In honor of the latest re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Skynet’s 20th birthday yesterday, Ben and Kyle sat down to reflect on Ahnuld’s film legacy. Those action-adventurers and comedies that marked a highlight in his film career. From an Austrian bodybuilder to the action star of the 80’s and 90’s, to a storied politician, the duo revisit five classics and put our their spin on them.
Conan the Barbarian
BEN: Although he had a number of roles in the 1970’s after being discovered as a body builder, none of those roles defined Arnold Schwarzenegger more than 1982’s Conan the Barbarian and its sequel, Conan the Destroyer two years later. Patterned after The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, John Millius’s and Oliver Stone’s script for Barbarian is at its heart a revenge story, full of amazing cinematography and classic characters, such as James Earl Jones as Thulsa Doom, Max von Sydow as King Osiric, Mako as the Narrator/Wizard amongst others. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen this film in a very long time and I’m overdue for a visit because I remember Duke Callgahan’s cinematography of the desolate, yet rich mountainside landscapes to be stunning along with Basil Poledouris’ drum-heavy instrumental score.
KYLE: Poledouris’ score is legendary. Aside from the outstanding cinematography, one of the things that makes this film work is that it is unapologetically violent and adult oriented. The 80’s was a decade in American cinema where you could get away with quite a bit and many films, particularly those geared towards children had a darker undercurrent. Barbarian went the opposite route and didn’t bury the darkness, it showcased it. This is also easily Arnold’s best performance. Conan is flawed and violent, but there’s a savage nobility to him that really comes to fruition after the crucifixion scene. It’s my favorite part, when they raid the orgy and Doom’s minion says “You” and Conan immediately raises his sword. It’s scenes like this that make you fall in love with movies.
BEN: In some ways, this role really defined Schwarzenegger’s style as a sarcastic something or another. It wasn’t so much the character of the Terminator that defined him, but his formidable, yet mechanical presence on the screen. Future roles would lighten him up, where here, Cameron had him approach the role with a more robotic precision, which would permeate some of his more militaristic roles in future movies. What I liked about his performance was that he was ultra-cool even when he was deadly serious. The opening scene with Bill Paxton and Brian Thompson where The Terminator asks for their clothes and Paxton’s character says “This guy’s short of a six pack” says a lot about the story and the character because in the next scene Schwarzenegger just sticks his fist into the abdomen of one of the punks, killing him instantly. It is this precision in Schwarzenegger’s acting that really is defined in this film and is something that we continue to see today.
KYLE: Cameron’s best film by a mile and the one that put Arnold on the map. It’s the perfect blend of 80’s neon dystopia and cold war paranoia…a place where Arnold’s inhuman assassin is free to kill with impunity in the name of a machine dominated future. While Arnold is amazing, I’d argue this is really Michael Biehn’s film, but his layered performance only works because it is contrasted by the emotionless antagonist that only Schwarzenegger could portray.
BEN: This film allowed us to explore Schwarzenegger’s . . . tender(?) side by exposing his character to a situation that placed his daughter in danger. The intriguing element is that he is very much a military muscle jock, even if his character is retired and ‘off the grid’. I really liked the story and characters in this film. The settings are very 80’s with the Contras-like group taking his daughter hostage as he tries to figure out what’s going on. Just as with his Terminator role, here he is a no-holds barred killer and he’ll blow anyone and anything up. Except his daughter. Oh, and Rae Dawn Chong.
KYLE: The body count for this one rivals Total Recall (which sadly didn’t make our list!). Where The Terminator was the gritty underbelly of the 80’s, Commando is ultra-macho American end of the spectrum. Let’s also not forget the tool shed scene, which is a legend unto itself with respect to comic book violence. While the subject matter may not hold as much relevance today, the combat and over the top performances will always remain fixtures in American action cinema.
The Running Man
BEN: Never has there been a more relevant film to not only the time in which it was made, but also today. It’s ironic then that Stephen King (under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) set the film in 2019. Steven E. de Souza gave the horrors of government control a graphic representation, while director Paul Michael Glasser (yes, that Paul Michael Glasser!) layered the film with a veritable who’s who of actors to surround Schwarzenegger including Yaphet Kotto, Maria Conchita Alonzo, and former game show host Richard Dawson. Some who have never seen it might call it cheesy, but it mirrors our reality today quite well. Pay attention to what this movie is trying to say.
KYLE: I absolutely adore this film. Coupling the very serious themes with the campy overindulgence of reality television makes for an outstanding experience. There’s terrific action set pieces, mysterious landmarks of the zone, and Dawson’s scene chewing villain. This is one of Arnold’s more vulnerable roles and it’s a blast to see him fighting the system. Some of the commercials and other propaganda that are placed throughout are hilarious. This is probably Stephen King’s actual worse nightmare, and like you say, it’s interesting that it is slowly becoming a reality.
BEN: Our final film is another James Cameron classic, if not an underrepresented film. Based on the French film La Totale!, Lies focuses its story on Harry Tasker, a global sales manager who doubles as a black operative for a covert terrorism taskforce known as Omega Sector. The story by James Cameron and Randall Frakes balances Tasker’s real world situations with his life as a family man, where he is married to Jamie Lee Curtis’s Helen Tasker, who knows nothing of his real life. Tom Arnold and Grant Heslov round out his team while his daughter, Dana, played by Eliza Dushku is full of teenage angst. Art Malik as the bad guy is very effective. Bill Paxton was hilarious as a faux double agent, Simon. Cameron surrounds himself with notable technical folks to support him. Russell Carpenter serves as the cinematographer. Whether we’re being chased down a snow covered, tree-lined hill in the Austrian Alps or we’re taking a helicopter ride over the Overseas Highway spanning the Florida Keys, Carpenter is up to the task. Conrad Buff, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris are all editors on various Cameron projects and they do a stunning job over the course of the 141 minute run time. Finally, Brad Fiedel is back to give Harry and company a riveting adventure score. Watch for the Westin Bonaventure Hotel to make another appearance as a stand-in for a D.C. hotel.
KYLE: While Total Recall and Predator are probably higher on my list, I think True Lies is an interesting film. There is a lot of debate about whether True Lies is chauvinistic with respect to Arnold’s treatment of Curtis and while I won’t get into the specifics here, I do think the conversation has merit. One of my favorite things about this film is how everyone appears to be having a wonderful time. It’s probably the most fun film of Arnold’s adult oriented content because, like its premise, it knows it is an illusion. It is a caricature of the films that Arnold built his career on while simultaneously being a playful examination on relationships, loyalty, and perspective. Technically, this is one of Cameron’s most impressive entries, with the editing being the true stand out.
BEN & KYLE: Thank you for continuing to follow our conversations. Next week, we’re going to take an in depth look at Lawrence of Arabia.