The figure arose like a phoenix from the flames, those red and orange waves of fire reflected on its chrome surface. The metallic skeleton, twisted and broken from an immense explosion, remains single-minded with purpose and unrelenting in its determination to wreak havoc, yet even as its mangled form crawls from the wreckage, it remains every bit as imposing, a creature that brings only death and destruction. It was this vision, conjured from a fevered dream, that would light the spark that, in just a few short years, would terrify audiences around the world during the tense final moments of a low budget science fiction picture. But as a struggling filmmaker lay sick in his bed, nightmarish visions of an indestructible robot from another time began to infiltrate his sleep, and by morning the genesis of The Terminator had begun.
At its core, science fiction has long explored the ambitions of man, his fascination with playing God and the price that he must pay when his creation finally turns on its master. Exploring contemporary themes in an effort to predict the future, the genre, both in literary form and its cinematic counterpart, have served as a warning for the innovations of science and technology and how with each invention we push our species closer to extinction. This theme was at the core of James Cameron’s concept for The Terminator, the story of a cyborg assassin sent from the future, whose sole mission was to eliminate the future leader of the resistance and thus bring humanity to an end. Much like the misguided Victor Frankenstein, who attempted to create a being in his own image, only to give life to a monster that seeks to destroy him, science fiction serves as a lesson for how pushing the boundaries of the imagination and scientific progress can lead the human race to its own demise.
During the last two decades of the twentieth century, advancements in robotics would push Cyberdyne Systems into new areas of scientific possibilities. Reverse-engineering the remains of a cyborg supposedly sent back in time from a future war, the corporation had developed a series of military robots under the command of Skynet, a defence network that would eventually become self-aware and, following the army’s attempt to take the system offline, saw mankind as its enemy. On Friday, 29 August 1997, Skynet declared war on the human race and initiated a worldwide nuclear attack on its new adversary, bringing to an end three billion lives in a single day, a moment that the survivors would come to call Judgement Day. In the ruins of civilisation, a small band of freedom fighters attempted to turn the tide against the invading forces, hiding underground from Hunter Killer drones and cybernetic infiltration units, but one man emerged from the chaos, a symbol of strength and defiance, who lead the battle-worn soldiers towards victory against their unstoppable enemy: John Connor.
By 2029, Skynet sensed its own imminent defeat and so a cyborg, a near-indestructible robotic endoskeleton covered with human tissue, was sent back in time to the year 1984: its mission; to terminator Connor’s mother, Sarah, before he was born, thus bringing an end to the resistance. But Connor sent back his own soldier, Kyle Reese, a man who would stop at nothing to save John’s mother, even at the risk of losing his own life. And by the time the cyborg was finally destroyed, Reese was dead and Sarah now burdened with the knowledge of the coming apocalypse, the day billions of humans would breathe their last breath and the machines enslaved the human race. Her unborn son was destined to one day become mankind’s last hope and only she had the foresight to change this future. The battle for tomorrow begins today.
‘Science fiction has always asked the great and profound questions: What is it to be human? What is our place in the grand scheme of things? Are we alone in that vastness or part of a great community? What does it all mean? What will happen next? Are we doomed, or destined for greatness?’ proclaimed Cameron in 2018’s James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction. ‘It’s a genre that’s not afraid of the deepest philosophical abyss. This thematic depth hooked me as a teenager after the flashy robots and slavering monsters lured me in as a kid. I started as a rabid consumer of sci-fi novels, films and television. I gorged myself on every paperback and magazine I could find with a spaceship or robot on the cover. I stayed up till the wee hours for every Friday night creature feature. I knew the black-and-white B-movies of the fifties by heart. I had an encyclopedic knowledge of every alien invasion strategy; every pod or spore or meteor-borne blob of goo by which they came to walk among us.’
When The Terminator was released in the autumn of 1984, the science fiction genre was enjoying something of a resurgence, with the eighties promising exciting innovations in the world of technology. With the advancement in home computers, cellular telephones and computer games having a significant impact on everyday life, this new decade promised a post-Star Wars world of endless possibilities that inevitably had an influence on both fantasy writers and filmmakers. Arthur C. Clarke followed his seminal novel 2001: A Space Odyssey with the long-awaited sequel 2010: Odyssey Two, while William Gibson ushered in the era of cyberpunk with the cult classic Neuromancer. Science fiction on the big screen had become even more prolific, with the Philip K. Dick adaptation Blade Runner pushing the boundaries of special effects, while the Australian action epic Mad Max 2 depicted a post-apocalyptic world in which its survivors scavenge for food and fuel in a hostile environment.
With the world revelling in advancements in animatronics and artificial intelligence, perhaps it was inevitable that a movie such as The Terminator would play on this real-world paranoia as the human race slowly approached the moment of singularity, a point in time when technology becomes unstoppable and humanity is unable to control its own creation. The world that Cameron would create – Skynet, the Terminators and John Connor, the last hope for mankind – came from a nightmare he had suffered while recovering from a fever that he had developed during post-production on his first motion picture, an ill-fated creature feature called Piranha 2: The Spawning. But his love of science fiction had begun much earlier, and it was his fascination with spaceships and robots that would lead him from small-town Canada to the bright lights of Los Angeles.
‘I can pinpoint exactly when I first became really excited about film,’ Cameron told Fangoria in 1984. ‘It was 1968, when I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time, at the age of fourteen, and saw a film that was a piece of art, completely independent of all my preconceptions of what a film is supposed to do. It made me aware of visual possibilities and musical possibilities that had never occurred to me before, and had me thinking for the first time that it was something that I’d really like to do.’ In a 1992 interview with Four Screenplays he elaborated further; ‘I borrowed my dad’s Super-8 camera and would try to shoot things with different frame rates just to see how it looked. I had a fascination with it, but it couldn’t see myself as a future film director. In fact, there was a definite feeling on my part that those people were somehow born into it, almost like a caste system. Little kids from a small town in Canada didn’t get to direct movies.’
While he found minor work shooting industrial films in the mid-seventies, it would be upon viewing Star Wars in 1977 that Cameron had finally realised what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. The fantasy picture, written and directed by a young filmmaker called George Lucas, took the world by storm and its overnight success had significant repercussions on the film industry. Prior to its release, science fiction had fallen out of favour with the public, but by the end of the seventies every producer, both mainstream and independent, were desperate to create their own imitator. Cameron’s first attempt to making his own Star Wars came the following year with Xenogenesis, a twelve-minute short film financed through a consortium of local dentists that depicted a young woman and her cyborg companion who travel the stars in a sentient spaceship in search of a new home, only to find a long-abandoned station populated by a domestic robot. When it becomes aware of their presence it attempts to destroy the cyborg, but the woman comes to his rescue in an exosuit and the two fight to the death.
