And now for something completely different.
I’ve thought about this on and off for years, so it needed to be written down.
Obviously SPOILERS, for basically all Terminator movies.
Summary of reasons
- The robot is really not human.
- It’s a proper time loop, with a bonus that none of the players in the movie know it.
I’m aware of The Terminator Wiki, but I don’t care about it. My opinions are on the movies as movies.
The behavior of the terminator
In Terminator 1 (T1) Arnold is clearly a robot in human skin. At no point do you believe it’s a human. The only reason people don’t stop and scream and point, is that “I’m being silly, that’s clearly impossible”. But Arnold spends the whole movie in the uncanny valley, the kind in 2022 reserved for realistically generated CGI characters.
It’s very nearly a perfect movie. Just take his first dialog. “Nice night for a walk”, the punks say. They are saying this to a machine that has never talked to a human before, so its response is complete nonsense. It just repeats the words back to them.
It’s a complete alien.
And then “Your clothes. Give them to me. Now”. It’s completely broken grammar from something that has never used the language. It’s a stranger in a strange land.
Everything is so obviously foreign. Effectively the terminator was just born.
At no point do I believe Arnold is human. Even in the end, when the flesh is stripped off, it doesn’t become more machine-like. Throughout the movie it’s always been pure mechanism.
It’s not even clear that T1’s terminator is conscious. It’s just like those assembly robots at the end, but with a more complex goal.
We don’t even know if Skynet as a whole is conscious. All we get in T1 is “They say it got smart. A new order of intelligence”. So Reese doesn’t know, what he’s heard is just second hand, he’s just a soldier anyway, and in any case how would anyone know? The war started so fast that “nobody knew who started it”. Skynet could be just mechanism. A ChatGPT that escaped.
Robert Patrick (actor playing the evil T1000) in T2 is great and all, and is attempting to “feel weird”. He does a great job in T2. But he’s never one realization of “oh robots exists” away from being spotted. Arnold (in T1) is. Even if you knew killer robots existed you’d never suspect the T1000. He’s gone beyond the uncanny valley, which to me makes him less horrifying, not more.
This goes for every other cyborg in movies or TV series. Except for T1 I can’t think of a single performance where someone actually went into the uncanny valley.
In T2 (extra scene in Special Edition, the best edition) they flip Arnold’s switch to learning mode. Or should I say “anthropomorphize mode”? Except even before that Arnold is showing human traits. Such as the look he gives Sarah in the car when she says “So what’s your story?”.
The terminator in T1 is rotting during the movie. It is flesh slapped on top of metal skeleton. As the flesh becomes injured it gets in the way, and is just cut off and discarded (wrist, eye). With more “mere flesh wounds” it starts smelling, attracting flies laying eggs in the rotting flesh. It smells like a dead body, and it’s even attracting attention of the cleaner at the hotel (“you got a dead cat in there or what?”).
It doesn’t really matter that the terminator can’t last forever. It has a mission, and only needs to survive long enough to complete it. It doesn’t really matter that the flesh is coming off. That just makes it a worse disguise.
Likely the flesh would not have lasted long even uninjured. It’s never needed to. In the future it only needed to get through the door to start shooting. And once the shooting starts it’ll inevitably start showing metal, losing its disguise.
In the other movies they explicitly say that terminators heal. But there’s no reason for it.
The sunglasses in T1 are utilitarian. Its red eye is exposed otherwise. A red glowing eye is a risk to the mission, and a logical workaround is sunglasses. In the other movies it’s… fashion?
T3… sigh. The reason the T1 terminator says “get out”, and also why T1000 says it in the helicopter, is that it’s faster than throwing them out. In T3 it’s a catchphrase, and completely needlessly Arnold says “get off”, while throwing a guy off a motorcycle.
Even in T2 the “that’s a nice bike” from T2 anthropomorphizes too much. The Terminator wiki has a page on emotions. There’s not one example from T1.
There’s no reason a terminator would say anything while tossing someone. He says nothing in T1 while killing Matt and Ginger.
The T1 terminator doesn’t die screaming, thrashing around. It doesn’t wag its finger in its moment of apparent triumpf. It communicates nothing except to further its mission. Nothing verbally and no body language.
T1’s terminator can’t be bargained with and can’t be reasoned with. I feel like the T1000 kinda can. Its mouth is open in pain and surprise from the final shot. It seems like more than mere mechanism.
T1’s terminator is as soulless and mechanistic as the pneumatic press that ultimately destroys it.
The time travel theory
The T1 story is a perfect time loop. None of the other movies have that. In T1 the machines build a time machine in order to change the past, not knowing that it’s not possible. They send a terminator back, thus creating themselves. Them sending the terminator back causes humans to send Reese back, creating their enemy.
The script even says that as Sarah gets put in the ambulance the camera tilts up and sees “Cyber Dynamics Corporation”. They even filmed it, but it was cut from the final movie. So you can fill in the same time loop “breakthrough” that they explain in T2.
The time machine is created because of the war, and both sides of the war are created by the use of the time machine.
Even if the machines realized this they have no choice but to go through with it. It’s a double grandfather paradox, if they don’t.
It reminds me of my favourite explanation of why you can’t go back in time and kill Hitler: “because that’s not what happened”.
