The Terminator

The-Terminator-1984

1984

Hemdale Pacific Western/Orion Pictures

Directed by James Cameron

Produced by Gale Anne Hurd

Written by James Cameron/Gale Anne Hurd

Y’know how long it’s been since I last saw THE TERMINATOR? Long enough that I completely and totally forgot that Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen are in the movie. And no cameos, either. They both have substantial roles to play in the story. And I say substantial because even though they don’t have a lot of screen time they definitely use whatever time they have well. Thanks to the script and their acting, the characters of Lieutenant Traxler (Paul Winfield) and Sergeant Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) are living people and not just plot devices to move the story along.

So why did I watch THE TERMINATOR again after all this time? Well, I’d seen “Terminator Genisys” and in that movie there are scenes recreated from the original movie. And they do a good job of it, right down to Jai Courtney wearing the same Nike Vandal high-top sneakers with the Velcro ankle straps that Michael Biehn wears. So I got a hankerin’ to watch the original. And thanks to Netflix I did. And ten minutes into the movie I was just as engrossed as I was the first time I saw it way back in ’84 at the Metropolitan Theater in downtown Brooklyn.

The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a cybernetic assassin. His metal endoskeleton is covered in living, organic tissue so that it can pass for human to get close to its target: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). In the future, an AI called Skynet will achieve sentience and declare war on mankind by firing all of America’s nuclear missiles all over the world. The human race is saved by a man named John Connor who leads the resistance to victory. But Skynet sends The Terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to John. John Connor uses the same time machine The Terminator used to send his best soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect his mother. Neither The Terminator nor Kyle Reese can return to their future time and will never know how the future turns out. But their final battle in 1984 will decide a war being fought in 2029.

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Watching THE TERMINATOR after such a long time the one thing that struck me and what I really appreciated in the lean, economical storytelling. There’s not a thing in the screenplay that slows up the plot or is in there just to pad out the running time. The last three movies in the “Terminator” suffered from serious bloating of the plot and stopping the story cold to have the characters sit around tell each other stuff they already know.

Don’t get me wrong…I like and appreciate characterization in my movies as much as you. But James Cameron as a script writer and a director understands that in an Action Movie you can reveal characterization through action. Even in scenes where Sarah and Kyle get a few minutes to stop and catch their breath, they’re not just sitting there relating to each other. They’re always doing something that never lets us forget that these are two people on the run. Even the sex scene between Sarah and Kyle isn’t just thrown in there for titillation. It’s important to the plot.

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I honestly don’t think this movie would be as well remembered and as highly regarded as it is (The Library of Congress has deemed THE TERMINATOR to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant) if Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t played the role. Do you honestly think we’d still be talking about The Terminator if O.J. Simpson had played it? He was the studio’s choice but Cameron wouldn’t have it.  Arnold had made about a dozen movies before THE TERMINATOR but this role as well as Conan seemed to be tailor made for him. I even think his Austrian accent works very well in this movie as it did in his Conan movies because it sounds strange as if The Terminator is still working out the kinks in how to speak like a human being.

Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton are excellent here. Fifteen minutes into the movie and you buy their characters totally. Watching it today I was struck by the energy of their action. Biehn in particular is electric every time he’s on the screen and I couldn’t help but compare his turbo charged performance to Jai Courtney who walks through “Terminator Genisys” as if he’s half asleep.

THE TERMINATOR is one of those movies that I think every director and screenwriter who wants to do an Action Movie should be required to watch. It’s got a full-tilt boogie plot that never seems rushed. The only things in the story/plot is what needs to be there and no more. But that doesn’t mean that Cameron skimps, either. There’s a nice little motif of machines betraying humans dropped here and there. Sarah’s roommate is killed because she’s listening to her Walkman with the sound cranked all the way up and can’t hear her boyfriend getting his ass kicked by The Terminator in the next room. TV’s are constantly giving away information that they shouldn’t. Despite the fact that he had a limited budget, James Cameron made it work for him with imagination, compelling characters and a helluva good story that has mature ideas and themes. If you haven’t seen it in a while, go ahead and revisit it. THE TERMINATOR still holds up very well.

6975_5

107 Minutes

Rated R

Better In The Dark #123

BETTER IN THE DARK #123: WATERCOLOR WITH BLOOD AND BULLETS-THE CAREER OF KATHRYN BIGELOW

 

 

The Boys From Brooklyn are back to induct the first woman into their Hall of Great, Great Men as they celebrate the artistic-yet-genre career of Kathryn Bigelow. Join Tom and Derrick as they examine her whole ouvre, from the existential biker film The Loveless to the cowboy / vampire thriller Near Dark to her Academy Award-winning war flick The Hurt Locker. Along the way they examine the televisual train wreck that was Wild Palms, discuss the impact her original career as a painter had on her moviemaking, and debate whether she’s hotter than Linda Hamilton! All this plus the problems of basing your films on current events, what do you do when Juliette Lewis and / or Illeana Douglas asks you if you want to hit it, spokespeople for Jewish Hotness, and gratuitous Martin Scorsese!  So get to clicking!

