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A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

05/20/2011 1 comment

What do you get when you cross a Steven Spielberg movie with a Stanley Kubrick movie? What do you get when you update Pinocchio to a futuristic setting? What do you get when you combine all of these together into a single movie? You get this.

A. I. Artificial Intelligence is a sci fi drama film directed, produced, and co-written by Steven Spielberg, based on the short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss. It stars Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor, Jude Law, Sam Robards, and William Hurt, with a brief camero by Robin Williams.

It is the near future. With the melting of the polar ice caps, coastal cities have been flooded, forcing people inland. With the reduction in available resources, a new class of robots is invented, capable of emulating human emotions – but their creator has something more in mind for artificial humans. Professor Hobby has created a prototype child robot that is capable of feeling true love, like that felt by a child for its parent, rather than merely emulating the appropriate behaviors. His company, Cybertronics, tests the child robot, named David, on a pair of their employees, the Swintons, whose biological son Martin is sick with an unidentified disease and currently in cryogenic suspension. Monica Swinton is initially afraid of this robot child, but she soon warms to him after activating the imprinting protocol, causing him to irreversibly feel love for his “mother”. Things get awkward later on, though, when a cure is found for Martin’s illness and he is able to come home. A sibling rivalry erupts as the two vie for Monica’s love, with David not understanding what is upsetting their parents so much. Things come to a head at Martin’s birthday party by the pool, nearly resulting in Martin’s drowning, and the decision is made to send David back to Cybertronics to be destroyed. Monica has grown to love David, though, and can’t bear the thought of him being destroyed like a common robot, so she abandons him in the woods, instructing him to do whatever he can to escape. From here, David teams up with Gigolo Joe, a lover-mecha on the run after being accused of murder, and embarks on a journey to find his place in this world, to explore the meaning of love, and to find a way to finally earn his mother’s love by becoming a real boy.

Spielberg is one of the great geniuses of filmmaking, as was Kubrick before his death. It makes sense that Kubrick would have asked Spielberg to helm this movie, and for the most part the two style combined well. This vision of the future is melancholy, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking as we see the lengths to which mankind will go to maintain their humanity – on the one hand, they fill out their dwindling population with robots created in their own image to act as everything from executive assistants to prostitutes, but at the same time the humans seem to fear their uncannily-perfect creations, exemplified by the Flesh Fair, a sort of demolition derby involving outdated or castoff mechas, attended by those who fear being replaced by their mechanical counterparts. A common recurring theme throughout the movie is the nature of love, explored from the respective points of view of David, the child mecha, and Gigolo Joe, a prostitute mecha. In Joe’s mind, humans are imperfect, but he is programmed to make them feel beautiful. In David’s mind, he himself is imperfect, programmed to love unconditionally but apparently rejected for being artificial. The robot effects are excellent, nudging you into the uncanny valley from the human side as the mechas look too perfect to be real when intact, and entirely too human when malfunctioning or in pieces. In fact, Kubrick had sat on this project for about twenty years because he felt that CG effects would be needed to bring his childlike hero to life.

Now for the shortcomings. First off, while a child robot that will love you forever seems like a great idea, in fact it’s a terrible idea, because you’re stuck with this little entity that will be ten years old and dependent on you forever. Whether or not David’s mass production (and that off his distaff counterpart Darla) ultimately led to the downfall of civilization is left unclear, which brings me to my next complaint: the ending. The last half hour felt tacked on for the sake of giving David at least half a happy ending, and just dragged on and on and on like an ex that just won’t let things go, and just made the movie too damn long. Many have proposed suitable moments where the movie could have ended, albeit tragically, and given that this was originally a Kubrick film this could have fit just fine. Seriously – the epilogue takes place 2000 years later. And it keeps going. And going. And going… Making the end product feel just too damn long.

