Sunday, August 19, 2012


A man dressed entirely in black and wearing sunglasses (even though it's night) enters a Los Angeles police station. He's carrying multiple automatic weapons. He begins to calmly and methodically shoot everyone he sees. Return fire is ineffectual. In the end, everyone in the building is dead except for two people, a man and a woman, who have escaped. The shooter pursues them.

Is this some new whacked out shooter episode ripped from the headlines of CNN?

No. It's a scene that occurs about midway through THE TERMINATOR (1984), which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Paramount Theatre yesterday afternoon. The scene described above seems somehow spookily prescient seen from the viewpoint of 2012. What I neglected to mention about the scene is that the man, Arnold Schwarzenegger, makes a spectacular entrance into the police station: he drives a police cruiser through the front door and into the sergeant's desk, killing the man seated there. This is moments after he utters, for the first time in film history, the line of dialogue that he's become forever famous for: "I'll be back."

THE TERMINATOR came out of nowhere in 1984. I remember seeing it as a first run film at the old (and horrible) Northcross Mall theaters. I knew who Arnold was, of course, from seeing CONAN THE BARBARIAN but I had no idea who this guy James Cameron was. By the time the movie was over, I definitely knew that he was a filmmaker to watch. And in those dim, dark days before CGI special effects, the late and legendary Stan Winston brought the Terminator to vivid life using a combination of stop-motion animation and full-size puppetry. It works beautifully.

THE TERMINATOR is a non-stop, pedal-to-the-metal chase movie, with a few quiet moments to allow the audience to catch it's breath and for the characters to provide much needed and quite useful amounts of expository dialogue. It's a cheap and fast B-movie but it's smart and a ton of fun to watch. It also reminds modern audiences of just how god-awful things were in the '80s: the hair, the clothes, and especially the music are enough to make you puke. But that's the way things were back then and THE TERMINATOR serves as a perfect time capsule for an underwhelming decade.

Schwarzenegger was never better than here. Playing an unstoppable killer robot with no emotions and little dialogue was inspired casting. It was the role he was born to play. Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton are appealing as Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor respectively, the man and woman on the run from the Terminator.

The film has three climaxes (two false, one real) before the monster is finally killed in the final reel. And don't think too hard about the can of worms time paradox this scenario opens up. It'll make your head hurt. Just as in the PLANET OF THE APES series, there's two ways to explain all this messing around with the time stream. One, is that time is cyclical and happens in an exact way and loops back upon itself when anyone travels into the past and everything proceeds again from that point. Or, when the past is tampered with in any way, it creates another timeline, a parallel, alternate line of events in which things play out differently because of what has been changed.

The title of this piece is a line of dialogue from the film but it is not something said by Schwarzenegger. Biehn says it, not Arnold. The Austrian Oak may have said this line in other films that he starred in but here, those words come out of someone else's mouth for the first time.

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