The sort of touch that makes a Cameron movie better than the next mega-budgeted Hollywood blockbuster – a bit of heart. Dyson is the Cyberdyne Systems engineer who, Sarah Connor discovers, will be chiefly responsible for the creation of apocalypse-bringing Skynet.
Sarah, John and Arnie’s T-800 head to the scientist’s home with the intention of killing him and changing the future – but can’t pull the trigger in front of his family. Instead, having proved to Dyson that he’s single-handedly going to ruin mankind (with a bit of robotic arm-peeling), he joins them in a raid on Cyberdyne’s offices.
And that’s where he gets his big ending – mortally wounded, sacrificing himself to detonate the charges that will destroy his life’s work while the others escape, paying for paying for the mistakes his alternate timeline future self will do. Noble, memorable, and really bloody good storytelling.
Compare and contrast: the poodle-haired ‘80s slip waiting on tables and giggling with her doomed flatmate in The Terminator, and the steel-sinewed war mother notching pull-ups on an overturned cell bed in T2.
In the seven years between the first and second terminator films Linda Hamilton totally transformed her physique, with the help of intense training (and, scurrilous internet rumours suggest, steroids).
The result is… authentic. And terrifying. The scenes in T2 of an wildy aggressive Sarah snarling at orderlies and heralding the coming apocalypse are a shocking and brilliantly effective contrast from the wispy victim of the original film.
Kids, eh? Give a ten year-old an indestructible killing machine from the future and what does he command it to do? To not kill anyone, that’s what, forcing it to subdue on-rushing SWAT teams with non-lethal force. Big baby.
That said, it makes for an action scene with a difference, with Arnie’s techno-lug marching down a corridor in Cyberdyne’s HQ catching a swarm of lead in the face before carefully popping the knees of the stunning men in black.
And he saves the best for last – thumping a fat gas canister into the chest of the penultimate goon before thwacking the last one in the back.
Watch the scene which introduced Arnie’s most celebrated catchphrase now, and it seems almost understated. Almost. 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. Merry hell then kicks off as Arnie storms the station and squashes a whole squad of cops in the film’s first major firefight.
From this point on, ‘I’ll be back’ (and variations there on) became Arnie’s thing, repeated in Commando, Raw Deal, The Running Man and, to extra meta-textual effect, in Last Action Hero (‘Bet you didn’t expect me to say that!’).
Next: Liquid Metal, The Big Chase [page-break]
In an echo of the first Terminator, Cameron keeps us guessing which of his time travellers is hunting and which is protecting John Connor during the opening scenes of T2.
Arnie’s star status means we’re pretty sure he’s the good guy, but this other fella looks more than a little like lovely Kyle Reese, and he /is/ wearing a police uniform.
The moment of truth is a spectacular one, with Arnie pulling out a shotgun to save a seemingly trapped John in a mall fire escape. But the real shock is what happens next – slurpy regeneration as the T-1000 rebuilds itself, and gasps as the audience is introduced to a new generation of special effects.
So you’re Jonathan Mostow and you’ve just accepted the job of trying to out-blockbust James Cameron with a sequel to the series Cameron created. What do you do?
Quit immediately and run away, right? That would’ve been our choice too. But fair play to Mostow – he not only stuck to his guns, he took on Cameron at his own game, upping the ante on T2’s jaw-dropping truck chase with a hugely extravagant big-load set piece of his own featuring a crane and a fleet of TX remote-controller cop cars.
Asking whether it’s actually better than the storm drain stuntfest is a bit like asking if that stickman you’ve just drawn is as good as real people, made by God, but it does raise a few gasps. And, you know, at least it tries .
Next: Mirror Image, "Your clothes..." [page-break]
Truly masterful stuff. Cameron juggles the reintroduction of Arnie’s now-good T-800, the first appearance of Eddie Furlong’s brattish John Connor and Robert Partrick’s mean-eyed T-1000 with one hand, while making space for deft, intelligent touches like this one with the other.
Seconds after the first Terminator-on-Terminator scrap (and the revelation that the sleek new model is made of liquid metal) Patrick turns to continue his pursuit of John and sees a silver mannequin.
The look is perfect – angular, ironic – and says, without actually saying it, a great deal about the film’s loftier preoccupations with identity and humanity. Really smart.
It’s a strange thing to say, but scenes in which a giant naked ex-bodybuilding Austrian materialises from nowhere and mugs the nearest guy wearing size 12s have become commonplace now.
