My newest foray into the world of movie mania is those movies that have spawned sequels. I’m not talking about remakes of the same basic plot, but movies that either continue the story line or continue characters from within the original movie. I chose, as my first movie in this category, one of my all time favorites – – the terminator series. This includes “The Terminator,” “Terminator II: Judgment Day,” and “Terminator III: Rise of the Machines.”
The original terminator movie, which was made in 1984, proved to be groundbreaking for sci-fi. James Cameron’s inventive tale about the ultimate fight between man and machine was a landmark event in this genre. This tightly woven and cleverly directed story enthralled millions of moviegoers throughout the world and earned record-breaking profits. It launched the relatively fledgling career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, boosted the on-again, off-again career of Linda Hamilton, and was the breakthrough film for director James Cameron.
The film moves between two time lines; that of the late-20th-century and the year 2029 where the battle rages between ultra intelligent machines that rule the world with an iron grip and the remaining vestiges of humanity. Intent on exterminating what they consider to be an inferior race, the super-computers concoct a plan to destroy man’s future by changing the past. Unaware of what was coming, audiences were stunned to see a nude Schwarzenegger emerge from a lighting flash; whereby what appears to be the perfect specimen of mankind is eventually unveiled instead to be the ultimate killing machine: An indestructible cyborg called a Terminator.
Schwarzenegger proves once and for all that he not only can act, but that he can do with style. His catch phrase “I’ll be back!” instantly became a part of American pop culture. Finally, a role did justice to his strength and his humor, thereby allowing him to showcase that which he does best. Linda Hamilton, who plays the heroine Sarah Connor, was also well cast as the somewhat innocent yet unbelievably strong woman who the Terminator was sent to kill.
Unaware of her supposed fate, Sarah goes about her life without a care until she views a newscast report that says various women with the name Sarah Connor are being killed all over Los Angeles. Before long she too is being stalked by the unstoppable machine. Just as it looks as if her life may be forfeit, a man by the name of Reese (played by Michael Biehn) comes to her rescue. He spins an unbelievable story for her, explaining that he was sent back in time by her yet unborn son, John Connor – – the future leader of the human resistance – – in order to save her life and thereby his own. At first Sarah thinks him insane, but is soon forced to believe him as the Terminator just keeps coming and cannot be stopped, just as Reese predicted. A romance develops between savior and victim and sets the story for the birth of the future savior of mankind.
Produced by Gale Ann Hurd, directed by James Cameron, and co-written by Cameron, Hurd, and William Wisher, “The Terminator” was one hour and 47 minutes in length and carried an R rating for nudity, some sexual situations, and violence.
From start to finish, this intriguing movie twists and turns, keeping the audience off guard with where it is going. It fires an arsenal of unrelenting and heart stopping suspense that never lets up. But even more, this visual feast for the eyes and amazing technological movie (for its time) set the standard for many films to come. It perfectly joined special effects, adventure and thrills, and an understated romance to create one the finest action films of all time. It is, therefore, no surprise that it inspired a sequel: “Terminator II: Judgment Day.”
This sequel to the original film reunited James Cameron with his two stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton who repeated their roles as the Terminator and Sarah Connor. However, in a unique twist of events, this film turns the original plot upside down with Schwarzenegger playing a benevolent cyborg warrior sent back in time to prevent another cyborg (played by Robert Patrick) from murdering the pre-teen John Connor (played by Edward Furlong).
This film, which takes place around 1995 finds a very rebellious and somewhat precocious John Connor living with foster parents. His mother, Sarah, is locked away for attempting to blow up Cyberdyne Systems, the company that developed SkyNet, the computer system responsible for the apocalyptic events that leave the earth dominated by machines. Everyone assumes Sarah to be insane – – including her son – – because of the stories she keeps telling about the fate of mankind at the hand of unforgiving and unrelenting machines. But Sarah knows that time is running out and she spends her time preparing herself, both physically and mentally, for the battle that is about to come.
The child savior of humanity’s future is this time threatened by a different seemingly indestructible, liquid-metal Terminator (Patrick). This new cyborg model has the uncanny ability to morph his body into any solid shape, impersonate other people and camouflage himself into any background. As John runs from this new foe, he runs head-on into the original Terminator model (Schwarzenegger) that, this time, has been sent back to protect him. Together he and his new friend and “father figure” break Sarah out of jail. Then they come up with a plan to destroy SkyNet before it can become self-aware. They learn that a piece of the original Terminator was found years ago and has led to the very event that is meant to destroy mankind. They work together to convince the scientist in charge of the project that he must stop SkyNet as well as destroy any remaining trace of Terminator technology. The events that follow are every bit as intriguing, thought provoking, thrill seeking, and heart stopping as the original film.
Much more expensive to produce, many predicted that the film could not recoup the amount of the staggering $100 million budget. However, it easily grossed half of its budget in its opening weekend and eventually grossed $204 million, making back twice its budget in the United States alone. It acquired four of the six Academy Awards for which it was nominated. It took home Oscars for Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects for its innovative morphing special effects, which were done by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic.
