The integrity of The Terminator

The Terminator hit Blu-ray last month, and fans have been raving at how good the transfer looks.

And The Terminator is indeed a milestone film in the sci-fi genre. It finally made Arnold Schwarzenegger a superstar, and made James Cameron a hot director overnight. (It also made Stan Winston, who created the Terminator’s incredible exo-skeleton, a star in the FX world).

Nearly thirty years after it hit theaters, people are still trying to bring the Terminator back for at least one more go around, but it’s doubtful any new Terminator flick can capture the magic, action and thrills of the first two, and I’ve always been of the belief you need Schwarzenegger and Cameron together to really make it work. And perhaps Cameron would still be in control of his great sci-fi creation if he hadn’t sold the rights for a dollar. 

As a report in Giant Freakin Robot tells us, how Cameron got the Terminator made is similar to Stallone hanging on to the script for Rocky until he was allowed to star in the lead, even though he was dead broke and could have used the money. Cameron was reportedly living out of his car, but he was determined to direct the film, which would be hard for an unproven director to get set up.

In order to assure he would be attached to the project as director, Cameron sold the Terminator script to producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead) for a dollar, and eventually the rights slipped away from him, but he did come back six years later with Terminator 2 because producers Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna were able to clear up the rights for him to come back. 

While we may know much of The Terminator story already, there were a few interesting details I found out in Ah-nold’s autobiography, Total Recall, that enhanced my enjoyment of the movie even more. 

First off, I was surprised to learn that Arnold was reluctant about playing a villain, because he was setting his career up to be an action hero. Arnold was actually first up to play Reese, the role that went to Michael Biehn, and Lance Henriksen was initially up to play the Terminator.

Even though Schwarzenegger was a hit in Conan, which Universal wanted to make as a lengthy series, he didn’t want to be stuck playing muscle-man characters for the rest of his life. But when he met with Cameron they hit it off, and off they went.

What I found interesting in reading about The Terminator is how Cameron shot the film at night to have more control over the movie. I didn’t realize it’s easier to shoot at night because you don’t have to worry about the daylight shots matching, and you can create and control your own lighting much better. 

I also found it amusing that Cameron and Schwarzenegger argued about the most memorable line in the film, “I’ll be back.” Arnold thought it sounded better if he said, “I will be back.” Arnold recalled. “The truth was that, even after all these years of speaking English, I still didn’t understand contractions.”

“Look, just trust me, okay?” Cameron told him, and when The Terminator was a hit, fans constantly came up to Arnold and asked him to repeat the classic line. 

Cameron felt that Orion, the company who released The Terminator, short changed it, treated it like a B movie, and didn’t give it the promotion he felt it deserved. But it still did just fine, making nearly a hundred million world-wide, a nice take for a movie that cost $6.5 million or so, and it made Arnold a superstar.

Again, they’re still trying to bring the Terminator back after all these years, and he will always be a truly indestructible icon of sci-fi.