It was Chuck who hired Jim Cameron
Remaining unfinished and serving as a production reel for potential employers, Xenogenesis was a blueprint for many of Cameron’s subsequent big budget productions, from the cyborg of The Terminator to the use of an exosuit to fight an otherworldly entity, a concept he would return to almost a decade later with Aliens. Although plans to develop the short film into a feature were ultimately abandoned, Cameron used the footage to enter the world of special effects when he joined the legendary New World Pictures, a production company owned by independent pioneer Roger Corman. One of the countless studios attempting to emulate the success of Star Wars, Cameron soon found himself working on a space fantasy called Battle Beyond the Stars. ‘I went to effects houses with my script and heard bids of $5m and $7m. This was a $2m film,’ recalled Corman in his book How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lose a Dime. ‘The best bid we got was from a likeable guy named Chuck Kaminsky, who worked at one of the effects houses. I offered him a raise over his current salary and asked him to head a whole new in-house special effects company by New World. It was Chuck who hired Jim Cameron.’
Having made a suitable impression designing the hero’s spaceship for Battle Beyond the Stars, Cameron soon began rising through the ranks of New World, working on such B-movies as Galaxy of Terror and Android, until he was eventually promoted to head of the special effects department and second unit director. It would be during the time that he spent on Escape from New York, a science fiction action thriller from cult filmmaker John Carpenter, that he was further influenced in the creation of The Terminator. Carpenter, alongside producer and confidant Debra Hill, had retained full control over the majority of his feature films and thus, ‘A John Carpenter Film’ was a promise to the audience of a certain style of motion picture. Michael Myers, the demented killer of Carpenter’s 1978 slasher classic Halloween, would provide inspiration for the eponymous cyborg assassin in The Terminator, with both a silent force of nature that remains emotionless and unstoppable, a pure personification of evil. It would be during this time at New World that Cameron finally felt he was ready to direct a motion picture of his own.
In 1978, Corman had produced a tongue-in-cheek monster movie called Piranha, in which the residents of a rural community are devoured by a school of mutant flesh-eating fish. In much the same way that Battle Beyond the Stars had attempted to capitalise on the success of Star Wars, Piranha had been one of several low budget creature features released in the wake of the Jaws phenomenon of the mid-seventies and marked the commercial debut of New World graduate Joe Dante. The movie had become an unexpected success with both audiences and critics, and while Corman had made no attempt to secure the rights to a sequel, his associate Jeff Schechtman was approached to develop a follow-up. With notorious producer Ovidio G. Assonitis on board to finance the project, Piranha 2: The Spawning was to mark the directorial debut of Miller Drake, who had recently completed second unit photography on another exploitation picture, Lewis Teague’s Alligator.
Despite all the pieces having fallen into place, conflicts soon began to grow between Assonitis and Drake and eventually the latter was removed from the production. With no director and cameras already rolling on their Jamaican set, Cameron was brought in as a last-minute replacement. ‘With Piranha 2, I tried to survive and get my name on it, then I tried to survive and get my name off it,’ he admitted in 1986. ‘When I was in Jamaica, the Italian producer decided that it would be a really good idea if he wrote and directed some second unit scenes on the island’s other side with some topless women. He wanted to cut these scenes into the film that I was directing on the other side of the island. So, I later went to Rome and ingratiated myself back into the production. Well, I wavered on the edge of fighting and running for a while, and I stayed to fight because I had worked really hard on it. Also, I got some pretty good performances out of the actors, and I knew that, dramatically, the story was working. I went there, and the producer wouldn’t show me certain reels. So I just broke into the cutting room and ran them for myself.’
It was during this mission to Rome that Cameron developed a severe fever that would result in visions of a damaged-yet-relentless robot crawling from a fire, and while he felt defeated and somewhat of a failure for the mess that Piranha 2: The Spawning had become, the nightmare of a cyborg had taken root within his subconscious, and by the time he returned to the United States, he knew that if he was ever to get the opportunity to direct a second motion picture, then this science fiction movie he had envisioned would be it. And much like how John Carpenter had Debra Hill as his must trusted collaborator, during his time at New World, Cameron had grown close to a rising producer called Gale Anne Hurd. ‘I had written a treatment and most of the first draft of The Terminator, which she become involved in polishing,’ recalled Cameron to Starlog in 1984. ‘Our strength in doing the movie was pooling our resources and forming an impenetrable barrier to anyone who wanted to take it away from us or change the concept.’
As The Terminator entered pre-production, the lucrative slasher cycle of the early eighties was gradually coming to an end. Having first become a regular fixture of the American box office following the surprise success of Friday the 13th in the summer of 1980, an array of derivative pictures over-saturated cinemas and drive-ins across the country, each one following the template laid out by either Friday the 13th or its inspiration, Halloween, almost note-for-note. In each of these low budget horror films, a group of naïve teenagers were stalked and slaughtered one-by-one by a lurking figure that watches from the shadows. Michael Myers had become the archetypal slasher villain, and while Cameron’s cyborg would hide in plain sight and only target those singled out for its mission, there were notable comparisons between the monster in The Terminator and Carpenter’s earlier thriller. In between the robotics, time travel and prophecies of the end of the world lay the story of a young woman terrorised by an unstoppable killer, a formula the horror genre would recycle for decades to come in the guise of the final girl.
First introduced in the mid-seventies with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas, during a time when the women’s liberation movement had begun to make a significant impact on the western world, the final girl would be the female hero of a story who, after all potential saviours had perished, is forced to defend herself and ultimately defeat the monster. This had become a trademark of the Friday the 13th franchise but could also be seen in more respected films such as Alien. ‘She is the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril,’ detailed author Carol J. Clover in her 1992 analysis Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. ‘The final girl is boyish, in a word. Just as the killer is not fully masculine, she is not fully feminine; not, in any case, feminine in the way of her friends.’
