Sunday, 14 June 2009

The Terminator

I don't remember exactly which year it was but I remember the occasion vividly. I might have been 12 or something and a friend, Jonas, was telling my and another friend of this great film, The Terminator, he had seen. It was an awesome action film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Jonas told the entire story, and occasionally smiled a slightly embarrassed smile, such as when he said that a truck exploded but that this still didn't kill Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was a machine after all. I didn't think much of it, and I never saw it. Then many years later I was studying film at Stockholm University and, yet again, I was told the story of this film. This time it was our teacher Maaret Koskinen who spoke about it, in a lecture, and she was showing film clips as well. She wasn't embarrassed as Jonas, but almost as excited.

And still I hadn't seen it (but I had seen Terminator 2). It took three more years before, finally, I saw the original. 13 years after it was made. And how good it was! Now I've seen it again, and I believe I liked it even more. It has such a good storyline, and it's told with such confidence. It's thrilling and it has a very good ending. She did survive, but hardly anyone else did, and we all know what's going to happen next, after the end titles. Nuclear annihilation.

The story is that in 2029 there's a war between the few human beings left alive and the machines who have taken over the earth. A killing machine in the shape of a man (Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to 1984 to kill a woman called Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The reason is that her son, who isn't born yet, not even conseived, will grow up to lead the resistance against the machines. The humans send a man back (Michael Biehn) to protect Sarah Connor.

What's also so good about it, and what got Maaret Koskinen going, is the machine theme. It isn't just that in the future artificial intelligence has taken over. Our lives are already so caught up in machines of all kinds. Walkmans, answering machines, blowdriers, cars, trucks, drills. They're everywhere. And James Cameron, the director and writer (together with Gale Anne Hurd), makes many pointed references to this fact. Such as when the Terminator (Schwarzenegger) has killed a friend of Sarah Connor and suddenly there's a call to the friend and the answering machine answers and the voice says something like "Hey. No, just kidding, it's not me, it's just the machine". A machine. Not a killing machine like the Terminator, but still. The future may be in the future, but it starts here, today. And that's the point of the film.

Another highlight is when Sarah Connor, on the run from her assassin, hides in a club called Tech Noir. Since then the genre The Terminator is a part of is usually referred to as tech noir. And apparently that was Cameron's intention.

I sometimes speak rather unflatteringly about the 1980s when it comes to filmmaking, but it wasn't all bad. There's James Cameron for one thing. And Terminator 2: Judgement Day which he wrote and directed in 1991 is just as good as the first, or perhaps even better.

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