THE TERMINATOR – Story Beats

The Terminator

The Terminator

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The Terminator is a classic example of The Chase film – or as I like to call it – “There they are – GET EM!” This is James Cameron’s finest moment in my opinion, a movie so tight and raw that it grabs you by the throat from the first shot and never lets up until the last frame. Plot wise you are watching a master at work here giving us the ultimate almost non stop chase / escape vehicle – a cyborg from the future who can not be killed – on a mission to kill a waitress, who is protected by a future soldier that falls in love with her. Sounds corny, but this film is anything but. Essentially what you are watching is 3 long car chases, 2 bar room brawls, fifty or so murders, a whole variety of gun fire, several explosions and some science fiction time travel story to make it easy to digest. Some great things to notice plot wise here. Cameron has lots of backstory to tell and he does it masterfully without bogging down the main story – which is of course – getting away from the Terminator. The Two flashbacks Reese has are both injected with action and are chase/escape vehicles themselves – showing that the old adage: “there they are GET EM!” never  seems to get old. The second plot device to note is the way that Cameron doles out the action in tempo – and uses the down time to tell the exposition of the story – or the WHY THE HELL IS THIS HAPPENING bits. The main thing here is that as complicated as this story may sound – all of it’s exposition is neatly summed up in just a few lines from Reese. First when he captures Sarah in the car and tells her whole he is – and them more detailed when he is caught and interrogated by the police psychologist. Cameron uses tension and action in both scenes to get across the story elements – which is why you buy the premise of time travel and are able to sit through fifty+ murders and all those car chases. A great film that invented a genre. Terminator is an outstanding example of plotting, pace, tempo, and how to effectively dole out difficult story exposition without losing your audience. Great film.

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