The Terminator (1984) is Jim Cameron’s best movie. He will never top it. He came close two years later in 1986, with Aliens, but The Terminator is also better than that movie too. Some argue that Terminator 2: Judgement Day is better than The Terminator. Hell, even Jim Cameron himself says this:
I’ve watched them both recently and I see The Terminator as a creature of its moment and, for me, it doesn’t hold up… it’s too rough. It’s fine for where I was at the time. It’s fine given the state the industry was in at the time, but crude by present standards. Still… it’s a cracking good story. Terminator 2 I can stand behind. Even now, it competes, visually, with anything that’s being done now. I mean, the CG is a tiny, tiny bit dated, but it was basically done pretty well. And so often imitated that it feels a little clichéd, you know? I still think it holds up. I feel more proud of the second film as a film.
I used to think so too. Terminator 2 is so slick and polished, it’s a damned near perfect movie. But in recent years, I have seen the light in recognizing just how masterful the first movie is. Terminator 2 is a Manly Movie, but the original is in a whole ‘nother stratosphere of Mandom. It’s colder. It’s more efficient. It just does not stop. Terminator 2 is also practically a remake of The Terminator. The same story was told in 1984. And stories are always best when you first hear them. And as good as Robert Patrick is, there is just no topping Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killing machine. Case in point. Robert Patrick’s T-1000 politely asks if John Connor is home. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 arrives, destroying a toy under his car wheel and murders a woman on her own home. No time for small talk and/or pointless questions. None of this “he’s a good looking boy” bullshit. Yes, the T-1000 is more advanced and able to manipulate emotion, but Schwarzenegger’s method’s were just plain brutal. He was the superior villain.
As far as the rest of Cameron’s resume is concerned, nothing else came close. Titanic? Avatar? Box office behemoths, but nowhere near Cameron at his best. Not by a long shot. Necessity is the mother of invention, and it seems that Jim Cameron was at his best when forced outright to be creative. The Terminator had limited funds, so Cameron, genius, had to fire on all cylinders. None of his future movies will come close either. Three more Avatars? And some garbage called Battle Angel? Sounds like we can rule out Cameron giving us something with some torque, something bold and edgy. These aren’t pieces of art. They’re giant, safe family-based enterprises. The only thing that remains of the old Cameron in the Avatar franchise is his superior aesthetics and Stephen Lang’s badass villain.
But let’s not end this with complete doom and gloom. In what could be interpreted as a glimmer of hope, or probably just fantasy… this year we learned that Cameron will regain the rights to the Terminator franchise in 2019. Cameron, do the right thing. Indulge in your Avatar slush then restore some dignity.