Director: James Cameron
My rating: Class A (3/7, hot white star). A strange little gem of a film, this one. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a thoughtful time travel paradox film, a love story embedded in that paradox, an action movie, or a horror film. On the other hand, it’s generally pretty successful on each of those levels, sometimes in spite of itself.
Once upon a time a Canadian boy named James Cameron moved to California at the age of 17, saw the movie Star Wars (he would have been about 24 at the time) and decided to make movies. Largely self-taught, he became a model maker at Roger Corman‘s studio and knocked around the fringes of the movie industry in various roles until he became the special effects director for Pirhana II: The Spawning. When the producer of that film fired the director, he tapped Cameron for the job, though he subsequently fired Cameron as well. Cameron stuck with the film as an editor and special effects guru. To add insult to injury, Cameron developed food poisoning while in Rome during the editing phase of the project. Happily, while sick, Cameron had a dream featuring a robot—in some reports, the robot was sent from the future to kill him (www.amazingcameron.com) while in others, the dream consisted of a metallic torso wielding kitchen knives and dragging itself out of an explosion (The Futurist by Rebecca Winters Keegan). In any event, the idea for The Terminator was born.
Cameron and his friend Bill Wisher began to flesh out his idea, initially conceiving of two terminators, one a cyborg and the other made of liquid metal (though the second robot couldn’t be filmed using the technology at the time and so Cameron reluctantly scrapped the idea, at least until 1991’s Terminator II: Judgment Day). By the by, Cameron’s agent hated the idea and Cameron fired his agent because he had so much faith in the idea. At any rate, Cameron sold the idea and script to Gale Ann Hurd, a co-worker from the Roger Corman days, for one dollar as long as Cameron got to direct. In order to secure funding for the movie, Cameron sent his friend Lance Henrikson in first dressed as a terminator, and John Daly of Hemdale Film Corporation agreed to fund the film, and Orion Pictures to distribute it.
I suppose this just goes to show that Cameron knew he had an interesting idea, and he was tenacious enough, and believed in himself enough, to push the idea until he got it done. He would have been about 24 when he saw Star Wars, and perhaps 29 when The Terminator got the go-ahead. He created an enduring science fiction franchise which is still going strong now, having spawned four movies and a television series. By some estimates, the franchise has outperformed, at least financially, the Indiana Jones franchise, which is saying something. Current ownership of the franchise appears to reside in the hands of Pacificor, a hedge fund.
The Terminator itself was made for a budget of about $6.5 million, and grossed $78 million from the box office. It received largely positive critical reviews at opening, though some commentators thought it was too violent, too lurid, and too pretentious. As time passed, the movie’s detractors grew quiet and the critical and fan response grew more and more positive—Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 100% fresh rating, and Metacritic 84/100. Positive recognition by the American Film Institute followed, andThe Terminator has been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry.