'The Terminator': THR's 1984 Review

Terminator - H - 1984

On Oct. 26, 1984, a new sci-fi franchise was launched with the U.S. theatrical debut of The Terminator. That same day, The Hollywood Reporter saw the merits in the film, and even hoped for a sequel. Read the original review below: 

No doubt about it: Arnold Schwarzenegger was born to play The Terminator. In this nail-biting Orion sci-fi adventure from Hemdale, the beefy Conan star, cast in his first villainous role, dishes out destruction with a fiendish relish certain to neutralize box-office competition. The havoc makes for a genuine steel metal trap of a movie that may very well be the best picture of its kind since The Road Warrior

Schwarzenegger plays an emotionless cyborg sent from the future to assassinate a young woman (Linda Hamilton) whose unborn child is destined to become a postapocalyptic saviour. Tracking him is Michael Biehn, assigned to protect the girl and terminate the Terminator. On the outcome of their struggle — as eerie flashforwards to the skull-lined streets of 21st century Los Angeles remind us — rests the future of the world.

A remarkably spare script by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd gives new dimension to this age-old morality play, working in plenty of pointed comment on our present overmechanization into its action-film context. Images do most of the talking, and Cameron, in his first major directorial effort, proves a lean, economical storyteller, setting up his shorts for maximum visceral impact. 

Cameron is ably abetted by Adam Greenberg's crisp, incisive camerawork; Mark Goldblatt's fine-tooled editing, which discreetly cuts away from most of the bloodshed, and Brad Fidel's pulsatingly persuasive score. The futuristic landscapes are impressively sketched by the Fantasy II visual effects group and Stan Winston provides stop-motion magic that recalls the best of Ray Harryhausen

The most imposing special effect, however, is Schwarzenegger himself. Outfitted from head to toe in basic black and armed to the teeth with state-of-the-art weaponry, the ex-strong man comes on like evil incarnate, and his bullet-pumping presence lends the film a very tangible sense of menace. His single-handed destruction of an intercity police station is certain to rank high in the annals of on-screen dastardly deeds. 

Schwarzenegger has a worthy adversary in Michael Biehn, whose grimly determined features expressively convey most of the film's thematic weight. Linda Hamilton displays tremendous resiliency as the unsuspecting target, and there is some engaging support from Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen as harried detectives. But it's Arnold's movie all the way. 

There's something downright satisfying about seeing this big, lovable lug play a remorseless heavy, and one hopes the mean streak has not run its course. Terminator II, where are you? — Kirk Ellis