Sarah Connor. Though, he gets knocked some points for sleeping with his best friend’s mom, which in turn makes him his best friend’s dad. Yeah, I’m still kind of confused about that one.
So what got me talking about The Terminator in the first place? Well my son and I had a couple of VHS evenings down in our basement family room. We brought home a bunch of my parents old videotapes that they weren’t watching since they no longer have a VCR to watch them on. One of the movies was a two-pack of The Terminator and T2: Judgement Day. Watching The Terminator on one of those nights I was blown away by how much I still really liked it. The special effects, while dated, still retained a certain strange magic to them. Much like watching Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back, I’m still impressed with what was pulled off for the time. James Cameron seemed to have a knack for doing a lot with a little money. The film still carried a tenseness and dread with those chase scenes, and the slow motion shot in the night club was still pretty damn cool.
Another thing that caught me by surprise was the score. Brad Fiedel’s score had this metallic sound to it; both futuristic and aged. He didn’t seem to be trying for pop sounds with a hint of something popular. His score is mechanical, industrial, utilitarian, and cold. It reminds me somewhat of Tangerine Dream in their harder edged moments. Within the context of the film it all comes together beautifully. So when just a couple of weeks ago I saw that Milan Records was putting out a 2-LP red and blue vinyl reissue of this amazing score I knew I had to get it. It was worth every penny. Beautifully packaged in a glossy gatefold sleeve and the colored vinyl is even cooler than I’d imagined. LP 1 is red smeared over a silver-ish base, like a red hue over metal. LP 2 is blue over the silver/metal base. Very unique. Sound-wise, it’s pretty damn great. I got the thumbs up from my son, so I know it’s a classic.
Sometimes it pays to revisit those old movies from your childhood. Especially when you can share it with your own kids and see what they think. We both loved The Terminator. T2: Judgement Day? Not so much. I think there’s a lot to be said for a film made with the bare minimum. There’s no overthinking. There’s not elongated moments of tinkering. You get out there and you do the work. That’s how classics are made. T2 seemed to suffer from way too much going on. A great story that got bogged down at times with the special effects of the time.
But that’s just one father and son’s opinion.