The trailer of Terminator Genesys last week has started dissipating the doubts regarding what kind of movie it's going to be. Prior to the trailer release the franchise could've gone in the direction of the well directed but much too angsty "Terminator Salvation" or, as it seems now, in a more "Terminator: Rise of the machines" style: Hollywood blockbuster, big explosions, quick-buck, throw away after use. I will wait for Genesys to come out to make my final judgement. Luckily, no matter how good or bad it is, we will always have the original first Terminator to feast our eyes and brains with.
In 2029 skynet, a sentient computer gone rogue on us, sends a terminator, one of it's infiltration killing machines to 1984 to kill the mother to-be of John Connor, leader of the human resistance in a last ditch effort to change the tide of the war it has all but lost. The human resistance sends one of its soldiers, Kyle Reese, to stop it and then wrecks the time machine to avoid more time tinkering.
James Cameron had a dream while running a high fever of a metal skeleton pursuing him through a wall of fire, awesomeness ensued. He decided he would make a movie about it. Being a nobody back then, he couldn't secure the budget to make a futuristic movie with plenty of FX so he got what I would call "Art through adversity" moment: He changed the time setting and the premise to be able to use live actors most of the time. He also shifted the genre of the movie from futuristic sci-fi into a dark action thriller where the viewers wouldn't initially know anything about the killing machine other than its mission.
The movie as a whole is a well-paced, very competently directed 80's action film, with the added elements of psychological horror and thriller. We tend to forget it nowadays after having seen every terminator movie that came out after it, but in 1984 while watching the movie for the first time no one knew what the terminator could do and what not, and most importantly, how it even looked underneath Arnie's skin. The gradual reveal of the machine throughout the film is a work of genius, as is its relentless hunt for Sarah. The tech-noir scene where Kyle Reese shoots the terminator at point blank range repeatedly only for it to twitch it's fingers after a couple of seconds on the floor and get back up just as determined suddenly becomes truly terrifying. What is this THING after her!?
Schwarzenegger was originally cast as Kyle Reese but as soon as James Cameron laid eyes upon him he changed his mind and made him the robot instead, the first of many good casting decisions. Linda Hamilton plays a fish out of water between Kyle and the Terminator; Michael Biehn is a loud shellshocked veteran; Schwarzenegger is a machine with no feelings and just one mission he pursues with uncanny determination. They all work well in their own archetypical roles and as much as one could ask for some more character depth there isn't really the need or time to do so. We are forced to activate our willing suspension of disbelief but once it's on, everything in this movie works.
The pacing, the gradual and bloody reveal of the Terminator, the dark and gritty shoots, the ominous music... all elements in this movie were done with a clear intention in mind. The final reveal of the T-800's metal chassis and the chase scene inside the factory is the end line that embodies the whole movie's build up. Sarah and Kyle only with their wits in a world of machines followed relentlessly by a killer who will stop at nothing short of succesfully accomplishing its mission. The day is saved at the price of Kyle's life and Sarah having to fulfill her arch from regular damisel in distress to she-wolf mother of the leader of the resistance.