 

http://betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-121/

 

 

Avatar

2009

20th Century Fox/Lightstorm Entertainment

Written and Directed by James Cameron

Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau

I have to be honest and confess that I’m biased when it comes to James Cameron because he hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t liked.  Which compared to a lot of other filmmakers isn’t a lot.  I mean, counting AVATAR he’s directed eight movies in thirty years.  We’ve got directors who have made thirty movies in eight years.  But James Cameron’s movies are all ‘event’ movies and he’s such a meticulous director/writer that he’s in no rush to make a movie just to make a movie.  He makes movies that are entire worlds that draw us in and engage us totally and completely into what is happening on the screen.  Twenty minutes into AVATAR I completely forgot I was looking at SFX and CGI characters and digital sets.  That’s how immersed into the story and characters I was.  And I attribute that to the genius of James Cameron.  Unlike directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich he knows how to spend half a billion bucks on a movie that makes me feel like I haven’t wasted my money or more importantly, my time.

The planet Pandora is extraordinarily hostile to human beings.  Even the air is toxic and it seems like every animal on the planet is out to eat every other animal.  Pandora also is rich with the mineral unobtanium which is being mined by a corporation that is never named but I’d be willing to bet my ‘Alien’ DVD it’s Weyland-Yutani. The use of unobtanium made me laugh as that fictional element has a very long history in science fiction.  Since seeing this movie I’ve heard from so-called science fiction fans complaining about how corny the name unobtanium is and that a name that sounded more realistic should have been used.  Which immediately told me that these ‘fans’ weren’t as knowledgeable about sci-fi as they thought they were.   The corporation has recruited an army of mercenaries as security to protect the workers from the many dangerous life-forms. Pandora is also inhabited by the Na’vi.  An azure-skinned, humanoid race, nine feet tall that live in a quasi-symbiotic relationship with the animals and the land.

Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has helped develop the Avatar Program. Avatars are Na’vi/Human clones bio-engineered to enable humans to interact with the Na’vi.  Humans are linked to their specific Avatars and control them while their human body sleeps.  This is particularly appealing to paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington).  Jake is invited to join The Avatar Program due to his twin brother’s untimely death.  Since his DNA is identical to his brother’s, Jake can link with his Avatar.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Augustine but it works out just fine for Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who sees this as an opportunity to get valuable intelligence on the Na’vi.  Quaritch dangles the promise of surgery that will restore the full use of his legs to Jake.  And naturally Jake accepts the deal

Jake’s first time out in the bush in his Avatar ends up with him lost in the jungle which he is woefully unsuited to survive in, despite his Marine training.  Luckily for him he’s rescued by a Na’vi warrior woman, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who takes him back to her clan.  There are a couple of her clansmen who aren’t happy with this.  Her father Eytucan (Wes Studi) the leader of the clan and his heir, the clan’s best warrior Tsu’Tey (Laz Alonso) who’d cheerfully cut Jake’s throat if it wasn’t for the clan’s queen and spiritual leader Mo’at (CCH Pounder) who persuades her husband to let Jake stay and learn their ways while they learn more about him.  Neytiri is charged with teaching the outsider how to be a true Na’vi.  And she does a good job of it.  A really good job.  Maybe too good as it turns out.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right up front. You’ve probably heard that AVATAR is a big budget remake of “Dances With Wolves” in sci-fi drag and to an extent, it’s correct.  But I’ve seen plenty of other westerns about a white man going ‘native’ and adopting another culture.  There’s elements of “Lord Jim” and “The Last Samurai” and “The Mission” in here as well along with half a dozen other movies.

But AVATAR is told so well and the special effects are so magnificent that all that becomes unimportant.  James Cameron spends a considerable amount of time on the Na’vi way of life as seen through the eyes of Jake and we, along with him soon have a respect and fascination for their world and their relationship.  Sam Worthington really sells the movie, along with Sigourney Weaver; whose Avatar is so realistic and looks so much like her it’s almost creepy.

And any director who can make me like Michelle Rodriguez is okay in my book.  For once she’s not playing the perpetually pissed-off Latina and does some real acting here.  Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang aren’t served as well as the other actors by the screenplay.  Their characters are so one dimensional that right from their first scenes they’re gnashing their teeth, yelling “Crush!  Kill!  Destroy!”and planning to wipe out the Na’vi.  And that’s just about the same note they play through the whole movie.

And AVATAR makes the same mistake “Star Trek: Insurrection” made.  Remember how in that movie Starfleet wanted to remove a relatively small group of natives off their own world in order to exploit the anti-aging properties of the planet?  Now the big flaw in that thinking was this: why couldn’t everybody share the planet?  I mean, it’s a pretty big planet.  Lots of room for all, I should think.   In AVATAR, whenever Giovanni Ribisi started in about there being such a rich deposit of unobtanium under the sacred Hometree I asked myself why couldn’t the corporation find another deposit somewhere on the planet and spare everyone a lot of needless bloodshed and violence.  But James Cameron works so hard at making us hate the corporation and the mercenaries that angle is never explored.  And Cameron pounds the pro-environmental angle into our foreheads at every single opportunity in a not very subtle fashion.

Having said all that is AVATAR worth your time?  Sure it is.  It’s a James Cameron movie and once again he’s presented us a movie full of life, meticulous detail, astounding action sequences and exceptional acting.  Sure the story is pure 50’s science fiction pulp adventure but its 50’s science fiction pulp that makes us care about what we’re watching and that makes all the difference.

162 minutes

PG-13