I bought this on DVD in 2003 because I'd seen most of Terminator 2 on television in 1996, and gradually became curious to see what happened earlier. Also, I read that the first film was a better story.
Well, it's a crudely powerful story, effectively directed and acted, though I'm no fan of violent films and found it rather hard to take, so I watched it in short chunks spread over several weeks. It's hardly surprising that Americans are always shooting each other, if they grow up watching this sort of film for entertainment.
It seems to be a law of nature that all sf films are badly conceived and full of holes, and this one is no exception. Here are some of the things I don't believe about it.
- Time-travel stories often contain paradoxes, and this story is entirely based on a paradox. In the future, John Connor is such a remarkable and important man that the Terminator is sent back in time to kill his mother (Sarah), and Kyle Reese is sent back to protect her. Hence, Kyle meets Sarah and becomes John's father. This means that John's existence as an adult in the future is a precondition for his conception in our present, which means in turn that his existence, and the rest of the plot, are logically impossible. I can't be sure whether the fundamental impossibility of the whole story is a deliberate joke, or whether Cameron simply didn't notice.
- I've read somewhere that John and his human resistance are supposed to be winning their war against the machines, which is why the machines take the trouble of sending the Terminator against his mother. If they were winning anyway, why bother? But the future scenes in the film seem to show the humans in the last stages of losing their war: hiding miserably in caves; frequently getting killed; presumably hunting desperately for pre-war stocks of food and weapons, because they seem to have neither industry nor agriculture.
- They seem to fight the machines mainly by throwing explosives at them. But their real enemy is the software that controls the machines. To destroy an individual machine is a small victory indeed: there are more where that came from. It would be much more effective (though much less visually dramatic) to try to sabotage the software by hacking into it.
- It seems that the software is bright enough to design and build Terminators and time machines, but not bright enough to see that there are simpler and more effective ways of permanently wiping out humanity. Viruses, for example, that would have no effect on machines. Or change the temperature and chemical composition of the Earth's atmosphere so that it will no longer support human life. I imagine this could be done with present-day science and technology.
- Once an automated factory is geared up to produce Terminators, they should just roll off the assembly line. Why send only one into the past? Why not a whole bunch of them? Admittedly, you'd think that one would be enough, but accidents can happen, even to Terminators.
- The time machines used in the film can transport humans, but not machines (why not?). They transport Terminators, which are machines, because they have a surface covering of skin. Oh, come on now, this is just silly...
- Why does the Terminator rely so heavily on guns, even at close quarters against defenceless women? It should be able to kill people simply and quickly with its hands; but apparently it knows nothing about unarmed combat. And why, when attacking the police station, does it come in and go out again to get a car? Smashing through the doors in a car looks dramatic, but what does it accomplish that couldn't have been done more quickly without the car?
- At the end of the chase, when Sarah is crawling away from what's left of the Terminator, she crawls through a square hole, out the other side, and somehow realizes that it's a powerful crushing device operated by a particular button (one of several). She's traumatized, wounded, exhausted, and she's never been in that place before — nor, probably, anywhere like it. She's a waitress. But she clearly knows what she's doing when she presses the right button. How does she know?
Written in June 2003