Another trademark of the slasher film was the indestructible killer; an emotionless, humanoid force of nature. Much like how Michael Myers stalked the streets of Haddonfield or Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees prowled through the woods of Crystal Lake, the T-800 – Skynet’s Terminator model sent back in time to the mid-eighties to eliminate Sarah Connor – lacks empathy or fear, is single-minded in purpose and will never abandon its mission until its objective is complete. Taking elements from not only Myers but also Yul Brynner’s homicidal android in Westworld, the Terminator remains constant and unwilling to accept defeat. In the future war, the T-800 are a new model that were designed to infiltrate the camps of the resistance, a combat cyborg that attempts to assimilate itself into the populace. Cameron had initially created the Terminator as a figure that would blend into a crowd, an everyday man that remains undetected until it was ready to strike.
While the Terminator had been envisioned with no specific actor in mind, Cameron would turn to one of his cast from Piranha 2: The Spawning to help develop the character. ‘I read the script for The Terminator very early on,’ explained Lance Henriksen, who during his time on the set of Cameron’s first movie had resulted in the two becoming close friends. ‘Jim was saying that he wanted me to play the Terminator. I used to talk to Jim about it and say, ‘What if? What if? What if?’ If I had played the Terminator I would have played it much more as something that was able to shut down and wait for the right moment. It would have been very different. When the movie was happening Jim said, ‘Look, I have a meeting to get the money for this, so you go in fifteen minutes before I get there and show them what the Terminator would be like.”
The meeting in question would take place in the office of John Daly who, alongside actor David Hemmings, had founded Hemdale Film Corporation in 1967. Wearing homemade make-up and entering the office with robotic movements that meant to represent the T-800, Henriksen made a suitable first impression on the producer and was instrumental in the project finally getting the greenlight. Yet while Hemdale were willing to take a chance on an unproven director, the production’s co-financer Orion Pictures had no interest in casting Henriksen, forcing Cameron to instead reduce the actor to a supporting role. ‘That was a tough call on my part,’ he told OMNI. ‘He was supposed to be this anonymous face in the crowd that could walk up and kill you.’ With Henriksen out of the picture, the studio began to put pressure on the filmmakers to cast a recognisable face in the role of the Terminator.
One of the more unexpected suggestions would come from Orion co-founder Mike Medavoy, who pushed to cast football legend O.J. Simpson in the role. Following his retirement from the world of sport, Simpson – known to football fans as ‘The Juice’ – embarked on a new career as an actor. ‘Gale and I looked at each other and thought, ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!’ Mind you, this was before O.J. was actually a killer,’ Cameron told Entertainment Weekly. ‘This was when everybody loved him, and ironically that was part of the problem; he was this likeable, goofy, kind of innocent guy. Plus, frankly I wasn’t interested in an African-American man chasing around a white girl with a knife. It just felt wrong.’ With Cameron refusing to even consider casting Simpson, a chance meeting with a rising star at a Hollywood party convinced Medavoy that he had at least found the right actor to portray the heroic Kyle Reese.
Born in a small village in Austria two years after the end of the Second World War, Arnold Schwarzenegger spent a childhood in poverty, but while in his teens he developed a passion for bodybuilding and would spend hours each day at the local gym. He would also idolise Steve Reeves, a former Mr. Universe who had become a household name following his performance as Hercules. Reeves’ success would inspire Schwarzenegger and by the time he was twenty he had already been crowned Mr. Universe. ‘I still remember that first visit to the bodybuilding gym,’ said Schwarzenegger in his 1977 memoir Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder. ‘I had never seen anyone lift weights before. I found myself walking around them, staring at muscles I couldn’t even name, muscles I’d never even seen before. The weightlifters shone with sweat; they were powerful-looking, Herculean. And there it was before me; my life, the answer I’d been seeking. It clicked. It was something I suddenly just seemed to reach out and find, as if I’d been crossing a suspended bridge and finally stepped onto solid ground.’
Schwarzenegger had clear designs on how the Terminator should be portrayed
Following in the footsteps of his idol, in 1968 Schwarzenegger was cast as the heroic lead in the comedy Hercules in New York, but it would be the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, released a decade later, that first lead to filmmaker John Milius casting Schwarzenegger in the lead of his sword-and-sorcery blockbuster Conan the Barbarian. When his name was suggested to Cameron for the role of Reese, the director had little interest in entertaining the notion but as a courtesy agreed to meet the young actor. With Cameron still under pressure to cast Simpson as the T-800, he was eager to bring the meeting to an end, but during their discussion it soon became clear that Schwarzenegger had clear designs on how he thought the Terminator should be portrayed.
‘I found that, in reading the script and speaking with Jim, I became more and more enthusiastic with the character of the Terminator, rather than Reese,’ confirmed Schwarzenegger while promoting the movie. ‘So, after our meeting, Jim Cameron called me back and offered me the title role, because he felt that I locked into the character, and had some good ideas on how it should be played. I make my career decisions according to how I feel about the role, rather than how the people out there will feel about my screen image. If your decisions are always based on trying to outguess the public, trying to figure out what will make you a bigger star and more popular, you will run into serious trouble. Richard Gere, for instance, was a big success in American Gigolo, but after that he played the same sort of character in two films and he fell on his face. Or Stallone, trying to do the same sort of thing with Paradise Alley as he did with Rocky, and it just didn’t work.’
The casting of the T-800 may have been a key element to the success of the picture but even more important was the believability in the technology that the movie proposed, particularly in that the audience would have to be convinced that a cyborg such as this could exist in the future. The seventies had seen a significant advancement in Hollywood special effects, with a new generation of artists such as Rob Bottin, Tom Savini and Rick Baker exploring the potential of prosthetics, but for The Terminator, Cameron required something more; a cyborg that was gradually stripped of its flesh until only a metal skeleton remained. Having first approached Dick Smith, the celebrated artist renowned for his work on both The Exorcist and The Godfather, Cameron was suggested a rising artist in the field of special effects, one that could bring his vision to fruition. ‘What I thought was cutting edge was deciding to not have a guy in a robot suit,’ claimed Cameron in 2009. ‘But a flesh-covered endoskeleton? That was new. So for me it was all about how we could develop stop-motion animation and puppetry to create a true robotic endoskeleton. The team at Stan Winston Studio jumped into it and made it work.’
When Stan Winston moved from Virginia to California in the late sixties he had dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian or actor, but following a make-up apprenticeship at Disney he knew what his calling should be, and by 1973 had won a Primetime Emmy for his work on the made-for-television film Gargoyles. After collaborating with Henriksen for the first time on the splatter movie Mansion of the Doomed, Winston found further success with the hit musical The Wiz, but as the decade made way for the eighties he found himself working on a slew of low budget horror films. By the time Cameron walked through the doors of his workshop, Winston had become a highly respected artist in the field of special effects, but aside from the occasional fantasy, all directors ever demanded from him were mutilations, decapitations and eviscerations. But with The Terminator he had found a project that would test his skills and imagination, one that truly allowed him to elevate the art of effects to new heights.
