For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.
Watched: 14 October 2019
Format: A 35mm print projected at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End.
Seen before? Yes, many, many times.
Note: I have already reviewed The Terminator as part of another blogging series – you can check it out by clicking on this link. So instead of focusing on the film itself, this article is about one particular viewing…
Review: It’s a rainy October evening as I head into central London to watch The Terminator, a film I’ve loved since I was a child, on a big screen for the first time. I don’t specifically remember my first viewing of this sci-fi action masterpiece, but it will have been on VHS in the mid-1980s. At that time I adored films; I adored Hollywood films; and I especially adored Arnold Schwarzenegger films. I also, thankfully, had a mother who let me rent violent movies. I’ve watched it many times in the 30-odd years since, but tonight I get the chance to see it projected in a cinema setting. I’m excited beyond measure.
The Prince Charles Cinema, housed in a 1960s building that was initially a theatre, is the only independent cinema in the West End and is located on a pedestrianised side street to the north of the tourist-heavy Leicester Square. I’ve been here several times before, so am well used to the set-up: the small entrance where you can buy popcorn, the small bar where you can buy drinks, the chalkboard where they invite you to suggest movies they should run. It has two screening rooms – a 104-seater upstairs, a 300-seater downstairs – and at 6.15pm tonight The Terminator is being shown in the latter.
I get out my phone and show the email containing my pre-bought ticket to a friendly guy at the door. This has been a big change to cinema-going in recent years, hasn’t it? Not only the notion that you pre-book online rather than just show up and pay there and then, but also that your ‘ticket’ is a barcode in an email. Part of me – a rather big part of me, if I’m honest – misses the old system. I fret about my phone battery dying and them not letting me in, or the barcode not scanning properly. I worry that too many things can go wrong. In fact, the day before my Terminator trip, I went to see the newly released movie Joker at the Everyman Canary Wharf (a very fine little cinema indeed). I’d bought my ticket on their website the night before, but the email never showed up. In the end it hadn’t mattered: I’d simply strolled in, taken my seat, watched the film and strolled out again afterwards. Not one member of staff had challenged me. But it had added an unnecessary level of anxiety to the process.
It’s not a huge turnout tonight at the Prince Charles, which is a bit of a surprise. There are only perhaps 20 to 30 of us here. But this cinema has a brilliantly eclectic programme – later this week, for example, it’s also showing a documentary about Miles Davis, Eddie Murphy’s new film Dolemite Is My Name, a recorded performance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s show Fleabag, the horror film Get Out, Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and 80s flick The Lost Boys. A screening of James Cameron’s 1984 classic doesn’t therefore stand out, no matter how much I adore it. There’s just so much choice.
After a refreshingly brief period of ads and trailers – no multiplex-style half-hour of tedium here! – the lights go down and the film begins. They use a variety of formats at the Prince Charles, sometimes loudly trumpeting the fact they have a 70mm copy of, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey… or sometimes whispering that they project a few films digitally. Tonight, I’m watching The Terminator on an old 35mm print, which is occasionally scratchy and damaged.
Rather than detract, I find that this actually enhances the experience. We’re living through a shiny, sleek era of apps and high-def and broadband, and of course that’s great and has brought untold benefits. But it’s wonderful, once in a while, to be reminded what popular culture used to be like. To wallow in the nostalgia of imperfection and to feel a bit more connected to the world around you.
The print I’m now watching is clear and sharp and shows off Adam Greenberg’s cinematography brilliantly. But it’s also undeniably aged, gritty, textured. It’s been round the houses. It has history. The reel changes are also noticeable – if, that is, you know to look out for an occasional flashing dot in the top right-hand corner of the screen. (This device tips off the projectionist that they need to switch over to a new reel. I first learnt about it when I saw an old episode of Columbo in which the murderer’s alibi was based on making a reel change at a certain time. The practice has now vanished from multiplexes due to digital projectors.)
All this is part of the fun of seeing a favoured film on the big screen. It’s not a dispassionate experience; it’s emotional and visceral. When you know and love a movie as much as I know and love The Terminator, you’re viewing it in a different way from most people. Most people, it seems to me, watch a film once. Their pleasure comes from experiencing a new story for the first time, and after that they’re not sure what you’d get from it. They perhaps find the idea of repeat viewings peculiar, but for people like me rewatching movies is a vital part of the process. I once heard the film critic Mark Kermode being challenged about this on the radio. Sounding bemused by the notion of watching one film many times, the presenter Richard Bacon asked how often Kermode had seen his favourite movie, The Exorcist. Kermode guessed at least 200. ‘It works for me every time,’ he explained, ‘and every time I see it, it looks like a different film.’
I haven’t seen The Terminator or any other film quite that often, but tonight could easily be my 20-something-th viewing. Therefore the story doesn’t take me by surprise any more. I know every scene, every beat, and I can – and this evening I occasionally do – mouth along with the dialogue (‘The Uzi 9mm?’, ‘Look at it this way: in a hundred years, who’s gonna care?’, ‘Fuck you, asshole!’). But my enjoyment isn’t lessened any by this. It’s partly due to familiarity. It’s like seeing and hanging out with an old friend, even if you know it’ll mean hearing the same anecdotes and the same jokes. It’s also the effect Mark Kermode mentioned about The Exorcist. Each time you watch a cherished film, in some ways you see it anew. Already knowing *what’s* happening on screen means you can focus on *why* and *how*. You can appreciate the detail, you can track certain aspects, you can try to understand why it works so well.
Also, having it projected onto a big screen, which of course is how director James Cameron intended it to be seen, gives me a new context this evening. All my previous viewings had been on a TV. The early ones were also cropped into the ghastly pan-and-scan format. Now I can look up from my comfortable seat and enjoy The Terminator in its correct aspect ratio (it was shot with spherical lenses and is projected at 1.85:1), playing on a screen around 10 feet tall by 20 wide. I can be thrilled by the story, excited by the action, entertained by the wit, intrigued by the clever storytelling, wowed by the intensity and the sharp direction, charmed by the cast, impressed by the craft in the art design and music and camerawork. Outside it’s raining. In here, I’m safe and happy.
Schwarzenegger Says: ‘Released just a week before Halloween 1984, [The Terminator] was the number-one movie in America for six weeks, on its way to grossing close to $100 million. I didn’t quite realise how successful it was until… some people stopped me walking down the street in New York. “Oh man, we just saw The Terminator. Say it! Say it! You’ve got to say it!” “What?” “You know, ‘I’ll be back!'” None of us involved in making the movie had any idea that this was going to be the line people remembered.’
Ten plates of burly beef out of 10
Next: The Expendables 2