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CrimsonLine

The Terminator

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Mrs. CrimsonLine and I just finished watching the original The Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, and Linda Hamilton. I couldn't find a thread for this film, so I figured I could start another one.

I noticed a cool visual parallelism this time around (I've seen the movie probably half a dozen times, this was Mrs. C's first - she disliked it) that I had never seen before. Early in the film, the Terminator is hunting down and killing Sarah Connor's roommate. She's been shot, and she's crawling away from the oncoming Terminator, hands clawing on the floor. At the end of the film, the Terminator is chasing Sarah through a factory (Cyberdyne Systems, in scenes cut from the finished film). Kyle Reese has blown off the Terminator's lower half, and Sarah has had a shard of metal in her thigh, so neither of them can use their legs. As the Terminator chases Sarah, both of them are crawling along, hands clawing on the floor in the exact same pose and camera angle as earlier, in Sarah's apartment.

What is Cameron going for in these scenes, other than just a cool visual parallel?

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Links to the threads on Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-) and Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins (2009).

CrimsonLine wrote:

: What is Cameron going for in these scenes, other than just a cool visual parallel?

No idea, as I haven't seen the film in a while, but that's an interesting observation. I'll look for it next time I see the film. (For what it's worth, note also that the severed-android-torso-crawling-on-the-floor motif is re-used, sort of, at the end of Cameron's next film, Aliens.)

The first film is the only one I really care for, for a multitude of reasons; I like to say it's my favorite "Christmas movie", because, as I put it in my review of T3:

The Terminator is a sort of R-rated version of the Nativity story. Just as the birth of Christ took place against the backdrop of a cosmic war in which the final outcome was never really in doubt, and just as the birth of Christ was marked by the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, so too the conception of John Connor is soaked in the blood of the battles he is destined to fight.

I wrote an essay shortly after the second film came out (I was only 20 at the time), in which I explained some of the other reasons why I much prefer the original film to its first sequel (the others hadn't come out yet), and if it was still online I'd link to it. ... Actually, I think I'll re-post it here:

- - -

Arnold wimps out: Terminator 2 lacks the brains and brawn of the original

by Peter T. Chattaway

Jot & Tittle, Autumn 1991

WARNING!: If you have not seen T2 and wish to keep its story a surprise, do not read any further!

Terminator 2: Judgment Day opened to big box office returns and a great deal of hullabaloo over its precedent-shattering special effects. A few of you have even confessed to paying to see the spectacle a second or third time within a week of its opening. It's rumoured to have cost over $100 million to produce, and there's no doubt that the money is on the screen (unlike recent cheap big-budget films like Batman). Nobody seems to mind that the sequel is terribly inconsistent with the original film, both in its concept of time-travel and in its overall tone.

Time travel inconsistencies

T2 seems to be saying that someone who has come back from the future can change the future he just came from, even prevent it from ever happening. For this theory to make any sense, though, the original future must still exist, otherwise how could there be a person from the future to change it?

Therefore we would have two different timelines branching off from the point where our time-traveller arrived. In the case of T2, the first would be the timeline in which Cyberdyne finished developing machines that happened to take over the world and create the Terminator, and the other would be the timeline in which Cyberdyne was blown up by the Terminator after it had come back.

But how does this affect the first movie? Before the first Terminator had ever been sent back, there must have been no time travel, therefore Cyberdyne developed its technology without a Terminator component in its possession. And, assuming that the film's Sarah Connor was his mother, John's father would have been someone completely other than Kyle; indeed, the John of Timeline #1 was an entirely different person from the one in T2. There is no guarantee that T2's kid would ever develop world-leadership potential.

Unfortunately, one element of the first film flies in the face of the multiple-timeline theorem, and that is The Photo. According to the first film, the picture of Sarah that John gave to Kyle existed in the original timeline and was what motivated Kyle to come back to protect Sarah. So far so good, except that the ending of the first film shows the photo originated in the second timeline, so how could it have possibly existed in the first one? Well, quite simply, it couldn't have -- it's a plot device that worked very well in the first film, where a Fate of sorts seemed to affirm, rather than change, the future ... but it simply doesn't fit into the concept of time that T2 is based on!