If you’re looking for a futuristic Pinocchio tale with all the trappings and you’re feeling patient enough to sit through your happy ending, give A. I. Artificial Intelligence a shot. Spielberg and Kubrick’s diverse styles largely combine well to offer an ultimately tragic glance at a dwindling future, even if it could have used a bit more trimming at the end.

Galaxy Quest (1999)


Once, the sci fi series Galaxy Quest was so popular that a rabid fanbase developed around it, with enthusiasts debating the science and theories behind the show until the cows came home. Today, hardcore fans still travel miles to attend Galaxy Quest conventions, each one itching for the chance to talk to one of their favorite stars. Some come from states away. Some come from distant countries.

And some even come from galaxies away…

Galaxy Quest is a sci fi comedy film directed by Dean Parisot, centering on the washed-up actors of a cancelled sci fi television program who discover that somebody has mistaken their adventures for documentaries. It stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, and Daryl Mitchell.

It has been seventeen years since the once-popular sci fi series Galaxy Quest was cancelled, but the actors playing the crew of the U.S.S. Protector are still the target of fanatic adoration by their fans, a fact which inspires a wide spectrum of reactions from the actors themselves. Jason Nesmith (Allen) continues to soak up the attention and adoration, while Sir Alexander Dane (Rickman) hates being eternally associated with his role of Dr. Lazarus, as he started off in Shakespeare. Regrettably, none of them have had any meaningful acting roles since Galaxy Quest, and all their work these days mainly consists of convention appearances and being commercial spokespeople – all in character, of course.

During one of the loved/hated/best avoided Galaxy Quest conventions, Nesmith is approached by a group of people who identify themselves a Thermians and request his help. He happily agrees, thinking they are bringing him to an amateur filmmaking session, but he soon find out that the Thermians are genuinely aliens, using devices to make themselves appear human. They have built their entire society around the Galaxy Quest “documentaries”, and want the crew of the U.S.S. Protector to help defend them against the genocidal warlord Sarris. Nesmith does what anyone would do in this situation: He has a panic attack. Now, he and his crew find themselves having to truly assume the television roles that they have come to hate so much, and find in themselves courage and ingenuity befitting the crew of the Protector, or else Sarris is likely to kill them all.

I loved this movie. Even though I’m not as big a Trekkie as some of my friends, I enjoyed picking out the references and in-jokes to the series it was riffing on, and the whole movie works as The Magnificent Seven meets Star Trek. The concept was sound, and the story was tight, even as it freely made fun of itself throughout. Trek veterans were originally leery about this parody, but were relieved to find the “affectionate” part of “affectionate parody” was solidly in place. George Takei actually called it a “chillingly accurate documentary” – ironic, given the core plot point that the Thermians believe that Galaxy Quest was itself a documentary. The interactions of the human cast, who start out hating their tired TV roles (except for the egotistical Nesmith) and eventually end up finding the spirit of each character again, are well-scripted and well-acted. Rickman as falled Shakespearian Dane is, of course, the deadpan snarker of the group, utterly despising the rubber headpiece he wears throughout, until the moment when he makes it quite clear to Sarris’ men that Dr. Lazarus has quite a bit of Worf in his Spock. Tim Allen’s feature-length comedies have historically been rather hit or miss, but here he is dead on as a Shatner clone, and Sigourney Weaver shines as the opposite of her role in the Alien series – instead of a brunette action girl badass, her entire role in Galaxy Quest is to be the blonde token female who repeats everything the computer says. The Thermians were well-characterized as well; while they might be pitiably naive about matters of fictional entertainment, their plight appears genuine and potentially tragic, while Sarris comes off as entertainingly evil, having his own reasons for exterminating this pacifistic race but likely just doing it because he can.

