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The Terminator at 30: An Oral History
July 18, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

"Doing the full-body life cast of Arnold Schwarzenegger—wow, that took a lot of plaster bandage." Entertainment Weekly brings us a lengthy oral history about James Cameron's The Terminator, featuring many of the films stars, director, production crew, and special effects creators.
posted by hippybear (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:27 AM on July 18


When we were in college in '84 my roommate and I decided to see a flick in the middle of the week. Seeing the ad for a Schwarzenegger shlock flick called The Terminator..we figured; what the hell. We walked out of the theater stunned at how fun and fantastic this was..really knocked us back on our heels.
posted by judson at 7:44 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


One of my favorite things about the original Terminator was that it was actually reviewed by Soldier of Fortune magazine. The review dealt primarily with Schwarzenegger's onscreen weapons handling, which the reviewers found "entirely plausible." High praise indeed.

I also remember the first time I heard about it, before it came out. This was, oddly enough, in a magazine dedicated to the Apple II that I had subscribed to. There was an article about how the producers were taking the then fairly pioneering step of using an Apple II with some kind of business software package to do logistics and scheduling for the movie, thus saving some specific amount of money that Gale Anne Hurd, who was interviewed for the piece, said they would put onscreen, (paraphrasing here obviously but getting as close as my memory will let me) "probably in the form of another car we can blow up, because Terminator is going to be a crash and burn kind of movie."
posted by Naberius at 7:59 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


judson: "When we were in college in '84 my roommate and I decided to see a flick in the middle of the week. Seeing the ad for a Schwarzenegger shlock flick called The Terminator..we figured; what the hell. We walked out of the theater stunned at how fun and fantastic this was..really knocked us back on our heels."

That was a lot of people's reaction. Cameron was just a exploitation movie hack from Roger Corman's stable who'd worked on Battle Beyond the Stars and Piranha. No one thought that he could come up with something like The Terminator.
posted by octothorpe at 8:04 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I think the greatest innovation in the Terminator series is Peter Silberman, the shrink, played with maximum condescension by Earl Boen.

Silberman is like a shadow Sarah Connor. He experiences or witnesses a lot of the same things she does, but absolutely refuses to accept anything anyone tells him, interpreting it all as mental illness, even though everything he is told lines up with every fact he witnessed.

The setup in the first film leads to the delicious payoff in the second, where Silberman is actually the supervisor at the facility where Sarah is being held, still treating their shared experiences with contempt when interpreted by Sarah. And yet she's right, and he's the one living in a pathological state of denial. It really is an asylum run by the mad, and that's why Silberman's comeuppance in that film is so enormously satisfying. The moment when he sees the two Terminators converge on each other over Sarah Connor is just a perfect cinematic moment, especially as Silberman is such a self-assured stuffed shirt, but in both films the only reason he survives is because he doesn't matter.

I know the third film in the series is not well-liked, but I enjoyed Silberman's cameo in the one, once again being confronted with a Terminator. This time, he's just a waking representation of cognitive dissonance, and just seems to be going through life simulatenously endlessly convincing himself that Terminators don't exist and certain he might see one at any moment.

Here's to you, Peter Silberman, and to the film that first unleashed your decades-long teardown from your perch of self-assured privilege, and for making the audience root for it.
posted by maxsparber at 8:18 AM on July 18 [30 favorites]


My mom was a huge fan of Gargoyle sunglasses after this movie.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:23 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I really think the 80s were the golden age of cinema, and it's been sort of downhill since then.

Of course, the movie came out when I was 12. Old enough to ride my bike to the theatre and get into R flicks if the kids running the ticket counter didn't hassle me too much about it. I might have changed more than movies have.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:25 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I still have a pair of those sunglasses....
posted by mikelieman at 8:26 AM on July 18


Here's to you, Peter Silberman

Jesus loves you more than you will know

whoa whoa whoa...
posted by Naberius at 8:31 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


Originally, the Terminator was supposed to be this anonymous guy in the crowd, you know, the killer could be anybody.
Interesting; Cameron returned to that idea for T2 by casting Robert Patrick.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:33 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I really think the 80s were the golden age of cinema

But there was no Sensaround.

thus I refute you
posted by thelonius at 8:34 AM on July 18


thelonius: "But there was no Sensaround."