Reese is light on details, but it does include the fact that Sarah went into hiding before the war. Meaning he was always there to warn her about it. (also, you know, John would not exist without him)
The only thing that speaks against this is that Reese says “one possible future, from your point of view”, but his next sentence is “I don’t know tech stuff”. Sounds like neither human nor machine understands that it’s a closed time loop. That makes sense because the humans need to fulfill their destiny too. They can’t not send Reese back, because he was sent back.
T2 can in this regard, at best, be seen as an eventually converging time loop. It’s not as “clean”.
Examples of why T2 can’t be a neat time loop:
- They actually do stop Miles Dyson from “inventing” the chip.
- Wouldn’t John have told Reese about the second terminator?
- The quote from Reese is different between T1 and T2. Though I’ll excuse that as an artistic choice.
But even ignoring that, it’s clear that T1 is the time loop. T1 has the fridge horror (or is it Fridge Brilliance?), T2 does not.
T3 is a mess, of course. But I do like the ending. It’s compatible with the T2 theory of time travel, even if not T1. So are the others.
An eventually converging time loop raises the question of how it started. How many loops have already happened before we reach the events of T1? How many more loops before the events in T2?
At what point does the converging loop stabilize? Clearly not with T2, since Dark Fate has HUGE changes.
Maybe it will never stabilize? Each way around the causality loop causes another butterfly to flap its wings, eventually changing major plot points, or even the name of Skynet.
How did the loop start? And if the loop never converges, then why should we care about this particular iteration of the loop?
Only T1 has the proper neat horrifying closed time loop.
Actions make sense
Sarah does all the right things. She goes to a public space, calls the police, and warns her friend. She reluctantly goes along with the guy who at least is trying to get her away from someone who’s trying to kill her. She probably would still prefer the police, though. When she is taken in by the police she has no reason to not feel safe in a police station.
In the police station, from Sarah’s point of view she’s given a plausible enough explanation, assured that there are over 30 police officers in the building protecting her. She feels safe enough to go to sleep.
She accepts the explanation that the attacker was wearing a bullet proof vest, but no way will that be enough against 10-11 shotgun hits (I counted 11 shots, one may have missed). The police also suggest, and she accepts, that a human can punch through a car windscreen. It’s barely believable that someone can punch through a side window, and clearly not through a windscreen.
But they all believe it, because the alternative is preposterous.
When she wakes up and comes out of the room she’s in, the safe police station she entered has turned into a nightmare on fire. Dead police everywhere, furniture blown up and on fire, and all defenses failed, leaving escape as the only option.
She does tell her mother where they are, but there was no reason for her to know that the terminator would be able to impersonate a voice. And her character is 19, after all. But if she hadn’t then the movie would be pretty short.
Other than not being as good as T1, it’s pretty great.
Ugh, this movie makes no sense. It’s just one big plot hole, that it tries to fill with references and memberberries.
It takes a couple of viewings to understand just how bad this is. I’d tear it down, but for a complete list I’d have to watch it again. No thanks.
There’s even a fan edit, I believe called T-HOPE Edition, that cuts away as much crap as possible. It’s better, but still terrible. And you can tell that there are missing pieces. It’s pieces of shit, so it’s still better to cut them out.
The less said about this one the better.
The only good thing about T3 is the commentary track. Arnold is unintentionally hilarious.
A brave attempt at expanding the Terminator universe. Yes, there are comics, books, and TV series, but for Terminator the movies are the center.
There isn’t much time travelling here, but I dislike the anthropomorphizing. Skynet does monologing, ffs!
But it’s not so much a Terminator movies as it is a movie in the Terminator universe. And that’s fine.
Terminator Genisys is basically non-canonical fan fiction. I can enjoy it, but it’s absolutely silly and makes no sense at all.
It goes so over the top as to become a farce, which is why it can be enjoyable and T3 just isn’t.
It has a mid credits sequel teaser. Aaaaw, that’s cute. You think you’ll get a sequel?
This clearly should have been Terminator 3. Nowhere near as good as T1 and T2, of course, but a fine sequel.
It doubles down on T2’s (and especially T3’s) eventually converging time loop theory.
And again Arnold gets anthropomorphized. He’s not really a terminator in this movie, but instead a really strong autistic guy. He should not have been in the movie.
The evil terminator is pretty “correct”, though.
But it is pretty weird that the evil terminator literally tries to negotiate with Arnold. That one thing terminators won’t do. Well, two if you count bargain separately.
It’s a fine sequel, as sequels go. It’s a movie to watch once. T1 is a masterpiece and can basically be viewed in a loop for days.
The Dani character, has no character. She’s just along for the ride.
Actually the more I think about Dark Fate the more things bug me. Just watch it once, don’t think about it, and it’s fine.
I’m getting off track. This post is about praising T1.
The three best Terminator movies ranked.
T1, T2, and neo-T3 (Dark Fate). In that order.
T1 does have flaws. I don’t want to list them, since once you’ve seen them, you can’t unsee them. And I want you to enjoy The Terminator for the masterpiece that it is.
Side note: Harlan’s claims are bullshit
I’ve seen both “Demon with the glass hand” and “Soldier”, and they are absolutely not The Terminator. Their only similarity is “a time traveller comes”. From when? The future, obviously. There’s a war? Ok, that also matches. Both sides show up? Well, for a movie you’d kinda have to. There are lasers in the future? Of course there would be.
There the similarities end. There’s no point in listing the differences, because they’re just completely different.