The special effects are also well-done in this movie, well-crafted with a certain degree of stylistic schlock to capture this modernization of the original Star Trek, using CGI where the original might have used a guy in a shitty-looking costume, and using a guy in an awesome-looking costume where the original might have used a rubber forehead alien (and using an actual human in a rubber forehead because he was a human in a rubber forehead on the show). The replica Protector look like a Star Trek set, but then, that was the point, and it enhances the effects with CGI exterior shots that match well with the spirit of the movie.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of Star Trek or merely a casual acquaintance of the franchise, I think you’ll enjoy Galaxy Quest. I pokes fun at itself and the overall concept of the rabid fandom in ways that simultaneously honors and parodies both. By Grabthar’s Hammer, watch this movie!

Aliens (1986)


It has been decades since Ripley last tangled with the ultimate killing machine. She never wanted to go back to LV-426, but in the time that she was in cryosleep, somebody had a great idea: establish a colony there and terraform the dead planet to make it habitable for human life.

No, wait. That’s not a great idea. That’s a bad idea.

So now Ripley has to go back to the place of her nightmares, just because Weyland-Yutani decided to be an idiot…

Aliens is a science fiction action movie and the first sequel to Alien. It was written and directed by James Cameron, and stars Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton, plus the creature effects of Stan Winston.

When Ellen Ripley, sole survivor of the massacre and subsequent destruction of the Nostromo is rescued and revived from hypersleep, she discovers that 57 years have passed since her harrowing ordeal. Called to task for the Nostromo‘s destruction by a panel of Weyland-Yutani executives, her account of a hostile alien life form accidentally picked up on LV-426 is met with skepticism, because she blew the thing out an airlock to save herself rather than capturing the specimen for study, and because, to her horror, there has been a terraforming colony living there for the past 20 years, and they haven’t griped about any hostile wildlife. Her judgment is called into question, and she loses her piloting license. Not long after, W-Y loses contact with the terraforming colony (surprise!), and she is called in as a consultant on how to handle these monsters that don’t exist, but which haunt her nightmares every night. Reluctantly she agrees to go, hoping that facing her fears with help her get a good night’s sleep, and she is sent with a squadron of Space Marines aboard the Sulaco to check out the conspicuous absence of communications. The Marines are confident that they will be able to handle whatever is wrong, because they’re Space Marines, dammit, but Ripley has seen one of these things plow through six of her seven-man crew on the Nostromo, and has her doubts, made worse by the inclusion of android artificial person Bishop, who fortunately is a newer model that is Three Laws compliant. When they arrive, they find the colony almost completely abandoned save for a traumatized young girl named Rebecca Newt, who saw her entire family slaughtered by the things. Hilarity ensues when xenomorphs attack, wiping out most of the Space Marines and taking out the dropship that would have taken the survivors out of there. Now Ripley and the others will have to draw upon all available resources and their own ingenuity to survive…

I was impressed when I saw this movie for the first time. Building on the plotline established by Alien, this is a sequel that doesn’t feel like a sequel so much as a natural extension of the first – something that is apparently really hard to do, to judge by 95% of the sequels I’ve seen. Ripley is actually realistically affected by the horrors of the first movie, suffering from nightmares and flashbacks consistent with PTSD, and who could blame her? Then W-Y throws her under the bus regarding her actions aboard the Nostromo (kind of a dick move on their part, but a logical reaction to an apparently unbelieveable story), only to make it clear later that, yeah, we knew about them the whole time, and we didn’t want you jeopardizing access to possibly the coolest living weapon of our generation. Even here their motives make sense in a dystopic sort of way.

The acting here is also very well-done. Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as Ripley, demonstrated that Alien wasn’t just a fluke (as she has continued to prove in the decades since), and Paul Reiser is affably slimy as Carter Burke, the guy who manages to wrangle Ripley back to LV-426 with the promise that W-Y will do everything he can to ensure the Xenomorph colony is destroyed (*cough*liar*cough*). And if creature effects can be considered actors, then Stan Winston’s Alien Queen rig, the most detailed single monster he had ever built to date, is still one of the most impressive animatronic puppets I have ever seen, alongside, er… much of Winston’s other work. The establishment of a hive society with a central breeding Queen takes its cue from the social insects of Earth, but ups the ante from fighting a single individual to outmaneuvering hundreds of Xenos, all coordinated with a single, thoroughly badass matriarch.