The Terminator may have been a relatively low budget production, but its technical demands immediately forced Winston to expand his crew of artists, recruiting many young hopefuls who would work on different aspects of the required effects. The central piece was the T-800, a humanoid metallic skeleton that served as a military robot in the future and, when covered with human flesh, was an infiltration unit assigned to terminate key members of the resistance. With his background in special effects, Cameron drew detailed conceptual artwork that Winston used as the basis for his designs, including sketches of the Terminator with portions of skin stripped from its frame. Among the ambitious ideas that Winston would employ was building a life-size endoskeleton for certain shots and a half-size T-800 that would be rigged to the back of an operator. ‘I was really into the puppet thing by then, and so I wanted to build this endoskeleton as a full-size puppet,’ Winston told author Jody Duncan in 2006. ‘I told Jim that I’d been developing pioneering techniques, using rods, radio control and Jim Henson’s methodologies.’
Despite Gale Anne Hurd having been an unproven producer, with only the long-forgotten Smokey Bites the Dust on her résumé, her time under the tutelage of Corman had taught her how to make every cent count and she would put every lesson into practise on The Terminator. Having succeeded in raising a budget of approximately $4m through an agreement between Hemdale, Orion Pictures and television network HBO, it was clear from the outset that Hurd would be to Cameron what Debra Hill was to John Carpenter. ‘I learned that I’m a fairly quick study,’ Hurd told Interview Magazine in 2017. ‘The other key ingredient to success, I learned, is relying on not only the kindness of strangers, but the kindness of colleagues. It wasn’t the backstabbing industry that I had been warned about. There were so many kind, generous and supportive people without whom I never would have succeeded.’
With Cameron having finally committed to the casting of the Terminator with Schwarzenegger, there was still the important issue of finding suitable actors to portray the other two central characters: Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor. While Tricia O’Neil had given an impressive performance as the heroine of Piranha 2: The Spawning, Sarah would be the first of several strong females that Cameron either created or improved upon; Aliens’ Ellen Ripley, The Abyss’ Lindsey Brigman and Titanic’s Rose Dewitt Bukater. ‘People think that I was a typical male director who was brought to task by a strong female producer and forced to do these themes,’ claimed Cameron in 2014. ‘My respect for strong women is what attracted me to Gale. It’s what made me want to work with her. Ultimately, it’s what made me want to be married to her.’
Over the years, Sarah Connor has often been cited as an example of a strong female character, a role model for young women, yet while in Terminator 2: Judgment Day she is transformed into an action hero, in The Terminator she is depicted as a somewhat naïve and weak individual who, over the course of the story, is forced to connect with her inner warrior. ‘We thought of it as very much a science fiction film, and one with a theme that I think you find in many of Jim’s films,’ Hurd explained to Forbes. ‘Which is, ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and how they can survive, because it’s important that we identify with them. But, the twist here of course is that the female character is the protagonist, even though it’s called The Terminator it’s really Sarah Connor’s story.’
People were excited about the first script for The Terminator
A culmination of several females in his life – his mother, the fearless woman; his first wife, the waitress – Sarah Connor represented something personal for Cameron and so the casting of the character was paramount. Among the actresses brought in to read for the part was twenty-one-year-old Jennifer Jason Leigh, who had made her big screen debut in 1981 with the slasher movie Eyes of a Stranger, before landing her breakout role in the cult comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But of all the young hopefuls who would audition, the one that made the greatest impression on Cameron and Hurd was Strasberg graduate Linda Hamilton. Having recently completed work on the Stephen King adaptation Children of the Corn, the twenty-seven-year-old actress had little interest in The Terminator when she was first introduced to the project. ‘I was a New York-trained actress,’ Hamilton told Smashing Interviews Magazine. ‘People were excited about the first script for The Terminator, and I’m not sure why because Jim Cameron didn’t really have a huge following or a big name at that time. But the fact that Arnold was in it, I was like, ‘Hmmm, I will reserve my judgement.’ I actually went to the set. He started before I did. I don’t think anybody would’ve called him a great actor in those days, but I went and watched him as the Terminator and thought, ‘Okay, this is working.’’
Although Hamilton was initially dismissive of the project, Cameron and Hurd saw Sarah Connor as the heart of the story and the emotional connection with which the audience could invest in the events of the movie. ‘Look at the journey of Sarah Connor; she works as a waitress, she doesn’t know what she is going to do with her life, and the finds out she is the key to the continuation of the human race in the war against the machines,’ described Hurd. ‘And she finds the strength within herself to take it on. We all have that strength. She’s not just a character in a movie. We need to empower ourselves and believe in ourselves, and not allow the world to take that away from us. No matter how dark we may think our world is, it’s been much darker in the past, and we will make it through.’
If Sarah Connor is the everyday young woman forced to fight for her life, then Kyle Reese is the hardened war veteran who during his brief time with Sarah discovers compassion and his own humanity. Both characters embark on an emotional journey throughout the story and so the casting of Reese and the actor’s chemistry with his co-star was an important piece of the puzzle. Born in Alabama and raised in Nebraska, Michael Biehn was just two months older than Hamilton and had already gained attention for his performance as a stalker in the 1981 thriller The Fan. When The Terminator first came into his life, Biehn was rehearsing a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for theatre producer José Quintero, and despite delivering an impressive reading at his audition, had failed to lose the southern accent from his role in the play, a mistake that almost cost him the part of Reese.
‘When I first read the script I thought it was okay, but I felt it had the possibility of being a really cheesy, silly science fiction movie if the wrong person was directing it,’ admitted Biehn to Syfy Wire. ‘And in the hands of anyone other than Jim Cameron’s, it probably would’ve been a silly movie. This story about a man sent from the future to 1984 to save a woman from a robot also sent from the future. The reason I took the role was because I really liked the character of Kyle Reese and I knew I could play the character really well. Even if the movie didn’t do well, that was a really good character; a great fighter in love with the woman he was sent to protect. That part made me think, ‘Well, I can probably come out of this unscathed.’ My outlook started to change after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s option to make the sequel to Conan the Barbarian got picked up. Production on The Terminator got pushed back about three months, and during those three months, I got to spend a lot of time with Jim Cameron, and I knew right away I was dealing with somebody who was really taking this seriously.’
