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Genre Film Analysis: Terminator

There are many ways of analyzing a film’s style. These include mise-en-scene, auteurism and genre which can aid to clarify the specificity of movies as a medium to different audiences. One of these theories is genre analysis. According to Grant, “genre movies are those commercial feature films which, through repetition and variation, tell familiar stories with familiar characters in familiar situations” (1985, p.ix). Richard Maltby identifies eight kinds of genre: “The Western, the comedy, the musical, and the war movie are four uncontested categories. Different critics will then argue the relative independent merits of at least one of the thriller, the crime or gangster movie, and list the horror movie and science fiction as either one or two additional genres” (1995, p.116).

The Terminator (Cameron, 1984) is a combination of three genres.  It can be classified as science fiction, horror and action-adventure films.  It is considered as science fiction because of the presence of robots and futuristic settings.  It is a horror movie because of the presence of a monster that experiences no pain and is immortal.  Furthermore, there is always a damsel in distress and the killings happen after dark.  According to Neale, the following are the characteristics of action-adventure movie, “a propensity for spectacular physical action, a narrative structure involving fights, chases and explosions, and in addition to the deployment of state-of-the-art special effects, an emphasis in performance on athletic feats and stunts” (2000, p. 46). This makes The Terminator is definitely an action-adventure movie because of the car chase scenes, gun fighting and a lot of explosions.

To begin with, The Terminator is classified as a science fiction movie. A number of science fiction films utilize time travel much more with protagonists moving from one time period to another, from past, present and future. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a villain which is a cyborg.  Both the protagonist and Schwarzenegger time travel from the future.  Time travel is insignificant to the story once the hero and Scharzenegger are in the present, they do not go back in time again.

Cyborgs are robots that look like humans. They are a characteristic of science fiction because cyborgs are not real.  Beneath the skin it has mechanical elements built into the body.  This makes the movie a horror and action-adventure movie at the same time.  The Terminator is almost unconquerable because it can defy gun shots and explosions.  This results to more action scenes because its enemies are unable to kill it.  This also means that the terminator keeps resurrecting after it has been shot by its enemies.  This is very similar to the slasher movies’ psycho killers such as Michael Myers of Halloween and Jason Vorhees of Friday the 13th.  Because of its strong metal endoskeleton, the robot is very difficult to kill which is highlighted by the robot’s power.  It is a dead person because of its skeleton which makes it more difficult to kill it.  The robot looks scary because of its angry red eyes and gritted teeth.

Flashbacks about the future were employed throughout the movie.  The robots have declared war against humans and only few people have survived which make the film a dystopian one. The setting is set during night and human survivors are tracked by robots.  The gloomy mood is executed through different special effects such as models of robots and destroyed buildings.  The underground has become the place of refuge by humans and they eat rats for food which depicts the depressing plight of humans in the future.  The theme of the movie expresses that man has become too dependent on technology and that technology is developing too rapidly in the present. Science fiction movies that have a dystopian setting usually express messages that have to do with time.  For instance, Children of Men that is set in England, 2027.  London has become worse in terms of pollution and the human race has become stagnant.  The bus and building advertisements are the only trace of technological advancement.  This implies that power and greed still pervade from the current situation.  The scene opens with an explosion which symbolizes nationalism and prejudice against immigrants. This refers to the actions of the UK and US governments after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and shows the adaptation of genres as time goes by.  The movie also shows the obsession of people with famous people as they look at the television and cry over the death of a person they do not know personally. Children of Men and The Terminator have different ways of presenting the future, but they both have the elements of science fiction movies. The speeding of the music during the car chase scenes also shows the conventions of an action movie.

Although there are no robots in Children of Men, they are significant in The Terminator and Transformers.  The robots look almost human because they have authentic human skin, hair, sweat and blood.  In addition, the Terminator  has a special ‘Terminator vision’ made by a red tint and different types of text flashed onscreen which allows viewers to see from The Terminator’s point of view.

To sum up, Terminator also demonstrates the elements in an action and crime genre as there is one car chase scene with The Terminator driving a police mobile.  The theme of law and order is shown while The Terminator is driving the police car. In action movies, the police are depicted as fighting to preserve the peace and order situation. However, in this movie, it implies that the Terminator has become the new representative for peace and order.  Similar to the detectives in other action movies, the Terminator perseveres until he catches his enemies. In the sequel, the T1000 villain transforms himself into a policeman.  The movie shows a more modern depiction of women compared to science fiction movies in the past. Sarah Connor starts in the  movie as a usual damsel in distress. However, towards the latter part of the movie, she becomes a strong woman who must overcome the enemy on her own and ultimately triumphs at the end.


Works Cited

Grant, B.K., 1985. Introduction. Grant. Film Genre.

Maltby, R.G., 2003. Hollywood cinema. Blackwell Publishing.

Neale, S., 2000. Genre and hollywood. Psychology Press.

Terminator. 1984. [Film]. James Cameron. Dir. USA: Orion Pictures.


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