If you enjoyed the original Alien, I highly recommend Aliens. While it’s more action than horror, it’s a satisfying continuation of Ripley’s story, and capably expands on the cold insectile ways of the Xenomorphs to make them seem more like an organic species, intelligent, deadly, and brutally efficient. Every sci fi fan should have this in their collection.

Jurassic Park (1993)


“You did it. You crazy son of a bitch, you did it.”

When Steven Spielberg announced that he was going to make a movie called Jurassic Park, about a theme park populated by dinosaurs, every nerd in the world perked up their collective ears. Spielberg had already established himself as an influential director that doesn’t make a habit of settling for half-measures, and every human being is hard-wired to get excited about dinosaurs. Put the two together, and it sounded like a match made in heaven.

Guess what? It was.

Jurassic Park is a science fiction thriller based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. It stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, and lots of really awesone-looking dinosaurs.

It sounds like a great idea: use revolutionary genetic analysis techniques to clone dinosaurs from blood samples gained from mosquitoes preserved in amber. Billionaire eccentric John Hammond thinks so, anyway, and he has decided to build a dinosaur theme park of Isla Nublar, a small island 87 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, populating the exhibits with his cloned dinos. However, after one of the dino handlers gets shredded to hell by a velociraptor a minor incident with one of the dinosaurs, Hammond’s investors get spooked and send in their lawyer, Gennaro, to check things out. Hammond agrees to send two experts on a tour of the park. He invites paleontologist Alan Grant and his wife/fiancee, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, for the privilege, offering to fund their research for the next three years in exchange; they agree and join the tour group, along with chaotician Ian Malcolm, Gennaro, and two of Hammond’s grandchildren, dino enthusiast Timmy and computer nerd hacker Lexi. Hammond hopes to prove to Gennaro once and for all that the park is absolutely safe. After all, he spared no expense.

Little does he know that his head computer programmer, Dennis Nedry, is an under-the-radar employee of BioSyn, a corporate rival of Hammond’s company InGen that has paid Nedry a king’s ransom to acquire some of Hammond’s dinosaur embryos. As the tour starts, Nedry sets his plan in motion, using a program he wrote to disable the entire park’s security systems – after all, he designed them. By the time anyone realizes what Nedry has done, the automated Range Rovers carrying the happy tourists through the park have been halted in their tracks, leaving their passengers stranded near the T-Rex paddock. What was going to be a nice outing in a theme park full of cloned dinosaurs is rapidly turning into a terrifying fight to survive in a theme park full of cloned dinosaurs, as Our Intrepid Heroes try to get to safety and get the security systems back online…

I saw this movie in the theater the summer it came out, and I was left with the impression that Steven Spielberg + Stan Winston = GOOD THINGS. The dinosaurs were a seamless combination of animatronics and CGI, and even the CG dinosaurs seemed to have real weight to them, especially the skyscraper-sized Brachiosaur that served as the viewer’s first look at OMG DINOSAURS. The velociraptors showed a chilling level of cunning, particularly as they chased Timmy and Lex through the visitors’ center, that matched up well with game warden Muldoon’s apparently genuine admiration and fear of them. And the T-rex, the first major predatory dino the visitors encounter, looks like he really wanted to chase you down and eat you. There were difficulties, of course: scenes with the animatronic rex in the simulated rain had to be stopped again and again, as water soaking into the rex’s rubber skin gave it the shakes. And a few liberties had to be taken with some of the “star” dinos for the sake of pure awesome (and because this was what we knew of them at the time): the velociraptors were built on a scale closer to that of the much larger Deinonychus to make them more scary, but that was made okay with the discovery of Utahraptor. The dilophosaur probably didn’t have a frill, but Nedry really needed to have that final OH CRAP moment. Dozens of animal sounds were mixed together to creature unique calls for all the dinosaurs, and all the elements mixed together extremely well, helping the audience believe that the dinosaurs were real.