Linda Hamilton spent several months preparing herself for the “warrior” version of Sarah, dropping weight and beefing up her muscles. It paid off in spades, showing the fighting spirit, in both mind and body, that the audiences expected from the mother of the world’s would-be savior. Schwarzenegger continued to inject wit into his character, this time with the goal of showing the softer side of a machine that sought to protect rather than destroy. The ending scene where the Terminator lowers himself into a roaring pit of molten metal in order to ensure that no trace of Terminator technology remains, is both heroic and heartbreaking.
The screenplay, co-written by Cameron and William Wisher, proved every bit as pulse pounding as its predecessor, hitting the audience with dazzling, non-stop action.
This time around Cameron was responsible for both production and direction. The movie was just under two hours in length and carried an R rating for violence.
It seemed inevitable that there would be a third movie in the Terminator series. However, just like the timing between the first and second movies, the third came over 10 years later. This time John Connor, now 25, is played by Nick Stahl but Schwarzenegger returns in the role of the original Terminator model.
Connor lives “off the grid”. He has no home, no credit, no cell phone, and no job. In fact, there is no record of his existence at all. He assumes himself to be safe. He believes there is no way he can be traced; just in case. But he is wrong! Despite all of the previous efforts of Connor and his mother, it seems that SkyNet has been developed. Initially, the computer system seems innocuous. However, when a computer virus is injected into the military’s secondary computer system as well as the civilian Internet, the government proposes to let their artificial intelligence system (SkyNet) have a crack at searching for and destroying the virus. John can sense the coming storm but he is confused as to why. After all, Judgment Day never happened; no bombs went off, no machines took over. At least not on the date originally predicted by his mother, Sarah Connor. Once more a Terminator is sent back in time to eliminate Connor. But this model is the most sophisticated of them all, the model T-X; a woman (played by Kristianna Loken). She is as beautiful as she is lethal and she is determined to finish the job that her predecessors failed to complete. She is relentless in her pursuit and she is willing to do anything to accomplish her goal. Once again, Connor’s only hope is a copy of the original Terminator (Schwarzenegger). Together they must triumph over the technologically superior T-X and forestall the looming threat of yet another Judgment Day. Along the way, they inadvertently involve a young doctor (Vet), Kate Brewster (played by Claire Danes). Before long she and John begin to fall and love and everything once again falls into place with an unexpected and unforgettable ending.
This movie has plenty of action and still manages to pull off a couple of unexpected twists. However, the film sorely missed the presence of Linda Hamilton, who got caught up in a dispute with the producers. This left the audience with a gaping hole where Sarah Connor belonged and no closure with regard to her role. While Stahl (as John Connor) and Danes (as Kate Brewster) were credible in their roles, they failed to bring anything special to their parts and their on screen chemistry was average at best. The star in this film remained Schwarzenegger who continued his masterful interpretation of the benevolent Terminator.
John Brancato and Michael Ferris wrote the screenplay, which was notably weak in comparison to the previous two films. There was a decided lack of a background story to pull the audience into the film and make them care about what happened to the characters. Structurally, the film was not as strong as its predecessors either; seeming more like a movie in two parts, with the second part finally pulling together the plot and relying less on jam packed action to sell the story. It was obvious that the movie was no longer in the capable hands of Cameron, who opted not to direct this version. Instead, Jonathan Mostow took over the reigns. He succeeded in giving the movie a bit of the original vibe, but overall it just didn’t gel. He did not have a firm grasp of the characters who consequently suffered for it.
“Terminator III: The Rise of the Machines” was 109 minutes in length and carried an R rating for violence.
While I enjoyed all three of these films immensely, I do feel that the first one remains the strongest. Schwarzenegger due provides this. Everything about the original film was outstanding from writing to directing to special effects to acting. I give “The Terminator” five out of five stars.
The sequel “Terminator II: Judgment Day” was nearly as strong as the original. The screenplay and the direction were essentially flawless. I deduct only an infinitesimal amount for Hamilton’s over-the-top performance of Sarah Connor. I felt that the immense change in her character was just a bit too strong. She failed to retain any of the original softness that made her so intriguing to watch in the first film. I give “Terminator II,” four and three-quarter stars out of five.
As for “Terminator III: The Rise of the Machines,” I still loved this film, in spite of its faults. There were bits and pieces of brilliance in this piece. Unfortunately, there were also parts that just didn’t come together as well as expected. While Schwarzenegger continued to shine in his role, I was only minutely impressed with the work of Stahl and Danes. Loken, as the female Terminator did as good a job as possible with the very little dialogue provided for her and the action sequences with which she was saddled. However, the writing and directing of this movie were simply inferior to both the original and the first sequel. Therefore, I can only give “Terminator III” three and three-quarter stars out of five.
That is my opinion on these films but I’d love to hear yours. Drop me an email or leave a comment and tell me what you thought about these three movies. Also, if you have any suggestions on movies (with sequels) you’d like to see reviewed in the future, I’m open to ideas.