review for The Terminator on AllMovie

The Terminator (1984)
by Lucia Bozzola review

As relentless as the taciturn titular villain, The Terminator (1984) established James Cameron as a master of action, special effects, and quasi-mythic narrative intrigue, while turning Arnold Schwarzenegger into the hard-body star of the 1980s. With a budget well under $10 million, Cameron created a dystopic, trashed future world ruled by sinister robots, before returning to a darkly ominous 1984 Los Angeles where Schwarzenegger's leather-clad cyborg fits right in. Like the adversaries in Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), the Terminator, with his computer matrix vision, embodied 1980s technological anxiety, an implacable, human-looking assassin engineered by machines and empowered through nuclear holocaust. Schwarzenegger's pumped-up physical presence, sparse dialogue, and "I'll be back" slyness rendered him both terrifying and charismatic; as with Sylvester Stallone, his body would become his signature special effect. With a time-bending romance to temper the perpetual violence, The Terminator became a sleeper hit, powering Cameron, Schwarzenegger, and producer/co-writer Gale Anne Hurd to the forefront of Hollywood action movies. As Schwarzenegger's image softened by the late 1980s, Cameron resurrected him as a "kinder, gentler" Terminator in the blockbuster sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991).