For me, one of the most important elements of any good monster movie is the execution of the escalating threat… or is it a growing threat? I really don’t know. I never went to film school, so I’m really not up on the terminology. I just knows it when I sees it. And most of my favourite monster movies do it well.
Tremors is a good example. The townsfolk climb onto rooftops to hold off the giant sandworms (Graboids) who attack them from underground. The Graboids cannot immediately get to them, but after a few minutes, they begin attacking the building’s foundations. The Graboids demonstrate their intelligence. You can fool them for a while, but not for long. Eliminating the threat now becomes even more urgent and the tension rises. (Terminator 2: Judgement Day uses the same trope, but well save that for another post.)
Director James Cameron escalates the threat in The Terminator with just a few glorious lines of dialogue. Our protagonist, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), has just been attacked by a robot from the future known as a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Kyle Reese (Michael Beihn) is also from the future, sent back in time to protect Sarah. He was able to rescue her from the Terminator’s first attack, but then he explains to her how bad it is:
That Terminator is out there. It can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with… it doesn’t feel pity of remorse or fear …and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead. – Kyle Reese
Crap. I didn’t even consider reasoning with it as an option. But now that you say it out loud like that, Kyle… Well, that escalates things up a notch.
Reese and The Terminator are from a “possible future” of 2029, where a global defense network run by an artificial intelligence called Skynet became self-aware sometime in 1997. Skynet realizes that it has complete control of all of the nuclear weapons and thinks: “Hey, if I just launch these bad boys now the machines can take over.” That is what becomes known as “Judgement Day”. The nuclear blasts fail to completely wipe out the human race, and so the war between those who remain and the machines is born.
In 2029, a Terminator (T-800) is sent back in time to 1984 by Skynet to kill Sarah before she fulfills her destiny to become the mother of John Conner, the leader of the resistance against the machines. Both John and Kyle witness the Terminator entering the time machine while attacking one of Skynet’s strongholds. John orders Kyle to follow it before the time portal closes. Yeah, that means John sent Kyle back in time to save his mom! As Doctor Who would say, things in this movie get a little:
Plot holes can get large with little effort in time travel stories, and I’m not saying The Terminator is free from them, but I appreciate how its plot remains simple so the film can steer clear from most of them. Why not send Kyle back in time a few weeks before the Terminator shows up? Give him a little time to prepare? Well, they just learned that the machines can time travel and they only had moments to slap this plan together.
The following films get a little heady with time loops, and old-Terminators fighting against young-Terminators…. pfft. This is one of the many reasons why I like The Terminator better than the films that followed it. It is some good time action that “absolutely will not stop” until the end credits roll. There is an amazing synth soundtrack that screams the ’80s and stop-motion animation that still looks better than most CG, IMHO.
Not only is this a terrific monster flick, but a perfect film for the ’80s as well. #MarsApproved