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Film Journal

In: Film and Music

Submitted By AGrayson
Words 827
Pages 4
American Cinema/Riggin
Film Journal #1

The Terminator

It's early 21st century, and a nuclear holocaust has killed off most people. Those that remain are subjugated to a war against sophisticated machines. This sets the stage for the classical narrative that will unfold in James Cameron’s The Terminator. This film provides several examples of the classical narrative style, mise-en-scene, exquisite editing that matches on graphics and action as well as use of camera angles to feature the tale.

The classical narrative of The Terminator focuses on the story of Sarah Connor set against the backdrop of the larger conflict. The plot is exquisite in its simplicity as the machines determine to win the war before it even starts. They send the terminator (Schwarzeneggar) back through to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and thereby prevent the birth of John Conner, the future resistance leader. The human resistance sends back a human, Kyle Reese (Biehn), to protect Sarah.

Unfortunately for both the Terminator and Kyle, Sarah's residence is not known. So both proceed to phone booths, where they learn that there are three Sarah Connor’s in the phone book. Kyle has the advantage here since he has a photo of her, while the Terminator must resort to assassinating each Sarah Connor in order to achieve his mission.

The alternating cross-scenes between the actions of Kyle and The Terminator are played in direct contrast to each other. The Terminator arrives calm, poised and untouched from his experience with time-travel. Kyle arrives pained and in physical distress. The Terminator easily kills someone and injures another to take their clothes. Kyle starts to rob a homeless man, but flees police pursuit. He does not kill anyone in the meanwhile. These scenes are inter-cut and the use of the music in both smoothes the transition as a part of the mise-en-scene. The music for Kyle’s scenes is tense, but lighter than the dark, ominous bass tones used to underscore the Terminator.

The transformation of Sarah Connor into heroine is painfully slow and emphasized by the shell—shocked expression she wears through the majority of her scenes. The scene filmed in the car, where she and Reese hide from everyone shows a unique transformation as the camera is used in over the shoulder angles and low angles to demonstrate the differences between Connor and Reece. The camera focuses on her expressions and his, always keeping the other in the shadow as Reece describes what is happening. The camera maintains its focus on Sarah for the most part, allowing the viewer to see the slow-comprehension and reality of it dawn on her. When the camera shoots it’s low angle up toward Kyle, the weariness plays out in the way he must hunch down, over Sarah.

The film’s narrative is brought to a close as Sarah Connor drives off into the desert, toward a distant storm, carrying the baby John in her womb, a promise of hope for the future. The film does not guarantee this future has been averted, in fact, it seems to re-emphasize that the bleakness glimpsed in the opening pan of shots remains down this long road Sarah is driving down as the camera draws back from its tight focus on Sarah and instead frames the whole of the uncharted landscape with its bleak and empty road.

Cameron’s use of camera angles throughout the film plays to his premise of man versus machine. He gives loving attention to detail on the equipment in the film whether it is a gun, a car, a large vehicle or the metallic shell of the Terminator rising from the fire to come after Sarah once more in the final climactic confrontation. It is appropriate that he chooses a setting of a working factory with robotics for this last battle and the Terminator.

The genius of The Terminator is that it possesses a totally unique villain. Unlike other classic film villains, the Terminator doesn't sit down for a chat to explain his evil plan before attempting to kill the hero. The Terminator has no limits or inhibitions. It will kill anyone in order to accomplish its mission. The Terminator is a unique film in that the special effects were low-budget and seamless despite their lack of “sophistication.”. The focus of the tale is on pace and building tension both in the lead up to finding Sarah Connor and the sustaining of that tension as she and Reece flee the Terminator. The tale does not have a happy ending. Instead, it is a full circle, both in the sense that Sarah is pregnant because her son sent the father back in time to protect her from those that would kill her to see him never born and that both the Terminator and Reece are now dead or destroyed, there is no remains from the future left in the present.

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