The human cast also did very well, here, both in discussing the potential problems of the dinosaur park (only Malcolm descended into the filibustering that would become Crichtons unfortunate trademark in later books) and in acting and reacting against the dinosaur effects. Neill and Dern as Grant and Sattler convinced me that they knew their respective fields well, while Jeff Goldblum, as always, plays the deadpan twitchy genius Ian Malcom. Richard Attenborough plays Hammond as more of a child-friendly Walt Disney expy than the greedy bastard he was in the book, only wanting a nice diversion for the kiddies (and therefore he is spared the book’s death-by-zerg-rush). Bob Peck as Muldoon was pretty much the great white hunter, knowing full well how dangerous the raptors were, while Wayne Knight is every character he has ever played, making me want to give him a swift kick in the face regardless of his intended corporate espionage. The actors really made the dinosaurs work, though, and without them and the tight plot this movie would have just been a crapton of flashy effects without any real substance to them.

In conclusion, while the special effects are easy to take for granted nowadays and certain dinosaur portrayals are now out-of-date, Jurassic Park remains a fun, eye-popping roller-coaster ride through the dreams of a wealthy entrepreneur, forced to watch his vision turn into a nightmare. This movie will be one of my favorites for a long time.

Avatar (2009)


Great things happen when James Cameron makes a movie these days. Sometimes it’s spectacular, frequently it’s philosophical, and occasionally there is a fresh, deep, multilayered plot with excellent writing and interweaving plotlines. Often new filmmaking techniques must be devised to convey his sweeping vision. Did Cameron succeed with Avatar? Having had good experience with his movies in the past and having heard all the hype surround his latest Biggest Movie Ever, naturally I wanted to know.

Avatar is an epic science fiction film directed by (who else) James Cameron. It stars Sam “Remake of the Titans” Worthington, Zoe “Vantage Point” Saldana, Stephen “Project X” Lang, Michelle “Resident Evil” Rodriguez, Joel David “Grandma’s Boy” Moore, Giovanni “Gone in 60 Seconds” Ribisi, and Sigourney “Get away from her, you bitch!” Weaver.

In the year 2154, the RDA corporation is mining a mineral called unobtanium on a lush, jungle-like moon called Endor Pandora, a planet where absolutely everything is deadly to humans, but not to the Na’vi, a race of Native American cat girls nine foot tall sapient humanoids, who live in harmony with nature and follow a mother goddess they call Eywa. To interface with the Na’vi and learn about Pandora, the researchers use genetically engineered human-Na’vi hybrid bodies called Avatars, controlled from afar via mental link by genetically compatible operators. Jake Sully (Worthington), a paraplegic former Marine from Earth, is recruited to replace his dead twin brother, a scientist for whom the body was originally created, but who was murdered during a robbery. Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver), the head of the Avatar program, doesn’t think Sully is sufficiently prepared for intergalatic diplomacy, but when he is separated from the group to whom he was assigned as a body guard, attacked by native predators, and rescued by a Na’vi named Neytiri, he is brought to a local village, as signs portend Great Things for him. The Na’vi teach him the native ways, and Colonel Badass Miles Quaritch, who to judge by his facial scars has already had a less than diplomatic encounter with the Na’vi, promises to help Sully walk again if he gathers intel on the Na’vi, but plans to get his Unobtanium by any means possible. But then the plot gets lost in the goddamn beautiful scenery.

This movie is really frapping gorgeous. The lush jungle scenes are filled with plantlife that you would expect to find on an alien planet, but with enough parallels with Earth flora that you almost recognize many of them. Some of the glowing blue ferns look like something from the bottom of the ocean, and the trees are huge, organic, old-growth behemoths that look like they’ve been there since the beginning of time. The wildlife is vicious but plausible, with claws and spikes and armor that have a purpose other than for sheer scary factor, and the Na’vi are believeable as a native race, with their own ways and customs, and a unique appearance that automatically precludes the “dude in a suit” limitations that less ambitious directors might try. 95% of Pandora is completely CGI, and Cameron worked with a small army of designers, artists, costumers, linguists, botanists, anthropologists, and CGI creators to bring this alien world to life. Which would be great if this were a pure mockumentary of Pandora, and we had time to explore without worrying about any plot-based reasons for being there. Unfortunately, the plot that we are given is fairly thin and derivative, and easily gets lost in the beauty of this created world.

