The Terminator review: Well, he said he'd be back...

Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron’s cyborg blockbuster on a B-movie budget is still the one to beat, three decades on

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Director: James Cameron
Cert: 18
Genre: Sci-Fi
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins

Can you solve the John Connor- Kyle Reese Paradox? Or the Skynet-Terminator paradox? Which is timeline one? Is Terminator: Salvation properly canonical? Should we get Orwellian chills when we contemplate that the original Terminator was released in . . . 1984?

There is an unalloyed pleasure in returning to pre- franchise innocence, to those halcyon days before multiple paradoxes and gargantuan budgets, to a simpler time when Arnie was shortly to become the biggest movie star on the planet and not the former governor of California.

And so on May 12, 1984, Los Angeles plays host to two arrivals from postapocalyptic 2029: one is a Terminator T-800 Model 101 (Schwarzenegger), a cyborg assassin programmed to kill one Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) before she conceives future revolutionary John Connor; the other is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), a human resistance fighter sent to protect her. Both arrive naked, due to some bio-matter rule, though mostly to serve the Reagan era’s appetite for rippling forms.

We told you it was a simpler time: so simple, in fact, that younger viewers may be perplexed to see the cyborg using a “phonebook” to find his intended target. There follows a car chase, a sheet- clutching sex scene and a fateful encounter with a hydraulic press.


Stan Winston's SFX, though not flash by today's standards (The Terminator was made for a B-movie sized $6.3 million) have a lovely, handmade feel. The film has heart throughout where later Cameron joints have buckets of money. Biehn gives a career-best performance. A comparatively quiet Hamilton is unrecognisable from her beefed-up, badass reprise in the 1991 sequel. Neither actor, sadly, has enjoyed the kind of later career they deserved.

Arnie is another matter. Having argued with Cameron about a certain iconic line – the Austrian Oak had trouble pronouncing "I'll" and wanted to say "I will be back" instead – he will, indeed, be back: Terminator Genisys hits our screens on July 2nd.

So, anyway: assuming there is a timeline without Kyle Reese travelling through time to help conceive John Connor, who was his original father?

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic