Friday, January 30, 2009

Greatest On-Screen Arnold Moments

I think it's safe to say the world most likely won't see another personality like Arnold Schwarznegger again anytime soon, if ever. I don't even know if we'll ever see another era of film so dominated by that icon of the 80's, the "action star". And of all the action stars there were, there was none bigger than Arnold. From weirdo foreign bodybuilder to actor to household name, his journey is the sort of tale you couldn't make up.

I know, I know. It's STILL weird to think of him as a United States governor and the man was in lots of poor movies like Twins, Jingle All The Way, The Last Action Hero (what should have been a tribute fell far short) and of course, Batman And Robin (you can take a moment to scream with rage here, I'll wait). But even these travesties cannot tear down the great things he did in other movies.

So together let's celebrate the five greatest on-screen moments of the best action star of them all, Arnold Schwarznegger.

5. It's A Man, Baby! (Total Recall; 1990)
One of Arnold's quirkiest moments combined with the slam-bang action we'd come to expect from his movies. No one could forget this one. Traveling to Mars on a search for answers and with deadly enemies pursing him, Arnold's memory-altered character, Douglas Quaid knows that it will be difficult to elude the hi-tech security at the airport-like Mars terminal. So using a little technology of his own, Arnold quite convincingly disguises himself as an obese woman, right down to the voice.

He's discovered anyway and the reveal is fantastic and surreal, with the fake face sort of melting off him while the body jiggles and shakes. To see Arnold, who by 1990 was well-established as one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, emerge from the guise of a large woman in a dress is all kinds of trippy, funny and just cool.

4. Assault On Val Verde (Commando; 1985)
After the huge successes of the Conan movies and The Terminator, Commando is the film that really launched Arnold into the stratosphere and cemented his reputation as a huge action star, probably surpassing Sylvester Stallone by this point. So the entire movie is just him killing guys in every way imaginable, doing it all in his own unique, macho style, spouting one-liners at every turn and piling up the property damage.

This movie has tons of great moments but I decided to just stretch one out into Matrix's subtle infiltration of fictional island dictatorship, Val Verde. And by "subtle infiltration" I of course mean Matrix single-handedly mowing down dozens and dozens of soldiers before strolling into the final confrontation with the leather-bound and not so intimidating villain, Bennett.

If you're watching the movie for the first time you just can't believe it as this sequence just keeps going on and on. Arnold encounters a group of soldiers, shoots the hell out of them and blows them up and then it happens all over again. And again and again. They just keep coming. And they keep dying. I've read that Matrix is shown killing no less than 81 people on screen. I've also read somewhere that 128 people are killed on screen with several dozen more off-screen deaths implied. Whatever the math, Matrix made the term "one man army" as literal as you're probably ever going to see it.

3. "I'll Be Back" (The Terminator; 1984)
I don't know if anyone suspected anything at the time, but this simple 3-word line would go on to become one of the most famous bits of dialogue from any movie ever and also forever be associated with the man who uttered it. We're so used to it by now but I'm going to try to analyze it as if it's fresh so that we can better understand why it made for such a great moment.

Really, the terminator's stark declaration of his intentions to the desk clerk of the LA police station on its own really has no impact at all. It's what follows directly afterward that makes it so significant. Here we have a killer cyborg doing its best to blend into normal humanity but it's not so advanced that it can do this convincingly through anything but the most basic of human interaction and conversation. Which is partly why it was so fitting for Arnold to take this role - everyone knows he can't suppress his accent and in 1984 this was even more of an issue. So it's pretty funny to have this big, really foreign-sounding guy trying to blend in in Los Angeles in any situation, let alone the situation the terminator is in.