When I saw Avatar in theaters, my main impression was, God, that was pretty. And… that was pretty much it. While the visuals were impressive, like I’d come to expect from Cameron, the actual story was kind of disappointing. It was like, okay, there’s this alien world with this really awesome stuff on it that humans want (and I have a hard time taking Unobtanium seriously as a scientific name since they used it with a straight face in The Core), but OMG LOOK AT THE PRETTY PLANET AND THE AWESOME HALF-NAKED CATGIRLS and wait, we need an actual story? Meh, just retell Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves, nobody will notice.

So, if you’re looking for impressive visuals and an overall very shiny movie, see Avatar. On the other hand, if you want a unique, well-developed story that doesn’t ride exclusively on visuals, give this one a miss.

Predator (1987)


It started as a joke about Rocky’s fifth movie being about him fighting E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. This eventually evolved into an idea about a team of commandos in the Central American jungle on a rescue mission, who discover that something is hunting them back, something not native to Central America… or even planet Earth. You knew Stan Winston would get involved eventually, and, hey, there he was. The result wasn’t brilliant. It wasn’t deep or philosophical. It just kicked all kinds of ass.

Predator is a science fiction action film directed by John McTiernan and written by Jim and John Thomas. It stars Arnold “GET TO DA CHOPPA” Schwarzenegger, Carl “Rocky” Weathers, Elpidia “You mean she’s been in other stuff besides this?” Carillo, Bill “Commando” Duke, Jesse “The governor of Minnesota” Ventura, and Kevin Peter “The tall dude in the monster suit” Hall.

An alien spacecraft flies past Earth, jettisoning a pod, which heads for Central America. This will be important later. Sometime later, Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) arrives in Guatemala with his elite team of mercenaries on a rescue mission: three members of the presidental cabinet have been captured by rebels. Dutch’s old military buddy George Dillon (Weathers) steps in as a liaison and joins the team, and they are dropped off in the jungle via helecopter. They find the wreckage of a downed helicopter and later the skinned bodies of what they later discover was a Special Forces unit, the presence of whom mystifies Dutch. The team tracks the guerillas to a heavily defended camp, blow shit up, and kill everyon expect for a woman named Anna (Carillo), whom they take as a prisoner. Dillon confesses that their actual mission had been to destroy the camp (which they did magnificently), and that the skinned corpses they’d found were part of a failed mission to rescue some C.I.A. agents. Dutch is pissed and starts moving his team to the extraction point, not knowing that they are being watched by something that is clearly impressed by their combat expertise, and is about to put them all to a more challenging test…

Okay, admit it: This is the point where the real plot starts. A nearly-invisible alien hunter with elaborate technology at its clawed fingertips starts hunting down the soldiers and picking them off one by one, until one man is left with the cojones and the skills to really go toe-to-toe with the thing. The whole movie is flooded with testosterone and action-packed and intense, and the “real” plot doesn’t matter. Stan Winston’s creature effects are brilliant as always, and the finished Predator looks perfectly inhuman and dangerous, but intelligent in a way that you can figure out his motivations: he is an honorable warrior, out for the challenge rather than random bloodshed just for the hell of it. The code of honor for Predators is elaborated upon in the franchise’s expanded universe, but one catches glimpses of it here – he doesn’t go after unarmed combatants, he strategized brilliantly even when out numbered, and he is able to use mind-games (like mimicking the voice of Dutch’s known-dead teammate) to spook his prey and keep them off-balance. Unlike his franchise rival, the alien Xenomorph, the Predator’s motivations can be parsed out, making him a believable member of an intelligent race.