There is also the problem of which timeline the second Terminator would have come back to in T2. If the T-1000 was a creation of Timeline #1, why would it end up over on Timeline #2? Perhaps it came from the future of Timeline #2, which had turned out pretty much like Timeline #1, even though a completely different John Connor was leading the humans. But then again, why should John send anyone back in time to protect anyone? He'd already survived and succeeded in defeating the machines, hadn't he?

Its refusal to make any sense makes it impossible to suspend one's disbelief during T2. On this level, at least, T2 loses its grip on the audience, and is less captivating than its predecessor.

Arnold, the Pet Cyborg

More significantly, what made this a weaker film than the original is Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, and I'm not just referring to the switcheroo that made his character a good guy. I actually liked the novelty of seeing Arnold protect John and Sarah Connor, and especially their panicked reactions on first seeing him.

However, most of that tension was dealt with in the first half of the film, and when that novelty wore off, the second half became a glorified countdown to the "Godzilla vs. King Kong" ending.

Another weak narrative point: Arnold remained in the story right to the end! Kyle had to die in the first film so that Sarah would have to face the Terminator on her own and find the Inner Strength And Courage needed to defeat the thing. Whether archetype or clich

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I watched this film for the first time in years tonight, and was amused by the opening title card's reference to how the events of this film would be "the final battle" in the war between humans and machines. "The final battle"? Tell that to the sequel-makers.

But what REALLY struck me was the deleted scenes, which I don't believe I had watched since I first got this DVD in 2001. And why did they strike me? Because the deleted scenes make it fairly clear that Sarah Connor is responsible for the war.

That's right, Sarah Connor is responsible for the war.

How can this be, you say?

Well, in one deleted scene, Sarah looks up Cyberdyne in the phone book -- just like the Terminator looked up HER in the phone book! -- and tells Kyle excitedly that they can destroy Cyberdyne and prevent the war from happening. After some arguing, and a bit of an emotional meltdown on Kyle's part, Kyle finally agrees to do this. (So you can see, in this, the seeds of Sarah's later vigilante actions in T2.)

And then, in ANOTHER deleted scene set a few hours after Sarah has successfully destroyed the Terminator, we see that the Terminator has been noticed by a couple of guys, one of whom instructs the other guy to take the Terminator's microprocessor chassis (if I heard correctly) over to the company's R&D department. We then cut to the outside of the building, as Sarah is loaded into an ambulance, and the camera pans up to reveal ... the Cyberdyne logo on the front of the building. (So you can see, in this, the seeds of T2's later revelation that Skynet will grow out of the pieces of the Terminator that survived the original film.)

Is it a coincidence that Sarah, Kyle and the Terminator ended up in the Cyberdyne building? To a point, yes. The car chase that immediately preceded the chase-on-foot in the Cyberdyne factory was pretty crazy, and who could have predicted where the various wrecks and explosions would have ended up? But on the other hand, no, it WASN'T all that coincidental. Why were they in the vicinity of the Cyberdyne building in the FIRST place? Because, as we saw in the earlier deleted scene, Sarah and Kyle had agreed to try to sabotage Cyberdyne. They were already making their way over there.

So. JUST AS the Terminator came back in time to kill Sarah and prevent the birth of John Connor, thereby inadvertently drawing Kyle Reese back in time and GUARANTEEING the birth of John Connor, SO TOO Sarah Connor tried to destroy Cyberdyne and prevent the birth of Skynet, thereby inadvertently drawing the Terminator towards the Cyberdyne factory and GUARANTEEING the rise of Skynet. And this point -- this similarity between the two characters' actions, and the consequences of their actions -- is underscored by visual motifs such as the phonebook scanning, etc.

I can see why these scenes were deleted from the film. For one thing, they created an ambiguity around Sarah and her actions that could have complicated our feelings towards her. In a sense, they almost put her on the same level as the machines that sent the Terminator back in time: both she and the machines suffer from a kind of hubris, believing that they can change the past (in the machines' case) or the future (in Sarah's case), but in the end all they do is guarantee their own failure.