During the delay in production, Biehn underwent firearms and martial arts training in order to capture the tough and battle-hardened mentality of a soldier. And despite being preoccupied with his work on Conan the Destroyer, Schwarzenegger was determined to capture the inhuman killing machine aspect of the T-800. ‘When I came back from Mexico in February 1984, I was ready to start preparing for The Terminator. I had just a month before we started shooting. The challenge was to lock into the cyborg’s cold, no-emotion behaviour,’ recalled Schwarzenegger in his autobiography Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. ‘I worked with guns every day before we filmed, and for the first two weeks of filming I practised stripping and reassembling them blindfolded until the motions were automatic. I spent endless hours at the shooting range, learning techniques for a whole arsenal of different weapons, getting used to their noise so that I wouldn’t blink. As the Terminator, when you cock or load a gun, you don’t look down any more than Conan would look down to sheath his sword.’
As documented in the press kit that was issued to cinemas prior to the film’s release, principal photography on The Terminator commenced on Wednesday, 19 March 1984 in Los Angeles, the city where Cameron’s story would take place. The audience were first introduced to Schwarzenegger’s T-800 when, after an electrical storm ricochets among the trucks of an industrial site, its large naked figure arrives from the future and, its eyes darting from side-to-side like an animal hunting for its prey, carefully surveys its surroundings. Slowly making its way towards the Griffith Park Observatory, the Terminator approaches a trio of young punks that are hell-bent on causing chaos. Identified in the novelisation as Kotex, Rick and Mark, it orders the latter to relinquish his clothes. Pulling out their knives and preparing to strike, the hulking man launches Kotex against a metal gate before thrusting its fist through Rick’s stomach, blood dripping from its fingers as it forcibly removes its hand from his cavity. Looking down at the bloody remains of his friend, Mark backs against the wall and begins to remove his clothes as the T-800 watches on impatiently.
In another part of the city there is a second flash and another naked man falls hard on the concrete. Less muscular than the first figure, Kyle Reese is malnourished and scarred with the sins of an age-old war. Unlike the Terminator, he struggles to catch his breath after the experience of travelling through time. ‘One thing I will say about it is I didn’t land,’ stated Biehn. ‘A stuntman landed. That was one of the most amazing, difficult stunts, and I have been around a lot of action films. James had the camera wide and low, so the stuntman was laying on a board sideways, and he was naked. When Jim called action, he had to jump off and hit the cement. And it was not fake cement. It was the streets of L.A., and so it was a brutal thing. If you slow it down, you can see his body just shake and crumble. It wasn’t me, and to tell you the truth, the shot of me running away, I’ve never known if that was my ass or not.’
Having avoided capture by the police, Reese tears a page from a phonebook that lists the addresses of three women called Sarah Connor. The T-800, working from the same mandate, forces his way into the home of the first Sarah Connor listed in the directory and executes her in cold blood. With many records relating to the personal life of John Connor having been destroyed during the war, Skynet had little information regarding his mother beyond her name, and so the Terminator’s mission was to eliminate every woman with this name in the Los Angeles area. After a second Sarah Connor is found murdered in the same day, the police launch an investigation and attempt to reach out to the last surviving Sarah, a young waitress that is destined to one day become the mother of the future. ‘I’m not sure she was particularly deep in that first film.’ Hamilton confessed to Polygon. ‘We certainly didn’t know that we were going to be launching a franchise and I’d be returning to play her seven years later. The role seemed very straightforward and playable to me.’
For Schwarzenegger, it was important that his co-stars feared his character and that this translated onto the screen. ‘I didn’t try to build chemistry with Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn,’ insisted Schwarzenegger in 2012. ‘They get a lot of screen time, but they were irrelevant as far as my character was concerned. The Terminator was a machine. He didn’t care what they did. He was just there to kill them and move on. They would tell me of scenes they shot when I was not there. That was all good, as long as the acting was good and they sold their stuff. But it was not a situation where we had a relationship. The less chemistry, the better. I mean, God forbid there’s chemistry between a machine and a human being! So I kept my mind off them. It was almost like they were making their own drama that had nothing to do with mine.’
The three principal characters would finally cross paths for the first time when Sarah, terrified by the realisation that two other women called Sarah Connor have been murdered, takes refuge in a sleazy new wave nightclub called Tech Noir. Sensing that she is being following she tries to blend into the crowd but suddenly the T-800 emerges, raising its weapon as it prepares to strike. Suddenly a shot echoes out, followed by four more, knocking the Terminator off its feet, but before Reese has chance to rescue Sarah, the T-800 opens fire on the crowd, showering the innocent clubgoers with bullets as Sarah runs for cover. With a well-timed shotgun blast, Reese sends the machine hurtling through the window and out onto the city streets. To accomplish the scene, the filmmakers recruited the services of a Canadian stuntman and actor called Peter Kent, a man who would spend the next decade standing in for Schwarzenegger on such action movies as Predator, The Running Man and Total Recall.
‘I did theatre in school and then regional theatre just before I left for Los Angeles in 1983, so I was pretty much set up and ready for it, I just didn’t have any connections when I got to L.A. and didn’t know anyone there,’ Kent recalled to Terminator Fans. ‘My first time in The Terminator was going backwards through the Tech Noir nightclub window, and it was pretty scary because I had no real idea what I was doing. I was just bluffing it. The stunt coordinator Frank Orsatti found me out that night and helped me out to make sure I didn’t get killed. I’m grateful to him and Bobby Yerkes (famous circus trainer) who took me under their wings and helped give me the career that I’ve had. Especially Bob, who went out of his way to train a lot of young stunt guys at his ranch in the San Fernando Valley. My good stunt-buddy Max Daniels can attest to that one as well. Bob was a very generous guy and trained all the actors there for the old series Circus of the Stars, where actors would perform like circus folk.’
Kyle Reese is just a dangerous fantasist
With Reese and Sarah barely making it out of Tech Noir alive, they attempt to escape but the T-800 is immediately in pursuit, stealing a police car and giving chase. While the action would continue, the purpose of this portion of the story was exposition, in which he explained the coming war, her unborn son’s victory over Skynet and the mission of the Terminator. ‘It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with,’ he insists. ‘It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And it will absolutely not stop, ever, until you are dead.’ This backstory was as much for the benefit of the audience as it was for Sarah, as up until this point the reason for the T-800’s systematic executions were unclear. And yet while the audience know that he is telling the truth, Sarah understandably believes that he is lying, that time travel and cyborgs are just not possible, and that in reality Kyle Reese is just a dangerous fantasist.