This acting is about par for an action movie – not Shakespeare, but clearly conveying the fact that this unknown hunter is freaking them all right the hell out. Anna, as Ms. Exposition regarding the Predator, is nothing to write home about, but as a frightened civilian woman she gets the job done. Arnold is Action Hero Guy, as usual, long before he even dreamed of trying comedy, and he utterly succeeds at being Action Hero Guy, the only guy with the balls to stand up to this towering, muscular monster. Hall, the guy in the Pred suit, is 7’2 and towers over Arnold like few humans can, and (literally) wears his role very well.

So. Action. Suspense. Monsters. Shit blowing up. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you like all these, see Predator. It is a simple movie, with a simple premise and complicated special effects that would go on to form the other half of the Alien vs. Predator interfranchise rivalry. I highly recommend this film.

The Terminator (1984)


“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

In 1984, the idea of the implacable, unstoppable killer was not new. Halloween did it in 1978, and Friday the 13th did it in 1980. Then James Cameron had himself a nightmare about an implacable, unstoppable, cyborg killer from the future, and a franchise was born.

The Terminator is the first movie in that franchise, which Cameron directed, as well as co-wrote with William Fisher, Jr. It stars Arnold “I’ll be back” Schwarzenegger, Linda “not an action girl yet” Hamilton, Lance “Aliens” Henriksen, and Michael “Come with me if you want to live” Biehn. It is worth noting that O. J. Simpson was considered for the role of the terminator, but Cameron didn’t think he would be believable as a cold-hearted murderer.

In 2029, intelligent machines seek to exterminate what remains of the human race. Standing in their way is John Connor, a freedom fighter who has united humanity against them. With the Resistance on the verge of victory, the machines send back a cybernetic T-800 (Schwarzenegger) to hunt down and kill Connor’s mother Sarah (Hamilton) before he is even conceived, thereby accomplishing a retroactive abortion. The humans, however, send back an agent of their own, a soldier named Reese (Biehn) to defend Sarah from the terminator. Sarah, meanwhile, is a mere waitress at a diner, and has no idea yet what’s going on. However, there are three Sarah Connors listed in the local phone book, and the two time travelers race to find the correct one first, in order to either kill or protect her.

This is one of my favorite sci fi movies. James Cameron’s twist on the Implacable Killer theme works on so many chilling levels, even with the tiny budget he had. The “post apocalyptic future” scenes were plausible, considering that they were accomplished with scale models, forced perspectives, and matte blocking, and Stan Winston’s stop-motion endoskeleton, though slightly dated, is thoroughly calculating and looks like it really wants to eat your face. The facial surgery sequence doesn’t look quite as real at is might have, but I heard they scaled back the realism to keep it from being too disturbing. Seriously, the Terminator just sliced out his eye with an Exacto knife – how is that not supposed to be disturbing?! Stan Winston was and still is an FX genius.

And of course, rather than riding completely on special effects, this movie (like so many 80s sci fi films) relies on its acting to carry the terror of the concept. Biehn, as usual, plays an intense military type desperate to convey the gravity of the situation to his terrified charge in a limited period of time, and Hamilton is plausible as the unsuspecting civilian caught between faction in a war that hasn’t even happened yet. And… Arnold. Arnold, you terrifying, machinelike bastard. Where would this franchise be without you? (Probably trying to do the same thing with another bodybuilder, with less impressive results, but I digress…) He has maybe 18 lines in the whole film, but he makes it work, even with his heavy accent, almost like they were still ironing the kinks out of the vocal synthesizer. Although, if you’re acting like an emtoionless machine, is it still really acting?

In all, if you want to see a thrilling, suspenseful sci fi action flick, if you want to see where the whole Terminator franchise started, or even if you just want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger clad only in shadows for about a minute and a half, rent this movie. You will not fail to be impressed.