Of course, commercial cinema being what it is, The Terminator ended up having sequels anyway, "final battle" or no "final battle". And ironically, as the series has continued to unfold, Sarah's actions have turned out to have even MORE unforeseen consequences.

In T2, Sarah tries once again to destroy Cyberdyne -- and this time, to cut a long story short, she succeeds! Judgment Day no longer happens on 1997 as everyone predicted ... but it DOES happen several years later, in 2004, as per the events of T3. (Or in 2011, as per one of the timelines in the TV show The Sarah Connor Chronicles.) Sarah did not completely prevent Judgment Day; instead, she merely delayed it. And so, as per the voice-over in the trailers for T4, John Connor now has to face the fact that "this isn't the future my mother warned me about."

The guaranteed victory of the original movie -- the fact that the war was over and the "final battle" had already been won -- has been completely undone. John no longer has any assurance that he can win this war. And all because Sarah would not accept her fate.

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To everyone stressing out over the various conflicted chronologies within the Terminator franchise, I would just like to point out that even the original film, as airtight and impossible-to-sequelize as it is, contains one glaring chronological discrepancy.

As I noted at my blog three years ago, when Kyle Reese comes back in time to 1984 and asks a policeman what day it is, the policeman replies: "The 12th of May. Thursday." But May 12, 1984 was actually a Saturday.

How such an error was possible when the movie was actually SHOT in May 1984 (according to the IMDb), I do not know. But there it is.

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The Los Angeles Times recently did a group interview with this year's five DGA nominees. Along the way, James Cameron tosses this anecdote into the mix, in response to the question "What was the moment when you became a director?":

Cameron: This was right at the beginning. . . . I had gotten fired off of "Piranha II" after a few days, so I kind of don't count that. So John Daly of Hemdale is financing "Terminator" . . . and we were literally a few days from starting and I was very prepared. I had everything storyboarded. I was ready to go. . . . Daly sort of reads the script a few days before we start shooting and he wants to have a story conference. . . . That's the one film that didn't evolve during the process because there was no time. There was just bare bones, 42 days and everything was exactly the way I had sort of drawn it out ahead of time. It was the most prepared of any film I'd ever gone into. And he wants to have a story conference . . .

"I want to talk about this guy who comes from this other planet." And we said, "What other planet? He comes from the future." . . . I had been with the prop guy earlier in the day and I had been looking at the props and I liked this .45 automatic and I took it with me -- empty gun -- in fact, it wouldn't even fire, it was a prop gun. It was a real weapon, it just had the barrel stoppered. . . . So I go in and I sit down in front of Daly's desk and he says, "Yes, I want to talk about this man that comes from the future and I don't really understand this and that about the story." And I -- it just was like a flash. I just opened [my] briefcase, I took the script out, set it on his desk. I took the .45 out, I set it on top of the script. I said, "I am prepared to discuss anything. . . ." He said, "You can't do that! I'm the producer!" I said, "I'm not doing anything." And he fled the room and we shot the movie exactly as it was written.

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Eye wired open

WHEN Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence decided to have his badly damaged eye removed from its socket, he chose to replace it not with a prosthetic, but with a wireless camera. The decision, he says, was easy.

''Every person I know who's lost an eye immediately thinks, 'I should think about getting a camera,' '' he says. Although so far, Spence is the only person who has actually acted on the notion.

In a world first, Spence and a team of engineers and eye specialists developed an eye-camera, a miniature camera and wireless transmitter fitted into his eye. . . .

The footage quality, he says, is similar to that of a phone camera.

''The aesthetic, oddly, is very similar to the point of view of the Terminator from the first Terminator film, including a slight wavering of video, which is actually now part of film language to talk about surveillance and cyborgy stuff,'' Spence says. ''In [film-editing software] Final Cut Pro, there's a filter called 'bad video' which, if you're doing a futuristic film, you use to give you that effect.

''Happily for me, I have this built-in aesthetic for the pop-culture references that I enjoy referencing and the ideas I enjoy talking about.'' . . .

