Special-effects pioneer Stan Winston once admitted that, prior to reading James Cameron’s script for The Terminator (1984), he had simply categorized it as a “little low budget film.” Later, he would describe it as “one of the most fantastic scripts I’ve ever read.” What Winston saw in James Cameron’s Hollywood debut was a thematically complex, politically relevant film hiding inside a genre-spanning crowd-pleaser that effortlessly blended the chase-driven action movie with elements of science fiction and horror. With the figure of the Terminator, Cameron presents the ultimate vision of Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex infused with neo-liberal philosophy, as well as an incarnation of Marx’s warning that capitalism would inevitably lead to the replacement of humans by machines. Then, he places this character in a story that incorporates references to the Holocaust, the Cold War, and second-wave feminism.
In addition to the film’s revolutionary aesthetic and insightful socio-political content, this seminar will consider the impact of The Terminator on the development of special make-up effects, with a focus on the work of Stan Winston. This film heralded the initial creation of full-scale, live-action animatronics, which were developed for the Terminator’s endoskeleton. Winston would later improve upon this early effort for films like Cameron's own Aliens (1986) and Jurassic Park (1993) —each of which earned him an Academy Award.