I remember The Terminator being a lot better. Even as it started–I think during the first chase sequence (Michael Biehn in the department store)–I thought about the great highway chase sequence at the end. Then, as things went sour during, I kept waiting for that sequence, sure it would bring things around.
But it doesn’t bring things around. It’s short and loud–maybe the only time in the movie Brad Fiedel’s score doesn’t work. The disappointment might also be because Linda Hamilton, during this sequence, goes from waitress who gets picked on by little kids (I guess her restaurant does not reserve the right to refuse service) to the full-on James Cameron super-woman. It’s an inexplicable character change, sort of like her romantic clinging to future stalker Biehn. Where Terminator has the most opportunity for real character development (does Hamilton cling to Biehn because of her previous and frequent rejections?), it doesn’t seem to notice them. It does try to show Biehn’s incapable of having a regular conversation, emotion scarring from the future, but Biehn’s terrible during these scenes. Actually, he’s terrible once he meets up with Hamilton. Before them meeting up, he’s fine… even if he only has two lines.
The first three-quarters (or half) of the movie–before the police station shoot out–is great. It’s some of Cameron’s finest work, just because it shows he can show people walking down the street or going to work. Even if Hamilton and Bess Motta give bad performances, them getting ready for their dates is a good scene. There’s a texture to the film, even if there isn’t one to the screenplay. Cameron’s become so enamored with the fantastic, he seems to have forgotten the effectiveness of the uncanny. It doesn’t take him five or ten years though, by the second half of The Terminator he’s made the transition.
The second part has all the stupid future stuff, the terrible romantic stuff and the unexciting ending (the movie’s really Biehn’s and the protagonist transition to Hamilton fails).
The movie starts so strong–down to Bill Paxton’s moron punk–and doesn’t let up for a long time. Most of the credit goes to Fiedel, the sound designer (The Terminator‘s most interesting, technically, for how Cameron uses sound and music to create mood) and Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield. Winfield and Henriksen’s bickering cops brings a human element to the film–and real characters, something sorely missing with Hamilton and Biehn–and once they’re out of the story, it’s just a bunch of sci-fi tripe. The reality is gone.
As for Schwarzenegger, he’s fine. Though he’s interchangeable with a model head and a stop motion robot, so I’m not sure the performance is particularly successful.