If it hadn’t been for the surprising commercial success of The Terminator, the world wouldn’t have Aliens, Titanic, or Avatar. (Okay, so two out of three isn’t bad.) But in 1984, James Cameron wrote and directed the original Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, The Terminator, where a villainous cyborg killer is sent back from 2029 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose son will one day lead the human resistance in stopping the AI machines in a dystopian future.
Thankfully for Connor, and moviegoers everywhere, the resistance sends back Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who fights for her and … romances her. He will prove to sacrificially represent all that is the best about humanity, laying his life down for the woman he lives and the future of humankind.
In a world where Cameron’s love of science fiction has taken over, the original can seem a bit cheesy. But it’s pretty funny at times (thanks to some understanding of the 1980s) and definitely exciting, even if the special effects aren’t as awesome as the films of today. And, there’s no telling how iconic three simple words, “I’ll be back,” have become, thanks to Schwarzenegger’s broken English.
While we could spend an hour or more discussing how good or bad the original is, it seems prudent this week to consider the way that the original and its characters continue to impact pop culture. This week, we will see the second reboot of the series, after the original two sequels were followed by the Christian Bale/Sam Worthington/Anton Yelchin feature film Terminator: Salvation. Initially intended to be the launch of a second trilogy, legal troubles (and potentially the very unBatman-like attitude of Bale) sank it.
So, now we have a Terminator: Genisys, with Schwarzenegger back in the fold, and a reboot/continuation blend. Is it just because we’re suckers for characters we’ve already heard of? Or is there something deeper going on here?
Scientists propose that singularity is coming, the moment when machines will be able to break through and be “as smart as” humans with decision-making and a degree of morality. That’s what Cameron’s original tale wants of, that computers might grow and deepen to the point where they see humanity as a threat (a la Ultron), and what, I think, keeps us coming back to the former Mr. Universe’s tale, in a way that we don’t revisit Conan or Red Heat or … whatever.
Ultimately, we want to be reminded that there’s something innately human about being human, that we’re special, different, and set apart. (Sure, we could just read that part of Genesis where we’re told that “God created mankind in his own image”) but some of us go the Terminator route. That’s okay with Schwarzenegger: he knows you’ll be back.