The film elevated Schwarzenegger into the next level of celebrity. UniversalImagesGroup/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
These questions are answered eventually with words, but Cameron chooses to provide an easy image at first: they’re at war. They meet in the wonderful Club Tech Noir, perhaps the zenith of ‘80s locales. The whole film has elements of style and efficiency throughout, but Tech Noir is where James Cameron truly began to find himself as a director.
The entire sequence in the film, with the Terminator crushing the hand of the bouncer (“Hey, that guy didn’t pay!”), seeing Schwarzenegger’s eyes scanning through the smoke, moving through the ecstatic crowd looking for Connor, seeing Connor dodge his gaze through sheer luck, watching the red lights of the club appear on her face, and then those lights becoming the red light of the Terminator’s gun (why does a cyborg need a scope? Because it looks cool, obviously). All while “Burnin’ in the Third Degree” by Tahnee Cain & The Trianglz plays in the background, warning of impending doom.
And then, it all explodes into gunfire. Brad Fiedel’s score, mechanical pulses that creep and scream, carries the rest of the scene.
The Terminator isn’t perfect. Sarah Connor is presented as a passive, completely helpless passenger to Reese, whimpering in a car while he instructs her to follow his every move in a very backstory-heavy car chase. The damsel-in-distress mode for Connor would be completely ditched by the film’s sequel, in which she is every bit the equivalent bad-ass of Reese or the Terminator or anyone else.
There’s a lot that future Terminator films would ditch from this first one, including some things that they should have kept: a sense of dramatic tension and style, provocative visuals, a plot that doesn’t get too tied down in its own mythology. It’s worth going back to this stylized film, while it’s still streaming on Hulu, to experience (or, more likely, re-experience) the unlikely start of a mega-franchise.
The Terminator is streaming on Hulu until September 31.