Terminator (1984): 30th Anniversary Celebration

James Cameron’s 1984 sci-fi actioner “The Terminator” has become a cult classic.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the film was screened at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre, where  writer-director Cameron and writer-producer Gale Anne Hurd discussed the movie

The film’s star Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to join them, but had to cancel due to flu.  Instead, the actor sent a video greeting, which played before the film. It showed the actor recuperating in his bed. “I know machines are not supposed to get sick,” he joked, “but I want to thank the millions and millions of fans around the world who’ve supported ‘The Terminator.’” And then, with trademark showmanship, he ended with, “I’ll be back.”

Robot on Screen: 

Before “The Terminator,” movie robots were rare, which challenged Cameron and effects master Stan Winston. “Gort, Maria from ‘Metropolis,’ Tobor the Great, even R2-D2, were all actors in suits,” Cameron stated. The director saw his goal to create a realistic endoskeleton, “something that couldn’t possibly be a suit.”

“We used of complex puppets, hydraulics and stop-motion animation to bring the character to life. That decision set the movie apart, “Because you inherently knew that C-3PO was just a guy in a suit.”

Horror and Humor

Terminator is a violent action film, but there’s also humor. “It was always there in the script, because one thing that we learned about intense action sequences is that you can only take so much. Even with horror, you need a release. A great way to do that is with humor, because then you can ratchet things up again.” The actors helped bring out the levity as well. “The cast really added to that. When Arnold demands those clothes and Bill Paxton responds,” she broke off laughing. “Jim and I knew Bill from working as a carpenter on the set of ‘Battle Beyond the Stars.’”


Apocalypse: End-of-the-World

Cameron said: “We’re burdened with a consciousness, and that consciousness allows us to think ahead.  Our daydreams and nightmares project future simulations, which we then hold ourselves up against to see it we can cut it.” But there’s also a more practical matter: dark futures are always more interesting in movies than bright, utopian ones.”


Theme Music

Like other genre classics, such as “Jaws” and “Halloween,” it’s impossible to imagine “The Terminator” without its recognizable theme music.  Composer Brad Fiedel’s metallic, percussive soundtrack functions as a robotic heartbeat throughout the film. “Brad was just as committed to the film as Jim and I were,” Hurd said.


Critics and Viewers

It wasn’t until the first public screening that they knew “The Terminator” was something special that would connect with audiences in a big way. “Up until that time, we’d been told that it really sucked,” Hurd said.  The head of marketing at Orion Pictures didn’t consider it a sci-fi film. “He said it’s a down and dirty exploitation film that will come and go in one week,” Cameron stated. They were instructed not to screen it for critics because it wouldn’t last a second weekend. “I said, dude you’re just wrong,” Cameron laughed. “It’s time travel and robots! They’re the two mainstays of science fiction!”


Small Budget

Shot for a only $5.6 million, Cameron and Hurd attribute their ingenuity and rebellious spirit to their mentor: Roger Corman. “We were ready to take on Hollywood and show them how it could be done cheaper and faster, because we’d learned from the master,” Cameron said.  According to Hurd, 99 people rejected “The Terminator” when it was first being shopped around, “but all you need is that 100th person to say yes.”