The Terminator only has a small handful of simple, straightforward lines - Arnold was initially reluctant to take the role for this very reason - he felt he needed more dialogue so he could learn to speak English more naturally. But fate played out the way it did and it was definitely for the best. So you've got this huge, awkward-looking (and also pretty scary) guy strolling into a police station one night and robotically (at least he has an excuse) asking for information they say they can't give out. So he stares at the clerk for a moment before simply stating "I'll be back" and walking out. The very next shot is of him crashing a car through the front of the building then embarking on a shooting spree killing 16 cops in the process of tracking down our protagonists. Obviously, it's this juxtaposition of a very basic line with crazy, deadly action that makes it so memorable and great. So great in fact that the line would go on to follow Arnold for the rest of his life (he even says variations of it as Governor for California tourism ads) and no one is complaining.

2. Forget Aliens - It's Dutch VS Predator (Predator; 1987)
A wonderful combination of stuff that had worked earlier for Arnold - sci-fi elements as in The Terminator and a single hero overcoming insurmountable odds as in Commando - Predator makes Arnold the good guy again and pits him against something kind of similar to the terminator he once played. It's another great movie that Arnold fits wonderfully into and there's lots of great scenes again but let's get to the moment - Dutch's final confrontation with the extra-terrestrial predator.

Possibly for the first time we have a hero played by Arnold matched up against an opponent that is actually more formidable than he is. Even with its advanced technology aside, the predator's 6'8 frame made even Arnold seem less than imposing. And the final battle came down to one-on-one with technology mostly being left out. Dutch has to rely on his more primal skills to defeat the predator, rigging crude traps in the jungle as well as fashioning a bow and arrow. Through these efforts, he does manage to disable one of the predator's greatest advantages - its cloaking device. But still the predator comes on.

We learn the creature has a sense of honour and it challenges Dutch to a final bout of unarmed combat....and then proceeds to kick the shit out of him. Here we get to see Arnold take quite a beating but not go completely down. Dutch finally takes out the predator with one of his leftover traps but it's really the spectacle of seeing one of Arnold's characters being physically overmatched and still overcoming that makes it one of his greatest on-screen moments.

1. "Hasta La Vista, Baby" (Terminator 2: Judgment Day; 1991)
This line is significant for almost the opposite reason that the "I'll be back" line is; after playing an emotionless, merciless killing machine in the original film, Arnold reprises his role as the same emotionless, merciless killing machine but this time he's on the side of good. His interactions with the boy he's programmed to protect, while awkward, eventually do lead the audience to at least almost believe that possibly there is more to the terminator than nuts and bolts. That maybe, just maybe, he does have something that passes for a soul. And even if you don't believe that, it's just funny to see this mechanized murderer learn to speak more "naturally" at the behest of a twelve year old boy.

So now instead of just uttering the simplest of lines, some flavour has been added to his dialogue. And the greatest use of this is the spectacular defeat of the T-1000 - a nemesis shown to be even more powerful and relentless than the original terminator. Because really, the terminator, if he is just a bunch of nuts and bolts, well then, he didn't HAVE to say that line when he finally took that shot; he didn't even HAVE to say anything. But he did say something. And what did he say? The cool line that the kid taught him. So you get the feeling that the terminator has learned something after all, that he's somehow evolved past his rigid programming and formed some sort of personality.

We should all well remember that Arnold Schwarznegger is probably best known for his portrayal of the terminator and that it wouldn't be so significant, memorable and, dare I say, great, if he hadn't managed to inject some style in there. In the world of cinema, an emotionless robot is one of the most beloved and popular characters. And only Arnold could have pulled that off.


Shane said...

I agree with everything on this list, and it`s a great tribute to the biggest action star of them all.

For Total Recall, I would say another moment of similar impact for being surprising and kind of disturbing would be the eye-bulging moment when Arnold gets trapped out on surface of Mars.

RyHo said...

Love this list. I have to say, even though Terminator 2 is probably the best action film of all time, Predator is always my fave Arnie film, so I'm glad that fight made it.

Also, as you know, the Commando drinking game has almost claimed as many lives as Arnold, himself, in that final scene. Just try and drink every time he kills someone!