‘Sarah knew that all he had just said was four-star bullshit,’ wrote Randall Frakes and William Wisher in their official novelisation. ‘But what about the technicolour bloodbath she’d just been whisked away from? What about the man who had leaped through the fire, his demon-dead eyes fixed on her as he reached down, hair flaming, punched through the window, and then tried to pluck her out of the car? Her. Little Sarah Connor. And what about those other Sarah Connors someone had been offing all day? There had to be a rational, wonderfully reasonable explanation for all this madness. But logic and rationalism were out of the window and far down the block, abandoning her. Because it was dead and calmly got to its feet. Think Sarah, come up with an answer.’
The novelisation that Bartam Books would publish a year after the movie’s release was significant in the history of the Terminator series due to its two authors. Randall Frakes had assisted Cameron both with the directing and writing of the Xenogenesis short film, a project William Wisher had taken the lead role in. Following an attempt at an acting career, Wisher turned to screenwriting and performed an uncredited rewrite on The Terminator, before reuniting with Cameron seven years later to co-write Terminator 2: Judgment Day. ‘I first met Jim in late 1972. He had graduated from high school in Canada the year before and I knew his girlfriend at the time, Sharon Williams, and she said, ‘You should meet my boyfriend because he’s into the movies,’’ Wisher told Flickering Myth. In a 2016 interview he discussed his work on the novelisation; ‘It was fun to know you could wander about the landscape, taking your time and embellishing characters. It was much more of a lark and much less of a disciplined exercise than writing a screenplay, which is far more like journalism, where every single word counts, and the few of them the better.’
Following a relentless high speed chase, Reese and Sarah are taking into custody by the authorities while an injured T-800 returns to its hideout to repair itself. While flashbacks to the future had showcased the full endoskeleton that Winston’s team had created, and Schwarzenegger had played the deadly cyborg with conviction, the audience would need to see flesh torn from the Terminator to reveal the machine underneath, thus cementing the concept that this killer was indeed not human. ‘Arnold came to Stan’s shop,’ recalled special effects artist Tom Woodruff Jr. ‘To look at him, he was a man-mountain but actually a very nice congenial guy. And the perfect person to play a human form wrapped over a metal skeleton, because you looked at him and he didn’t seem a hundred per cent natural. We all sat down with a clay casting of Arnold and just started sculpting it away, putting in glass eyes and acrylic teeth and pieces of metal details, and trying to come up with how it would look fleshed out as a three-dimensional puppet.’
Although Schwarzenegger would enjoy the experience of making The Terminator and remained enthusiastic about shooting a sequel for years to come, he was forced to endure hours in the make-up chair in order to create the look of the damaged T-800. ‘It’s not easy,’ admitted Schwarzenegger to Fangoria. ‘Having your head cast is always a little terrifying, because your whole head is covered up, while you breathe through little straws, for so long, though I was used to it because they had cast my head for Conan. Elaborate make-ups are always uncomfortable to work in, and sitting there for four hours to have appliances put on your face isn’t much help; you can’t eat for ten hours at a time, because you can’t move your mouth. But it’s part of the job, and I’m used to head-casting and long make-ups because of Conan.’
The scene in which the T-800 repairs a damaged eye and arm would showcase the ingenious talents of Winston and his team and also helped to make the motion picture appeal to the horror crowd, who were at fever pitch during the early eighties. Inspired by an exhibition at Disneyland called Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, an animatronic stage show launched in 1965 that demonstrated the full potential of the technology, Winston took an array of photographs of Schwarzenegger, made a lifecast and then created moulds of his head. ‘With these puppets, we were going much further than just creating actor dummies. We were creating replicas of an actor that would be scrutinised by the camera, so they had to be absolutely realistic looking,’ explained Winston. ‘Normally, if someone wanted to create a dummy of an actor, they would take a lifecast, pull out a positive of that, and then carve in the eyes and so forth. But if you want an exact replica of an actor, you can’t do a straight lifecast, because of the distortion that occurs in the casting process. The material tends to pull down the face and create a kind of death mask look. I wanted to push the art of making dummies, and make these puppets perfect replicas of Arnold. So, using photographs, we resculpted the lifemask to take whatever distortions there was out of it, and to make it a more perfect replication of Arnold.’
In a scene reminiscent of Luis Buñuel’s avant-garde classic Un Chien Andalou, the T-800 takes a scalpel and removes its eyeball to reveal a robotic eye underneath. To achieve this effect, Schwarzenegger stood out-of-shot behind the puppet and raised a hand towards its face, scalpel-in-hand, while a puppeteer held open the eye so the surgery could be performed. The eyeball, which had been moulded from gelatine, was sliced open by the actor and then dropped into a sink, for the camera to then cut to a second puppet whose eye had been completely removed. ‘The reason we had to sculpt that open-eye look in the first one was that we couldn’t just stretch open the foam rubber skin of a puppet in a neutral position,’ stated Winston. ‘It would never have looked like real skin stretching. So that ‘movement’ was actually sculpted into that particular puppet head. It also had a gelatine eye, which is what the Terminator cuts into with the X-Acto knife in the scene.’
While the T-800 performs its makeshift surgery, Sarah and Reese have been transported to the local police station, where the latter is interrogated by criminal psychologist Dr. Silberman. In between the special effects-heavy shots of the Terminator’s surgery, the scene between Reese and Silberman provided the audience with further information about the future war and Sarah’s place in it. Identifying himself as a soldier from the year 2029, he explains the rules of time travel – that nothing non-organic can travel through, such as weapons – and how the time displacement machine was destroyed immediately after his time jump. The subplot involving the police investigation of the so-called ‘Phone Book Killer’ would allow the ‘original’ Terminator, Lance Henriksen, the opportunity to once again work with Cameron, having been cast in the supporting role of Detective Yukovich, alongside the late Paul Winfield’s Lieutenant Traxler. Yet this moment of exposition between Reese and the authorities would come to an end with the arrival of the Terminator.
You never see me die
After attempting to gain access to the police station by pretending to be a friend of Sarah Connor, the T-800 assesses the structure of the lobby and returns moments later, crashing through the door at high speed in its stolen car. With Traxler alerted to the danger, he amasses his officers to defend the station and their witness, while Vukovich orders a subordinate to watch over Reese. But during the chaos he manages to overpower his guard and frantically searches for Sarah as the machine moves from room to room, executing anyone that stands in its way. With Traxler wounded and unable to defend himself, his partner attempts to stand his ground, yet an off-screen shotgun blast would insinuate his fate. For Henriksen, however, the fact that his death was not witnessed by the viewer meant that he could potentially appear in a sequel. ‘They’re going to make a second Terminator,’ Henriksen told Starlog in 1987. ‘You never see me die, so I was telling Jim Cameron that it could start in the hospital with me covered with scars saying, ‘Look, if this guy came once, he’s gonna come again!’’