It's Sensurround.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:51 AM on July 18


Originally, the Terminator was supposed to be this anonymous guy in the crowd, you know, the killer could be anybody.

Yeah, casting Schwarzenegger changed the whole tenor of the movie, as they observe in the piece. A Terminator who's blending into the crowd is a Terminator who doesn't want to be identified. It's a Terminator that needs to hide because it knows it can be beaten if the targets recognize it and turn all their resources on it, and so it has to rely on trickery. It's ultimately a much weaker Terminator and it's not nearly as frightening.

But make it Arnold and it's like, yeah, he knows you'll see him coming, but he just doesn't give a shit. Because there's nothing you, or the police, or anybody else, can do about it. Arnold's Terminator didn't hide in the crowd. He didn't use subtlety or trickery (or hell, even doors) because he didn't need them. He just smashed straight through everything between him and the target, and he was scary as hell.

I love Lance Henrikson, but I think the movie would be pretty much forgotten today if they'd kept to the original concept.

(And in addition to being smaller and less obviously intimidating, Robert Patrick's Terminator used deception to track and lure its target, imitating voices on the phone, appropriating the role of policeman to his advantage. He was cool with all the liquid metal special effects - and probably more dangerous at the end of the day because of his willingness to use those tricks. But he just wasn't as scary somehow.)
posted by Naberius at 8:54 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler:"It's Sensurround."

It's Feel-O-Rama.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:00 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


maxsparber: "I think the greatest innovation in the Terminator series is Peter Silberman, the shrink, played with maximum condescension by Earl Boen."

In light of this, the character's use in the Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series is also interesting. In the alternate timeline of the TV show, following Sarah's escape from the hospital in T2, Silberman (here played by Bruce Davison) finally cracks and turns into an end-times-obsessed lunatic who tortures an FBI agent in the mistaken belief that the agent is a Terminator. Essentially, he's a deluded psychotic whose delusions are actually plausible in the world of the show.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:04 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


But he just wasn't as scary somehow.

Different manner of scary. Schwarzenegger's Terminator is all unstoppable blunt force. Patrick's Terminator is always observing, calculating, waiting for the opening that will give it the advantage: "call to John". It's a great physical performance; Patrick manages to pull off the impression of not being quite human.

This AVClub interview touches on his performance in T2:
AVC: You also nailed the icy stare.

RP: That is a big part of it. It really is. In my mind, I kept images of the way an eagle looks, and I kind of gave myself a little head tilt downward, which gave me that forward movement and always made me look like I was moving or in pursuit. I used shark imagery, too. And cats. Predators, basically. I tried to keep that in my mind the whole time when I was working.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:10 AM on July 18 [16 favorites]


(I always wondered, too, if there was some subtle makeup work going on in T2 to accentuate Patrick's features slightly towards the uncanny valley: those cheekbones, those ears.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:12 AM on July 18


I used shark imagery, too. And cats. Predators, basically. I tried to keep that in my mind the whole time when I was working.

I use the same technique at my desk job. It helps keep coworkers away.
posted by orme at 9:45 AM on July 18 [15 favorites]


I watched the first Terminator fairly recently and it really does hold up well. Some of it's low-budget seams show through but it's still an amazingly well written, directed and especially edited film. The pacing is just so well done, just giving you enough time to catch your breath before the next action scene. Watching the action scenes is so refreshing compared to the headache that the horrible "chaos cinema" action style in most of today's movies give me. The car chase sequences are shot and edited that you can always tell where the good guys and the bad guys are in relation to each other.

The most amazing thing is that you actually get to know and care about the main two characters and the love story is built into the rest of the narrative and not just tacked on.
posted by octothorpe at 9:56 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


I am glad Gale Anne Hurd got her due in this piece. Watching The Terminator recently (like one does), I really felt like she had a lot to do with how the story was paced and shaped. I think it would've been a lesser movie without her input and involvement.

