I’ll be back. Come with me if you want to live. These classic lines and more can be found in Terminator (1984). As well as all of the sequels, mostly to eye-rolling effect, and a surprising number of other movies. If you don’t know, Terminator (1984) is about a woman (Linda Hamilton) being hunted by a killer robot from the future (Arnold Schwarzenegger). I’ll be honest, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is the superior Terminator movie. But this movie is good for more then just giving us T2. In a very fascinating way, Terminator is able to be both an argument in favor of practical effects and against it.
For those of you may not know. Practical Effects, to quote Wikipedia, “is a special effect produced physically, without computer-generated imagery or other post production techniques.” For example, practical effects may use make-up, puppets, prosthetics, or animatronics among other things to create effects that otherwise might be done by CGI.
Now, Terminator finds itself having examples of both good and bad practical effects. I’ll start with the bad. In the film, at one point The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) looks in a mirror to examine his wounds, exposing the robotics under his skin. This was accomplished by using make up and facial prosthetic. As you can see below:
It looks pretty bad. It looks super fake and honestly took me out of the movie while watching. If you only saw this then you would say that practical effects are no good. Which would be fair because it looks pretty bad. Additionally, whenever the Terminator, after all the skin was burned and it was just the robot skeleton, was shown moving it would be show using stop motion and it also tended to look distractingly bad. Especially in shots that had human actors in it as well. When you have one character moving in stop-motion and another character being played by a human in the same shot it makes the stop-motion all the more noticeable and bad. But all these bad effects were made up for by the great effects.
For every bad effect this film had, it had a great one right around the corner. While some shots used stop-motion, for a lot of shots, the Terminator skeleton was given life on screen by using puppetry to make it seem alive. These shots are terrifying in the most fantastic way. It feels like there really is a killer robot chasing Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). The movement looks so much more fluid then the stop motion shots and the metal of the robot just feels real. It’s amazing. Also, for the scenes taking place in the apocalypse future, miniatures were used to create the desolate wasteland and make the “Hunter-Killer” robots feel larger than life, when in reality the models were tiny. Below, I have linked a video where smarter people then me explain the effects in the movie better than I ever could.
You know effects are good, practical or otherwise, when your first thought after seeing them isn’t “I know how they did that.” Good effects are the ones that feel real. They are the ones that keep you within the world of the movie. They don’t pull you out of the movie by making you think, “wow that looks terrible.” They keep your attention by making you think, “Wow, that looks cool.”
Now, what’s the verdict? Practical effects, good or bad? I don’t know. It ultimately comes down to personal taste I suppose. Personally, I feel a healthy mix of practical and digital effects is the right choice. Practical effects when you can while using digital effects to enhance the practical. But that’s just me. I implore you to watch Terminator, and the video I linked, and see the good and the bad in action and make your own mind up in what you prefer. Ultimately, I give The Terminator (1984) 6 weird clay Arnold Schwarzenegger faces out of 10.