Skip back to 1984, though, and we’re talking about a less familiar sight. Arnie plods up to a trio of punks (including regular Cameron face Bill Paxton and career sci-fi villain Bill Thompson) and demands that the biggest of them donates his threads. One bent flick knife and a gutted street urchin later he’s ready to roll.
The scene has been revisited in the sequels – most notable in T2’s near-satirical hick bar routine – but nowhere as effectively as this first time out.
Next: World's End, TX vs T-800. [page-break]
T3 can’t touch Cameron’s movies for smarts and quality, but there is more going on here than decent pyrotechnics. Like the ending, which wrestles the future away from Cameron’s optimistic sequel and – finally – plunges us into the war we’ve been promised all this time.
It’s a shot from the blue, not least because while you’re in the midst of the movie it’s difficult to credit the guys in charge with the ability to deliver such a grandstanding twist.
But there it is, trading on our blithe belief in Hollywood happy endings to leave us reeling at the end of civilisation and the start of a whole new chapter in the Terminator franchise.
The fight the third film was more or less solely designed to showcase: Arnie’s slow-coach T-800 going up against the bells, whistles, and experimental nano-technology of Kristanna Loken’s hybrid Terminatrix.
The fight is brilliant for two main reasons. First, because it’s an old-fashioned scrap, light on CG and heavy on thumping robotic body-slams through flimsy-looking slabs of concrete.
And second, because the decision to make the new Terminator a lady lends a dicey, wince-inducing ‘ooof’ factor to every crack Arnie delivers to her pristine face. Until she kicks his head half off, anyway.
Next: The Storm, "I know now why you cry." [page-break]
With the Terminator factory-pressed and Reese (sniff) sadly passed away, Sarah Connor drives south, pulling in to a Mexican petrol station while narrating a portentous voice-over about the future and war and stuff.
The wind kicks up and a small boy points and shouts, ‘viena una tormenta!’. The first strains of the melancholy theme tinkle on a piano as Sarah asks what the boy said. ‘There’s a storm coming in’ comes the reply. ‘I know,’ she nods.
Then: cut to wide shot of the open road under rolling black clouds, with thunder booming as the full theme kicks in and Sarah’s jeep gets smaller and smaller in the distance. Boom! Big, big ending.
All the show-stopping action and groundbreaking special effects let Cameron get away with this – introducing into his film about a murdering robot from the future levels of sentimentality which could kill a horse.
It’s a guaranteed tear-jerker, with Arnie’s battered robo-dad having saved both John and Sarah from the T-1000 now completing the final piece of the paradox puzzle by destroying himself to ensure the safety of mankind. Until the next film.
Anyone left dry-eyed as he lowers himself into the vat of molten metal – right up to his out-stretched thumb – is either asleep or dead or a bastard. Either way, you’re wrong.
Next: Future Flash, Resurrection [page-break]
The reason everyone’s always been so hot for a Terminator sequel which actually showed us the war against machines – the war Salvation is only now giving us – is because the tease of that war in Cameron’s films kicked so much ass.
The opening seconds of The Terminator take place in a ruined Los Angeles in 2029, with hoverships firing lasers through the skeletal remains of skyscrapers and giant tanks rolling over mountains of human skulls.
Later we see Kyle Reese and others in the human resistance fighting a near-hopeless guerrilla war against these machines – and it looks amazing , grim and gritty, and a lot like Aliens.
The persistent metal monster proves Kyle’s earlier warning to Sarah absolutely right as he pulls himself from another last burning wreck to interrupt the pair’s premature victory hug in the last moments of the original film.
Structurally the scene is a reminder that The Terminator was a low-budget genre flick by design (if the exploitation title doesn’t give it away, consider that Cameron’s only previous film was Piranha II).
But the finished article is far more chilling than conventional ‘creature’s last hoorah’ sequences, thanks to the fact that for the first time we get to see the Terminator stripped of his human disguise. The special effects wobble slightly, but just about hold together.
Next: One-Handed Reload, Truck Chase. [page-break]
This is the way men were supposed to cock guns. This is how John Wayne cocks a gun in heaven. This is the stuff adolescent obsessions are made of.
We’re not even really sure how it works. But it does – right there in during /that/ chase sequence in the storm drains of LA, Arnie keeps one hand on the bars of his massive motorbike, and uses the other to shoot his shotgun and reload with a flick of the wrist.
