The Morning After: Jun. 30, 2014

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Terminator

There was a time when James Cameron was one of the most economical directors working. After his inauspicious debut helming the horror sequel Piranha 2, Cameron moved onto the sci-fi genre with surprising finesse. The Terminator is a sparse, low-budget feature that captures the essence of Ray Harryhausen and would lay the groundwork for his seminal achievement to years later: Aliens.

On a shoestring budget of $6.4 million, Cameron took the story of a man from the future who returns to the past to protect the woman who would later give birth to the founder of a resistance movement that a murderous cyborg will do anything to kill. Arnold Schwarzeneggar lends his stoic, emotionless face to the Terminator, a cyborg with no emotions and an organic outer layer of skin. Linda Hamilton plays the Sarah Connor, the woman who would birth a rebellion; Michael Biehn plays the man sent back to protect her.

As with one of his best film to date, Aliens, Cameron showed how a skilled director didn’t need fancy visual effects to tell a story, focusing on what the eye doesn’t see and relying on the rare glimpse of gore and cybernetics to keep the audience invested and unnerved. Where this particular filmmaker went, I’m not sure, but the concept is interesting enough to support a feature-length film and the movie is swift enough to be entertaining.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Seven years and three movies later, Cameron returned to the franchise that established him as a major name in the action and science fiction genres. Terminator 2: Judgment Day balloons in budget and length becoming a frequently exciting, but equally lumbering feature of excess.

Young John Connor (Edward Furlong) has been placed in foster care after his mother’s (Linda Hamilton) incarceration in a mental institution claiming that someone visited her from the future. Once again, two denizens of the future return to the past, this time both are cyborgs. Arnold Schwarzeneggar is back, this time delivering lines that would enter the pantheon of most recognizable phrases. This time, he’s been re-programmed by future John to obey and protect his younger self. Meanwhile, a more advanced model, T-1000 (Robert Patrick) has also returned intent on killing John before he can reach maturity.

The economical, concise director of The Terminator and Aliens began the trajectory that would lead him to the bountiful visual effects extravaganza’s that would make him wealthy beyond imagining and commanding of grudging respect from those who feel his screenwriting capabilities, which he frequently employs, leave a lot to be desired. This film, more than The Abyss two years earlier, cemented his role as a foremost director in the effects milieu, commanding huge budgets and delivering spectacular effects. Terminator 2 certainly delivers the visual splendor, though the fish-out-of-water narrative is cumbersome, and Furlong is more annoying than clever.

Sarah Connors ended the prior film a little stronger because of her altercation with The Terminator, having started off as little more than a bored single woman afraid for her life. Here, she’s modified and trained until she’s a hard-edged, no-nonsense force willing to do anything to protect her son and the people of earth from the nuclear holocaust that is impending. Cameron has always excelled in breaking boundaries for female characters. He attempts to maintain their femininity while standing them on equal footing as the men that surround her. Were Schwarzeneggar not playing a cyborg, she might give him a run for his money.

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