It's easy to mock the fashions of the era, or Arnold Schwarzenegger's delivery of iconic lines such as “Your clothes... give them to me,” but there is no denying that the film has a massive amount of power. It has a far smaller scale than any of the other films, which to me gives it more weight, considering the events unfolding onscreen and their ramifications for the future of mankind.
The time travel aspect is introduced in a compelling way, i.e. no dead material can travel through time, hence Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn in a role that should have given him superstar status) and the Terminator (whose metallic endoskeleton was encased in living flesh) arriving from the future naked. This gave rise to some interesting plot points, such as Reece being seen as a lunatic and spending the bulk of the film looking like a hobo, or the T-800's efforts to hide in plain sight.
The flashbacks to the future they came from are chilling – genuinely unsettling glimpses of a future war humanity is losing, with some very effective model work integrated into live action footage of the battleground itself. You really get the sense of despair and finality in those scenes, which adds further gravitas to Reece's quest in the 'present day' of 1984.
Linda Hamilton plays the character of Sarah Connor beautifully in this film, and comes across as normal and a little vulnerable, but with glimpses of the warrior she will become in there too. It's a nicely understated performance. In fact, the whole film is a little understated, and therein lies its magic: A small event in the present (i.e. the intended death of Sarah Connor) which would forever change the course of human history.
None of it is played for laughs or tongue-in-cheek. It's a dark and sometimes shocking film which carries its weighty science fiction concepts very easily on the back of what it in essence an action movie. Arnold's flat, wooden dialogue delivery is offset by the monstrous acts of violence his cyborg carries out, and that juxtaposition of cold, detached intent and brutality makes the original Terminator truly unforgettable.
Why does the first film matter when the sequel was so insanely popular and took it all to a higher level of chaos? Precisely because it offers a story with epic scope on a relatively small scale (very much a staple of the cyberpunk fiction movement which was bursting out at the time thanks to authors such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling), and its small central cast fill in the gargantuan story they are part of via dialogue and their own fear, instead of gigantic CG set-pieces.
The climactic battle between Kyle, Sarah and the rampaging T-800 is one of the most tense action sequences of the 1980s, and leaves the viewer breathless until the final moment. From the movie's poster and Brad Fiedel's unforgettably chilling theme tune to the run-down, dilapdated locations and the unrelenting horror wrought by the T-800, the first Terminator remains a truly defining moment not only in genre cinema, but in all cinema.
The reinterpretations of the posters for these classic films are by Mr Shabba. They can be purchased here and we are giving away an exclusive set here.