So…after “Fright Night,” my parents started loosening their grip on the R rated movie viewing guidelines that they had enforced.
One of the things that helped was the made-for-tv-edited-version of movies. I grew to hate those versions as I progressed through adulthood, but as a kid, I wanted to watch some damn movies.
We used to record them on VHS and edit out the commercials. We would hit “play/record” and when an ad popped up, we’d hit “pause.” Once the ad was over, we’d hit “pause” again to continue recording. It gave us something to pay attention to during the ads. It never went as smoothly as I just described. One or more of the 3 things I’m going to describe always happened:
1. We would forget to hit pause when the movie came back on and would miss approximately 10 minutes of story until we noticed again and fixed it (then it was time for another commercial).
2. The ads ended up being so long, the VCR would auto-stop after being on pause too long and we wouldn’t notice; crucial story points missed again, etc.
3. We would run out of tape on the VHS we were using; auto-stop…auto-rewind (this one always made me laugh later).
I think that our first experiment with this disaster (that we continued to do–regardless) was “The Terminator.”
People don’t remember what a big deal that first movie was. Everyone talks about the sequel, deservedly, but for its time, “The Terminator” was an amazing story told by a special effects master that would become one of the greatest directors of the Hollywood blockbuster of all time.
For me, it was the story that carried the film. Within the first 30 minutes, you’re engaged, but you are not sure what is going on other than knowing that a former body builder is going around L. A. killing Sarah Connors from the phone book in order.
It’s when the 3rd and final Sarah Connor is saved by another shady character on the run from the police that we get the real story and start to get invested.
The movie was commended for its amazing special effects, prosthetic makeup, animation, spectacle explosions, and action sequences.
For me though, it was always those moments in between the action with Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor that carried the story. It gave the audience a reprieve from all of the action and violence and helped deliver the plot elements that were necessary to get us up to speed and offer that “human” element (pun…I know). It also helped create a “suspense payoff” in a way as they both showed us how vulnerable they really were against this juggernaut cyborg from the future. Whenever he was within 50 yards of them, you thought they were going to die. The film will be labeled as Science Fiction, but James Cameron was very effective at using horror violence as a suspense tactic to put the viewer at unrest.
I feel that “The Terminator” was a “light bulb” moment for me. The movie was out for about four years before I finally got to see it for the first time. Everyone that had been talking about it would mention the action and the violence, but I didn’t really get a sense of the premise or the story until I viewed it.
When Reese talks to Sarah in the car that they are trying to jack about her son and why she has to live–that is the moment I think about and remember how important a story is in film. Put as many cyborg, serial killer, monsters in a movie that you want, if you don’t have a purpose for them, you just have another survival story, but if the fate of mankind depends on these moments that we are viewing, we’re going to be captivated. Very simple and effective writing/storytelling that can make a decent sci-fi action thriller great.
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