Currently reading: Awesome Movie Scenes: The Terminator
Awesome Movie Scenes: The Terminator
Posted on 9th September, 2017 - By Jonathan Hezzlewood
The Terminator – Tech Noir Shootout
I’m back! To talk about one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. The Terminator.
Now then, if you haven’t seen The Terminator, I recommend you do. You won’t be disappointed in this sci-fi masterpiece.
As part of this series, I am working through ‘Awesome Movie Scenes’, and now we come to The Terminator, and the scene I specifically want to talk about is the ‘Tech-Noir Shootout’.
The Terminator is full of iconic scenes, many of which I wanted to put on this list. But I was only allowed to choose one, so here it is…
When you get to this scene, you are just over half an hour into the movie, with the first thirty minutes spent building towards this moment. Introducing the audience of the Future War, and allowing enough time for the audience to familiarise themselves with the characters.
The Terminator – the Characters & Story So Far…
There’s Sarah Connor, a gentle, innocent waitress who lives with her friend Ginger. A large, unknown and dangerous ‘man’ who has; by this point, ‘terminated’ several people (some on screen, some off). Another nameless man, who has been following Sarah. Sarah’s roommate and friend; Ginger. And two police officers; Lieutenant Ed Traxler and Detective Hal Vukovich.
At this point, Sarah has seen the news reports of two other women – also called Sarah Connor – who have been murdered in quick succession, and now fears that there is a pattern and that she may be next. Both Lieutenant Traxler and Detective Vukovich are also on to the same notion, the order of which match that of the phone book name listings.
In an attempt to contact the police or get home safely – it isn’t entirely clear which she is intending to do at this point – Sarah leaves the bar; having seen the news report of the second murder on the TV, and heads down the street and past Kyle – who, let’s be honest, does very much look like a dangerous man, perhaps even a killer – who then proceeds to follow Sarah.
The Terminator – Setting the Scene
Upon realising that a shady-looking character is following her, Sarah takes to hiding in the next available building; the Tech Noir nightclub. Sarah hides behind a supporting pillar, ensuring her stalker walks on by, before asking a member of staff if she can use the phone, located at the back of the club.
She pays to enter, and then walks beyond the mesh-fencing and bouncer into the crowded dance-floor, already feeling at ease; as the cold blues and greys of the street outside are replaced with warm flecks of pink and red from the disco lights. With ‘Photoplay’ (Tahnee Cain & The Tryanglz) booming out of the disco speakers, Sarah attempts to call her apartment and get in-touch with her friend.
All the while, the Terminator has infiltrated Sarah’s apartment, terminating both Sarah’s friend; Ginger and her boyfriend, and as with many a ‘bad timing’ cliché, Sarah’s call rings through to the answering-machine, which the Terminator hears and now knows where Sarah is. Knowing that she is still alive, the Terminator proceeds to search the apartment for visual evidence of what Sarah looks like, before heading to the nightclub to complete his mission.
Sarah manages to get through to the police station and speaks directly to Lieutenant Traxler. She explains her situation and that she fears someone is following her, to which Traxler promises to get a squad car to her in a “hot minute”. She ends the call and sits back down to wait for the police to arrive.
The Terminator – Building the Tension
At this point – and complimented brilliantly by yet another Tahnee Cain & The Tryanglz pop-rock song; ‘Burnin’ in the Third Degree’, that is pure eighties through-and-through – the menacing Terminator walks into the Tech Noir nightclub, stares through the mesh-fence and proceeds into the building and past the bouncer.
Given that this man has simply walked-in without paying, the bouncer attempts to stop the Terminator, but Arnold’s character, along with his cold exterior, simply removes the man’s hand from his jacket and crushes it – as if a minor annoyance, rather than an actual obstruction – and leaves said bouncer curled in agony on the nightclub floor.
I always think of this scene when I hear ‘Burnin’ in the Third Degree’, and picture the music blasting out across the dancefloor, as lives hang in the balance.
Scanning the area, the Terminator walks through the dancing crowd, looking from left-to-right, the camera cuts back to Sarah, sat anxiously waiting and she accidentally knocks a plastic bottle of ‘Canada Dry’ to the floor.
As she leans over to pick it up, Arnold steps into frame in the distance, taller than the dancing crowd, the music fades, as Brad Fiedel’s chilling score is overlaid with the club music as the frame-rate slows. Just as Sarah’s head dips out-of-view, the Terminator looks to where she’s sat, but continues past having not spotted her.
Seriously, wow. Thank-you ‘Canada Dry’. Not only do you taste delicious, you also helped postpone the inevitable threat to the Earth’s only saviour.
The Terminator – the Perfect Shot
As Arnold keeps walking past, the music still slowly continuing, he turns his head in the other direction as Sarah sits back up having retrieved the bottle, and the frame speed returns to normal, as does the music.
This is a perfect example of how James Cameron is one of the greatest director’s yet. He does the opposite of what all other low-budget horror flicks did and still do. Rather than using slow-motion to extend the excitement of an action scene, or the violent demise a character is about to suffer. Here you have slow-motion used to build tension, make the audience hold their breath, and appreciate the perfect timing of that shot alone.