(Also, The Terminator is basically a John Carpenter movie. I think that's why I like it and most of other Cameron's work -- with the exception of Aliens, of course -- tends to leave me pretty bored or cold.)
posted by darksong at 10:12 AM on July 18


"Wash day. Nothing clean."
posted by ob1quixote at 10:25 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Thanks for that. The Terminator is one of the most Marian movies I've seen; does anyone know how much of that was intentional?
posted by michaelh at 10:29 AM on July 18


I love how Sarah seems so ordinary. And the bit about going through the phone book and the news reports about women named 'Sarah Connor' being killed is still chilling.
posted by straight at 12:20 PM on July 18


One little side note, probably only of interest to film geeks like me, is that back when Cameron was in film school, it was before video. So, if you wanted to see a movie, you checked the print out of the library, reserved a screening room, and watched it.

Somebody dug up Cameron's checkouts and found that he had watched on particular film a whole bunch.

La Jetee.

So, if you were wondering if there was a connection, there is.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:27 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


The stuff about OJ Simpson is spectacular. IF they used him as the Terminator, who knows what trajectory his life may have taken?? Or it would be SPECTACULAR foreshadowing.
posted by Renoroc at 12:56 PM on July 18


If, like me, you feel that the marketing for T2 robbed you of what could have been a fantastic movie reveal, you might get some joy from reading these very-well-written blog posts by a guy watching Terminator and Terminator 2 (see here for all his posts about the two movies) for the first time without any knowledge of what they're about (previously; trigger warning, his post about watching Alien--unprepared, alone, in the dark, while recovering from serious injuries--is pretty traumatic, but his posts about Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Princess Bride, Groundhog Day, Rocky, Conan, Pirates of the Carribean, and The Blues Brothers are all delightful and rather insightful.)
posted by straight at 3:54 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I love Lance Henrikson, but I think the movie would be pretty much forgotten today

A testament to Cameron's genius is that he changed his approach mid-stream, knowing Arnold's potential, and he made a lot of sense -- imagine building a T800 exoskeleton but wanting enough meaty-padding on it so that it just looks like an unusual human being instead of a freakish golem.

But then, when the time came to have a creepy "everyman android," Lance got his time in the son with Alien and Aliens, the latter of which allowed Cameron to really literally tear into the guts and show you the difference between a slinky slenderman biomechanical android and a hulking behemoth built on top of chrome-plated terror. Totally, perfectly, used in that role.
posted by aydeejones at 4:45 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


The real testament is of course the dream concept, and converting a nightmare in a difficult time into an amazing career. I enjoyed the little snips about the executive Medavoy in the oral history. Mostly civil, and you can see the difference in perspective between auteur and executive. Medavoy ultimately has a point that even if he doubted it from the beginning and perhaps took too much credit later, he let the project happen as it did, he voices his concerns as an adult with agency, and ultimately he did play a role in making this happen. But James++++
posted by aydeejones at 4:47 PM on July 18


The first two films basically got everything right for me. Granted I grew up on them, and remembered the long wasteland of time between the original and T2. It was well worth it. And the T2 video game was groundbreaking in various ways, putting together the vibration-feedback, very exciting weapon controls, teamwork, and a pretty decent feeling of progressing through a real freaky game.

One thing I really like is that when they show the terminator's internal "google glass" if you will, you can see commands in assembly language. It's kind of interesting in that it suggests that yes, Terminators and Skynet basically derive from banal human-designed technology with processors that still retain the "english-like" assembly language instruction sets. Why would he see assembly language? I don't know how helpful it is, but maybe he can polymorphically modify his code? It doesn't need to be explained -- it's very much like Breaking Bad in that regard. Believable and you can talk about it for hours. Not flashy goofy "Hackers" stuff with CGI graphics floating around and "hacking the gibson." The movie got EVERYTHING right, throwing in some gross-out horror very excellently, a love story that is believable, paradoxes, commentaries on human progress and the threats of unbridled militarization of technology that almost literally underpin the entire ethos of death metal music.

