The Terminator

The bounteous prophecy, resting on a turn of phrase and an image, speaks from the fateful vantage of 1984. “Smart machines reached a new order of intelligence,” it says in a complicated tense referring to a past that’s prologue.

The unquenchable destructiveness of the new order is the main exposition. Los Angeles is a ruin peopled by skulls crushed under killing machines, but for the resistance of a few hardy souls. Those eloquent skulls, ash-gray like the landscape, seem to have a last contemptuous word on their absent lips, the dot-com’er’s “Luddite!” The image is plain and simple enough to evoke various disasters of the twentieth century, and the Reign of Terror to boot.

Cameron allows his time traveler to be interrogated by a police psychologist, who is impressed with so systematic a delusion. And of course the Terminator wreaks havoc on the police station, completing the equation.


Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The overture is swiftly played, on material from Lord of the Flies and The War of the Worlds: children on a swing set in bright colors the film slows and blears, the suggestion of a conflagration, the inert city blasted into oblivion by a skyful of flying marauders.

Cameron’s stroke of genius is to hale the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back “re-programmed” as a protector of the child John Connor through a veritable Massacre of the Innocents, Flight into Egypt, etc.

Much has been made of the various superficial aspects of the film, special effects, idiosyncrasies, which nevertheless have any validity worth mentioning only by virtue of the fast and furious satire. Cameron does not scruple to attach a dummy to a rear bumper in one quick shot to convey the T-1000’s pursuit of young Connor, who in turn might be a character out of Spielberg’s suburbia brought into conjunction with Schwarzenegger’s deadpan comedy.

Schwarzenegger, it’s said, was the only person on the set capable of lifting the Minigun prop. Cameron places the drollery of this somber vision entirely in Schwarzenegger’s rendition of a cybernetic Dirty Harry with devastating effect, whether registering approbation of a particularly useful weapon in precisely one-half a wide smile, or responding with serenest gravity to young Connor’s faddish pranks.

Byron Haskin’s vast and wonderful The War of the Worlds, then, and Charles Laughton’s justly revered The Night of the Hunter, with a protean villain who might be out of The Thing, and the cataclysm of Planet of the Apes perhaps, all of it apparently inspired by the pitiable moribund city where they were created.


True Lies

A notable spoof of Bond and U.N.C.L.E. and Z.O.W.I.E., very well filmed and acted, with a structural use of side-and-back-lighting throughout until the villains’ lair is reached, and action scenes filmed with a Steadicam, as well as citations from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, North by Northwest, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Frantic, among others.



The typically dull insanity of the Spielbergian prologue quickly becomes a parody of The Go-Between and quite a number of other films (Superman, The Drowning Pool, et al.) before settling on The Poseidon Adventure. The last shot but one of DiCaprio is one of Keaton’s best throwaway gags, and Winslet blowing a whistle comes from The Man With The Golden Arm. The Spielberg hands are prominently featured.

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times received death threats over his criticism of this script, but that would be murder. Winslet mocks Meryl Streep to the extent of wearing her French Lieutenant’s Woman shawl at the end, DiCaprio has all the squidginess and barking required, and the special effects avoid comparisons with Spaceballs until the end.

If you want to see a shipwreck, see Rich and Strange. For a parody of Spielberg, go Titanic.