Sydney Morning Herald, August 24

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We don't have a thread on Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in two days, but since that film was directed by the same guy who directed the original film, this video might as well go here:

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his review of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which includes some comparisons-and-contrasts between that film and the original (and The Abyss!), e.g.:

Between all three movies exist some interesting moral crossovers. The Terminator (henceforth Schwarzenegger) goes from being a killer-villain in The Terminator to a father-protector in Terminator 2, and the replicator that in The Abyss is a sweet, Spielbergian messenger of peace and love is in Terminator 2 a remorseless killer called T-1000 (henceforth Patrick). Moreover, in Terminator 2 Schwarzenegger is dressed like a Hell’s Angel while Patrick is dressed like a cop. It all fits into a curious sort of mythology that seems split between Greek and Christian elements: Godlike machines ascend to earth from a hellish future to mingle with mortals; both get resurrected on various occasions, and at least one gets (metaphorically) crucified. Neither is especially meek or charitable. “Judgment day” refers to the nuclear war that wipes out three billion people in 1997, shortly after the film’s events unfold; but it’s a judgment day without any apparent deity or judge.

And hey, he even makes the same "King Kong vs. Godzilla" point that I did in my own review!

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I noticed a cool visual parallelism this time around (I've seen the movie probably half a dozen times, this was Mrs. C's first - she disliked it) that I had never seen before. Early in the film, the Terminator is hunting down and killing Sarah Connor's roommate. She's been shot, and she's crawling away from the oncoming Terminator, hands clawing on the floor. At the end of the film, the Terminator is chasing Sarah through a factory (Cyberdyne Systems, in scenes cut from the finished film). Kyle Reese has blown off the Terminator's lower half, and Sarah has had a shard of metal in her thigh, so neither of them can use their legs. As the Terminator chases Sarah, both of them are crawling along, hands clawing on the floor in the exact same pose and camera angle as earlier, in Sarah's apartment.

What is Cameron going for in these scenes, other than just a cool visual parallel?

 

My thought from annotations re-watching the film:

 Funny too how the last shot is of Sarah putting on sunglasses also echoes the earlier more iconic shot of Arnold adopting the glasses.  She is becoming the soldier. Not saying there is a moral equivalence in these juxtapositions, but I do wonder if there is a subtle reminder that the machines are (unlike, say, the Buggers in Ender’s Game or the aliens in Aliens) an extension of ourselves….and not the best part of ourselves either. The franchise never really explores this this theme, which is a shame. Changing the future is always about some tactical plan to achieve a different result, not about changing our relationship to the world, each other, or ourselves in such a way that diffuses the conditions.

 

 

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kenmorefield wrote:
: She is becoming the soldier. Not saying there is a moral equivalence in these juxtapositions, but I do wonder if there is a subtle reminder that the machines are (unlike, say, the Buggers in Ender’s Game or the aliens in Aliens) an extension of ourselves….and not the best part of ourselves either.

 

This theme comes through a *lot* more clearly in the deleted scenes, where Sarah Connor looks up Cyberdyne in a phone book (just like the Terminator looked up Sarah Connor in a phone book) and decides to preemptively destroy Cyberdyne (just like the machines decided to prevent the birth of John Connor), thus inadvertently causing the existence of Skynet (by leading the Terminator to the Cyberdyne factory).

 

To quote what I wrote six years ago:

 

I can see why these scenes were deleted from the film. For one thing, they created an ambiguity around Sarah and her actions that could have complicated our feelings towards her. In a sense, they almost put her on the same level as the machines that sent the Terminator back in time: both she and the machines suffer from a kind of hubris, believing that they can change the past (in the machines’ case) or the future (in Sarah’s case), but in the end all they do is guarantee their own failure.

 

ETA: Oh, wait, I just realized my blog post was essentially carried over from a comment I posted in this thread six years ago.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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I liked the cuts/deletes. (Not saying that Peter didn't.) 

 

One can catch a glimpse at what looks like a temptation to underscore the ironies of time-travel--the closed loop where the intervention doesn't change history but rather leads to the thing that causes the intervention--in the deletes. But that part of the story doesn't interest me, and I like T1 best because it focuses on the situation itself, not as a chapter of part of a broader narrative. I don't hate T2 or following as much as I hate Alien3, but I do dislike how, like Alien3, the subsequent movies undercut what we thought/were told were the stakes in the previous film.

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