Following Sarah and Reese’s escape from the police station massacre, they take shelter in an out-of-the-way motel, and it is during this lull from the action that a romance begins to develop between the two survivors and they finally make love. What neither realise in this moment is that this act of passion marks the conception of John Connor, Reese finally revealed as his father. For Cameron, the romance between the two was central to The Terminator. ‘There’s a love story at its heart; to put it in a nutshell, I would call it a romantic nightmare,’ explained Cameron. ‘More work was spent, from a writing and acting standpoint, trying to make the people believable in an everyday setting, both in the future and the present. These are people who get up, eat their Wheaties, complain about how much they’re not getting at work, then something incredible happens. The future comes down on them like a bag of bricks! The female lead, Linda Hamilton, goes from being a coffee shop waitress, a student, to where you can see that she does have the potential to be a world leader, which is what she will become.’
Sarah finally reveals the warrior within during the action-packed finale that would see a high-speed chase leading to the T-800 trapped inside an exploding truck, an exhausted Sarah watching as the flesh melts from the cyborg’s face. For a moment they believe they have succeeded but suddenly the mechanical endoskeleton rises from the flames, Cameron’s feverish dream becoming a reality three years after his ill-fated mission to Rome. ‘Sarah saw the cyborg now over Reese’s shoulder,’ detailed Frakes and Wisher in their novelisation. ‘She lifted him, pulling him toward the building. Terminator followed on a ruined leg. If the ankle joint had not been damaged under the tanker truck, it could easily have overtaken them. Sarah reached the door. Locked. She groped on the ground for something and found a chunk of hot metal. Terminator, coming relentlessly on, was only twenty paces back. She swung the metal at the door and was dismayed when it clanged off the tempered glass without breaking it. She swung again, putting all her hundred and six pounds behind it, and the glass exploded inward.’
Once again, the genius of Winston and his team of artists was on full display as Sarah and Reese escape into a factory, the Terminator in pursuit. Taking his last stand against the cyborg, Reese ignites a pipe bomb and forces it into the robot’s thoracic plate, a moment later the explosion tearing the machine at the waist. An injured Sarah crawls across the grated floor towards Reese, only to find that her lover had sacrificed himself so that she could survive. And still the Terminator remains functional, reaching out for her as it crawls from its own wreckage, determined to complete its mission. To achieve the bisection of the T-800, Winston’s crewman Richard Landon devised a rudimentary replica of the endoskeleton that was rigged with an explosive, with the upper half of the body connected to cables that the operators pulled in order to simulate the torso being propelled into the air from the blast.
With barely any fight remaining and yet driven by animal instinct, Sarah crawls from her predator and climbs under a large hydraulic press, the cyborg desperately reaching out with its metallic claws as she kicks and pulls herself to safety. Finally emerging from the other side, she pulls down a metal gate to hold the T-800 in place and then blindly fumbles her hand across the control panel. The two lock eyes for the final time before Sarah scowls, ‘You’re terminated, fucker!’ And in that moment the warrior within is finally revealed. ‘Sarah, her face inexplicably calm, eyes steady in that infinite instant. She clenches her teeth to keep her from screaming as she waits,’ wrote Cameron and Hurd in their screenplay. ‘Tons of mechanical pressure flatten the Terminator’s head and body like tin-foil. The press screams, jamming solid. Lightning snaps out in one brief blaze, leaping to surrounding machinery, arching to Sarah’s wristwatch. All the Terminator’s energy is released in one second.’
With the T-800 having been the result of various different puppets and operators, its death under the hydraulic press would mark yet another replica, one built using a collapsible polyurethane. But when its destruction did not go to plan, one of the special effects crew was forced to improvise. ‘I took one of the chrome-plated resin skulls we had for the endoskeleton puppets,’ revealed John Rosengrant, whose subsequent work alongside Winston would include Aliens, Predator and Jurassic Park. ‘I covered it with very thin sheet lead. I carved into that lead to create an eye and part of the face, and then painted it; and that’s what we used. That’s the final endoskeleton head you see being smashed in the press in the movie. I had less than an hour to do this, but I liked it. I always found that I liked the situations where everybody is desperate and you have to wing it, those situations where all your plans go out the window and you have to think of something quick.’
An additional scene in the screenplay that was omitted from the final movie saw the aftermath of its destruction, with the manager of the factory ordering an employee to hide a microchip taken from the cyborg’s skull from the authorities, only for the building to be revealed as Cyber Dynamics Corporation. In much the same way that Reese would travel back in time to father John Connor, so too did the Terminator, returning to a time before its own creation where it would provide the blueprint for its own design. This in turn creates a paradox; if Reese and the Terminator travel back in time and in essence father their own future, what came first: the events of 1984 that allowed the birth of Skynet or their travel back in time from 2029? After all, one could not exist without the other. And in the final moments of the film, Sarah prepares for her own future, burdened by the knowledge of the war yet to come, and conflicted on how much she should one day reveal to her son, the saviour of mankind.
Like many low budget productions, the shoot for The Terminator would be a gruelling experience for all involved, both in front and behind the camera. Due to limited resources, the majority of scenes were shot on location around Los Angeles late at night. ‘The Terminator was not what I’d call a happy set. How can you be happy in the middle of the night blowing things up, when everybody is exhausted and the pressure is intense to get complicated action sequences and visual effects just right?’ admitted Schwarzenegger. ‘Cameron was full of surprises. One morning, as soon as I was made up as the Terminator, he said, ‘Get in the van. We’re going to shoot a scene.’ We drove to a nearby residential street, and he said, ‘See that station wagon over there? It’s rigged. When I give the signal, walk up to the driver’s side of the door, look around, punch in the window, open the door and get in, start the engine, and drive off.’ We didn’t have the money to get permission from the city to properly set up the scene of the Terminator jacking the car, so that’s how we did it instead.’