And unlike the Matrix, which contorted a plot in which human beings are still useful to technological entities, Skynet realizes that persistent plucky humans need to be exterminated, and pursues every possible objective to make it happen. Oh and autonomous drones anyone, that's the end game this is all about stopping. I literally interviewed someone yesterday who made a point of saying he doesn't believe that misapplication of technology can lead down that path (citing this movie unprompted). Everything else he said was pretty awesome.
posted by aydeejones at 4:55 PM on July 18


The extras for T2 have some really interesting stuff with the T-1000 I think. The deleted scene of him just feeling everything he can get his hands on in John's room is super-creepy, along with the dog murder. The role was originally going to be played by Billy Idol, but then Idol had his motorcycle accident. I'm glad I don't live in the parallel universe where Billy Idol and OJ starred in these movies.

Piranha 2 is almost worth watching for the part when a piranha flies out of a corpse to bite someone's neck.
posted by heatvision at 5:57 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


One thing I really like is that when they show the terminator's internal "google glass" if you will, you can see commands in assembly language....

There was an article about how the producers were taking the then fairly pioneering step of using an Apple II with some kind of business software package to do logistics and scheduling for the movie...
Drawing both of these together: the readout code shown in the T-800's POV is actually Apple II assembly code, taken from a sample in that year's Nibble Magazine (in the days that magazines used to print out complete code for programs, that readers could then laboriously enter, line by line...)

(If you're interested in that kind of minutiae for other films, the MovieCode Tumblr is a great source).
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:36 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


(in the days that magazines used to print out complete code for programs, that readers could then laboriously enter, line by line...)

Touch Typing FTW!
posted by mikelieman at 1:12 AM on July 19


And in addition to being smaller and less obviously intimidating, Robert Patrick's Terminator used deception to track and lure its target, imitating voices on the phone, appropriating the role of policeman to his advantage.

The voice imitation is used by Arnold in the first two movies at least...Robert Patrick's Terminator has every advantage of course, and is stronger and better than Arnold in every way. He's no underdog. He only loses because of Linda Hamilton and the 12 gauge ass-whoopin' of doom + lava + grenade. Plucky human teamwork against an all-powerful foe who just happens to have [better] deception in his toolkit.

I kept images of the way an eagle looks, and I kind of gave myself a little head tilt downward, which gave me that forward movement and always made me look like I was moving or in pursuit. I used shark imagery, too. And cats. Predators, basically. I tried to keep that in my mind the whole time when I was working.

He does this well in True Blood too, as [RIP] werewolf Alcide's father on the show.
posted by aydeejones at 6:02 PM on July 19


lumpenprole: “La Jetee”
If you are curious, as I was: La Jetée (1962) (Chris Marker) (Sci-Fi)
posted by ob1quixote at 9:16 PM on July 19


Coming here late, as I work through my MeFi backlog, but:

I'm glad aydeejones noted Patrick's appearance on True Blood, because it reminded me that in the episode on Sunday, they very clearly referenced the hallway scene in T2 when Eric finally catches up to Sarah Newlin. I laughed out loud, but my wife didn't catch it until I did a terrible Arnie impression ("Come with me if you want to live").

More on point, I may have mentioned this before, but I saw the first Terminator in the theater, at age 14, on Thanksgiving Day of 1984, accompanied by my grandmother. She would've been 67 at the time, but somehow I convinced her to take me (and, amazingly, my 9 year old brother).

I figured she'd nap, but she watched the whole thing, and then commented as we left that "well, that whole show was 'way out' [her term for "far fetched'], but that girl sure did play her part good."
posted by uberchet at 8:24 AM on July 23


[The T-1000] was cool with all the liquid metal special effects - and probably more dangerous at the end of the day because of his willingness to use those tricks. But he just wasn't as scary somehow.

Disagree, because of the scene in which John Connor's foster mother is on the phone, trying to coax John home, and his foster father is whining about something in the background; in about a second, her face loses all expression and she whips one hand off to the side, out of the frame, and there's this sound... and at the end of the phone conversation, you find out that the foster father has been impaled on a sword-hand for most of the scene, and that she's really the T-1000. Brilliant bit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:17 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


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