The Terminator (1984) “Why It Still Works”


DIRECTOR: James Cameron

A robotic organism cyborg called a Terminator (Schwarzenegger) sent back in time to 1984 to terminate Sarah Connor (Hamilton) because what her future son means to the future world. A soldier named Reese (Biehn) sent back from the same world to protect Connor  from the Terminator while local Police try to make sense of the situation.  That’s the basic plot of James Cameron’s The Terminator and one would think “Another Michael Bay film.” There is a difference, James Cameron is a master storyteller director and Michael Bay is the spectacle explosion director thinking he tells stories.

A few spoilers ahead. But you should have seen The Terminator by now one would think.


What makes James Cameron unique? 

  • He treats his audience intelligently.

TerminatorWhat does that mean you ask? Think about the premise of The Terminator, it’s very simple and reads like something you’ll find in a sci-fi short story novella in the library. Less is more, he allows his audience to figure things out and doesn’t labour film plot points to make sure his artistic message is being heard. Example: Sarah Connor’s not pregnant yet and the father’s not on the scene. Cameron hints that it is Reese ad we can pick up on it however Cameron doesn’t blast that idea with a character who is head over heels in love with Connor.

  • He can create tension and emotion.

Reese Rewatch the film and it isn’t dialogue heavy. There isn’t too much need to give exposition about the future and most conversation is natural. What replaces the conversation is the natural tension of seeing if the Terminator can find Sarah Connor and how it does this. While the tension is building there, we see it surfacing with Sarah Connor having to choose Reese as a rescuer to avoid the Terminator. Who can she trust? The random that says ” Come with me if you want to live.” Her frustration is witnessed as she wants it to be over but the action sequences of car chases, police shoot outs, and avoiding the killer Terminator creates heightened tension for the viewer. All thanks to Cameron and his skill of camera work, when to use music and show emotion of his characters.

  • His character development of Sarah Connor


This is the shortest film of The Terminator franchise and it doesn’t need a Director’s Cut or an extra twenty minutes to tell the story. The running time is 104 minutes and we see Sarah Connor transform herself from a damsel in distress waitress to a heroine who can fend for herself by the end of the film. Cameron simply allows us to witness what she witnesses and her choices are reactive and active to her environment.

The Terminator remains a great 80s action film and one that stands up well to some of the filth that comes out of cinemas today.


Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator

Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor

Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese




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