For Hamilton, whose character would progress from naïve young woman to a soldier in just a few short days, her time on the set of The Terminator was an emotionally-draining experience. ‘It was hard on your psyche, it really was. You’re on the run, losing your mother, your lover, your roommate for three months. When I finished, I fought some depression and kept dreaming about the Terminator being at my parents’ house,’ claimed the actress, who also revealed occasional tensions with Cameron; ‘We didn’t particularly like or dislike each other on the first one. I had one huge explosive moment the only time I asked to see playback; Jim was one of the first directors to pioneer it. Usually, I don’t need that, but there was this tough day I think I lost some of my confidence, and when I asked to see playback, he said, ‘We don’t have time. Move on!’ And I absolutely flipped out.’
From its inception, The Terminator was an ambitious project; a blend of science fiction, horror, action and romance, one that questioned mankind’s obsession with pushing the boundaries of science and its reliance on technology. For what was ostensibly a B-movie picture, one made with the sensibilities of a Roger Corman production, such an eclectic melding of genres and probing questions would prove too confusing for the studio to comprehend. ‘They had such little faith in the movie that they didn’t want to screen it for critics,’ revealed Hurd in a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly. ‘The head of marketing almost said as much. And if you were Orion and you had Amadeus, which they had released five weeks before, and which did go on to win Best Picture, well, I can imagine them saying, ‘Amadeus, The Terminator; which one doesn’t fit?’ I can’t blame them now, but at the time I was devastated when they didn’t like it.’
Cameron would also be frustrated by the studio’s lack of understanding and support. ‘When I was finishing the film on a crushing deadline, I met with the head of marketing for Orion Pictures,’ he said in 2018. ‘I gave him my ideas for how we would sell it as a science fiction story. He said, ‘It’s not a science fiction movie. That would be misleading.’ I gaped at him. A movie about time travel and killer robots not a science fiction movie? It took me a while to realise that his understanding of science fiction consisted only of Star Wars.’ Following the mixed response that his 1989 picture The Abyss would receive, Cameron came to understand the paradox of the film industry. ‘What I’ve found after making four movies is how hard it is to please everyone,’ he admitted to Starburst. ‘And one shouldn’t even aspire to that. If you make a movie along any given guidelines, you’re condemned for not being original. But when you attempt to throw off conventions and formulas, the same people say it doesn’t fit the accepted party line.’
The Terminator was surprisingly appealing to women
Even Schwarzenegger, whose performance in The Terminator transformed him into an action superstar, was as equally dismayed by the studio’s handling of the movie. ‘Despite The Terminator’s success, Orion did a terrible job of marketing it,’ he declared. ‘Jim Cameron was bitter. The company was focused instead on promoting Amadeus, the story of the eighteenth-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which went on to win eight Oscars that year. So without giving The Terminator much thought, the marketers positioned it as an ordinary B-movie, even though there were signs from the start that it was much more. Critics wrote about it as a major breakthrough, as if to say, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ People were amazed at what they saw and how it was shot. And it wasn’t just guys who liked it. The Terminator was surprisingly appealing to women, particularly because of the powerful love story between Saran Connor and Kyle Reese.’
Despite mixed-to-positive reviews that surrounded the movie upon its release, it was clear that the media were equally dumbfounded as the studio. The Washington Post described The Terminator as a ‘slickly made, shoot-‘em-up fantasia,’ while the New York Times billed it as ‘a monster movie, and the monster’s role fits Mr. Schwarzenegger just fine.’ Despite its concepts, romance and warnings of the future, the majority of reviews focused on the visual spectacle, with Variety dubbing it ‘a blazing, cinematic comic book.’ ‘It didn’t get good reviews,’ stated Biehn in 2019. ‘I know the Wall Street Journal hated it, for instance. We set up a screening in town before the movie came out, for agents and producers and directors. And I don’t think even at that screening people walked out thinking they had seen a movie we’d be talking about thirty years later.’
The Terminator had first been conceived during a high fever, the nightmare of a man facing failure as his first chance of seizing his dream crumbled all around him. And yet this concept took root and gradually began to flourish until others saw its potential, the excitement slowly spreading like a virus. And while the movie may have been somewhat misunderstood upon its original release, in the years that followed, cult status eventually became universal acclaim. And in 1991, a decade after that horrific dream, James Cameron pushed the boundaries even further with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. ‘The Terminator was in some ways an ultimate experience for me,’ he admitted to Film Comment in 1985. ‘I got to conceive the idea, write the script, have a deal made, storyboard the major scenes, go about creating those images in casting and sets and locations, then film it and compare the finished shots to the storyboards and see a satisfying similar type of image. For me it was a clean sweep. I got to do everything I wanted to do. And beyond that, there was almost no interference from executives. Our production deal with Hemdale and Orion was structured in such a way that they gave us room to make the picture, and for that we are thankful.’
As with any good idea, for it to come to fruition the artist must may compromises, one that allows others to take control of their work and recycle it as they desire. And if Oscar Wilde’s claim that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ is correct, then Hollywood is full of flattery, as each unexpected success is soon followed by a succession of derivative pictures, each one revelling in the visuals that made the original so appealing, without offering any of the intriguing concepts that the viewers found so fascinating. Thus, within just a few short years an array of cybord and android-run-amok B-movies were released that included Class of 1999, Universal Soldier and, most impressively, Richard Stanley’s Hardware. ‘I think what often kills off trends is when you have too many copycat films that are awful,’ explained Hurd. ‘Then the pendulum swings the other way, because the expectation from the audience is that, ‘Well, the last six films I saw like this were terrible, the next one will be, too.’ That’s why I don’t think there is a genre that is completely a perennial.’
For Cameron, who nurtured The Terminator literally from a dream into a multi-million dollar franchise, watching his creation slip from his grasp as the rights were passed from one studio to another was a mixed blessing; in one way it kept the story of Sarah Connor and Skynet alive, a warning to the future of the dangers of meddling with science, and yet on the other hand the message became diluted as special effects gimmicks took precedence over the concepts. It has almost been forty years since the movie was first unleashed upon audiences and with each year we approach the possibility of a sentient artificial intelligence, but could the events that were depicted in his 1984 classic truly come to pass? ‘I don’t think anything resembling The Terminator is really going to happen,’ Cameron admitted in 2009. ‘There certainly aren’t going to be genocidal wars waged by machines a few generations from now. The stories function more on a symbolic level, and that’s why people key into them. They’re about us fighting our own tendency toward dehumanisation. When a cop has no compassion, when a shrink has no empathy, they’ve become machines in human form. Technology is changing the whole fabric of social interaction. We’re absorbing our machines in a symbiotic way, evolving to become one with our own devices, and that’s going to continue indefinitely.’