After Sarah sits back up, she spots her stalker – Kyle Reese – through the mirror of the adjacent bar, and immediately thinks he is the killer. But little does she know that the Terminator has now turned back and is now heading back in her direction.
The Terminator – the Power of the Angle
The perspective of the Terminator is shot at a high-angle as makes its way through the crowd and directly towards Sarah, and a low-angle when looking from Sarah’s position to the Terminator, really helping to reinforce the that Arnold’s character is something to be feared, especially against Linda Hamilton’s vulnerable Sarah.
As she comes into view, the music slows once again, as does the frame and Sarah slowly turns her head to look up at the Terminator.
As they look at one-another, Brad Fiedel’s daunting score kicks-in, after having been subtly building as Terminator had made its way back to Sarah. The Terminator retrieves the pistol from under his jacket and cocks it, Kyle turns, unleashing a shotgun from beneath his overcoat. The scene is intensely slow, and dripping with tension. Sarah sits helpless with the pistol’s laser-sight skewing her vision, as the Terminator aims at her head. All the while Kyle is battling to move people clear, in hope of getting a clear shot at the killer-cyborg.
The Terminator – Shooting the Action
The blast of a shotgun rings out, sending the Terminator staggering and the frame-rate and music back to full speed. No slow motion now. The scene is fast paced and equally as intense. Here, the audience experience what the character experiences. You know it yourself when something has happened in slow-motion, you drop something and attempt to catch it several times as it gently floats to the floor before hitting the floor at full speed, shattering across the floor.
Stunned, Sarah falls to the floor before attempting to escape amongst the crowd, as Kyle picks his moments to shoot the Terminator from cover. Arnie is terrifying. Gunning down innocent people in an attempt to hit Sarah. She is knocked over in the kerfuffle and pinned down by a dead body as the Terminator steps over her and reloads his Uzi, before being hit with multiple shotgun rounds, sending him hurtling through the club window, allowing Sarah to then witness the Terminator get back to its feet as if the bullets have had no impact.
Allowing Kyle to speak the iconic line…
“Come with me if you want to live.”
…before they escape the club via a back alley, with the Terminator in hot pursuit.
The Terminator – Why it Works
In all the commotion and action, not once do you lose where each character is located; in relation to the other. This makes the scene very easy to follow and also helps engross the audience more. Unfortunately, this is a trait that is rarely seen nowadays. Directors seem to prefer confusion to clarity when attempting to create an exhilarating scene.
Going back to the dance-floor scene. As I watched Arnold’s Terminator part the dancing crowd, heading towards his target, I… I just can’t get my head around what we could have ended up with. I just don’t see O.J. Simpson filling the iconic role – that, let’s face it – Arnold Schwarzenegger has made his own. Nor do I see Arnie doing a good-job as Kyle Reese, or Sting for that matter – yep you didn’t miss read that, Sting was also under consideration for the role. Thankfully, the brilliant and yet highly underrated actor; Michael Biehn, was perfectly cast as the human resistance fighter.
As a fan of this movie, and certainly its first sequel, I have to admit I am grateful for Arnie sharing his own vision and interpretation for the villain with James Cameron.
This, ultimately won over the director’s initial reluctance to sign Arnold in the movie at all, and had the actor himself signed to play the Terminator the next day.
The Terminator – a Brief History
The movie was originally pitched to the Head of Hemdale Pictures; John Day, who was absolutely astounded at the approach James Cameron took. Along with detailed storyboards to help him show and explain his vision for the movie, Cameron also had – the now iconic – Lance Henriksen; dressed in a leather jacket, torn t-shirt and combat boots, kick-open the office door at the start of the meeting, and walk in as the unstoppable killer cyborg. This unique, and ballsy approach won the day, and Cameron was given a $6 million budget and the green-light for production to begin.
Although to Cameron, it will have seen like a major problem at the time. Production on The Terminator was halted for approximately nine months, due to Schwarzenegger’s contractual obligations to star in the sequel to Conan The Barbarian. This all worked out for the better in the end, as it allowed James Cameron to attempt to get other jobs on his roadmap, which would eventually turn-out to be the directing job for ‘Aliens’ – the superb sequel to another iconic sci-fi franchise, and also to write the screenplay for ‘Rambo II’.
It’s fascinating to think that such an iconic film came from a nightmare. Yeah that’s right, while stricken with a fever during production of ‘Piranha II’; director James Cameron had a vision of a chrome robotic chassis, dragging itself along a flame-engulfed floor.
Although ‘Piranha II’ is technically his first film, The Terminator is when he truly became a director.
The Terminator – in Summary
The Terminator is a tense horror-thriller, with a lean pace and efficient storytelling. Director James Cameron makes the audience care for the very human and relatable protagonists, and fear the antagonist; an unstoppable killer-cyborg, with a single purpose; to kill Sarah Connor.
If you haven’t yet watched The Terminator, I strongly recommend you do.
And that brings us to the end, for now.
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