But the mystery – or, you know, ignorance – is part of the cool. It’s effortlessly iconic, the sort of touch Cameron’s mega-sequel is stuffed with, and it’s definitely how we would reload a shotgun should we ever fire one. It’d kill us, right? Wait, don’t answer.
And here's that chase in full. The key is in the timing - after a breathless few seconds when the Terminators tussle over John in the shopping mall and the little rascal escapes on his buzzing trail bike, it all goes quiet as it looks like he's made a clean getaway.
He pauses in his storm drain bolthole, listening to the sounds of humming LA traffic and, brilliantly, it's a far off crunch and blaring horn, coupled with the furrowed brow on Furlong's face, that clue us in to what's about to happen.
Which, of course, is a giant articulated lorry careening off an overhead bridge and thundering into the concrete basin to continue the chase. Arnie joins the action, and the rest is history. Incredible tension and timing.
Next: Stocking Up, Tech Noir [page-break]
You can tell things are going to end badly here, because they're going so well. Arnie's T-800 heads to an LA gun store to gear up for the carnage to come (because, lest we forget in light of the one-lady-arsenal TX, back in the day terminators couldn't carry guns through time).
The big guy begins by reeling off a shopping list like he's at the grocers. '12 gauge auto-loader, .45 Long Slide with laser sighting, phase plasma rifle with a 40 Watt range'. 'You know you're weapons, buddy,' replies the shopkeeper, who was dead the minute he appeared onscreen.
Then Arnie says he doesn't want just one gun, he wants the lot. 'Maybe I'll close early today!' the shopkeeper says, with a sort of cosmic tragedy. Yes, you will.
The setting for the explosive first meeting of Kyle Reese and Arnie’s baddie Terminator is the outrageous Eighties nightclub Tech Noir (the name has since become a clever by-word for grimy noir sci-fi).
Painfully earnest electro-pop blares over the chain-link and poodle-haired scenes (“You got me burning!”), while a series of cross-cuts draw the sinister time-travellers closer and closer to the unsuspecting Sarah.
It’s only at the moment Kyle fires his shotgun – crucially, not into Sarah’s face – that we realise he’s the good guy, a revelation he swiftly follows up with the killer line ‘Come with me if you want to live!’ We’re in! We’re so in!
Next: Eye Surgery, Milk Carton Kill [page-break]
Ow, ooh, oh, Christ, enough! One of the nastiest scenes in the entire series, and it doesn’t feature a single human character.
What does it is the coldness – the unflinching self-exploratory resolve as Schwarzenegger’s robot assassin first opens up his wrist to pull out fragments of shotgun ammo.
Then, for the gut-wrenching finale, he digs at his ruined eye with a razor-sharp scalpel, stripping back the dead skin to reveal a glaring red robotic eye. It’s the final, medical proof that what we’re dealing with is no ordinary villain, and won’t be killed easily.
The scene is remembered for the slow pull-back reveal of a gruesome off-screen murder – the T-1000’s extended, razor-sharp arm piercing both the mouth and head of John Connor’s stepdad and the milk carton he was drinking from.
But the build-up itself is brilliantly executed, a sharp-witted game of cat and mouse between Arnie’s T-800 (eerily imitating John) and the predatorial T-1000 (who, we learn with a shock at the scene’s close, is capable of physically transforming into other people).
The whole thing’s capped off with a lovely, teeny touch – John’s stepmother Janelle tilting her head robotically to one side as she contemplates the skewered corpse, just as Robert Patrick does throughout the film.
Next: Our greatest Terminator moment... [page-break]
Writing lines of dialogue which enter themselves into the cultural consciousness and become part of everyday language doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when you’re the visionary director of the best blockbuster of all time. You do it like this...
First, write a funny scene about a twisted family car trip taken by John, Sarah and the T-800 after their escape from the asylum, where John is teaching his robotic protector how to talk trash. (‘Chill out, dickwad’, 'No problemo', 'Hasta la vista, baby...'.) This is the setup.
Then there’s the payoff, which in this instance is triumphant like winning the FA Cup or headbutting Hitler.
We defy anyone with a working heart not to jump out of their seat and fist-pump when Arnie’s underdog T-800 slugs the frozen T-1000 (who’s just walked through a spillage of liquid nitrogen) and shatters him into a thousand sparkly pieces.
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