The Terminator Versus The Matrix

Slavery most foul, the soul owned by cruel technological, oppressive and metallic overlords whose only use for humans is to provide their basic needs, worse still, they don’t need many of us at all. These machines have no heart, no soul and absolutely no pity…how can a ragged few save us from enslavement. Well if you have ever seen the Terminator films or the Matrix trilogy you know that a special man will be born, the one, a kind of futuristic messiah and he  is the lone hope for our species. We live in a technological age where messages are sent globally in nano-seconds, food is prepared in under 10 minutes and the limit of the humble IPhone is still of an apparent unending quantity.  Yes our silicone slaves are good, we love them , however in that part of the mind that fears the dark echoes beneath the bed, we wonder about the relationship and whether ’viva  la revolution’  is in the future.  The relationship of ‘man versus computer’ is the theme of these films, yet which of them speaks the loudest. Which of the two films causes us to watch the microwave oven out of the corner of our eye with the greatest trepidation?   To put it simply- which one is the best at transmitting the message “beware of our own ingenuity?”  It is clear that it is the Terminator series, why?  The Terminator series had characters who possessed no ‘special’ powers rather they were either very human or extremely robotic, the plot is seamless with each chapter complimenting the one, each film had a different take and yet  the story did not outlive itself and resort to sideshowesc , cheap attention getting techniques to amuse rather than entertain the viewer.  The Terminator series continually examines the very real folly of human vanity and uses that as the lynch pin on which it hangs its apocalyptic vision.

The Terminator has a superior cast of characters to The Matrix and this has left it with a rich palette to paint with. Consider if you will the villains of each series, Mr Smith,  is a bureaucrat database with a gun,  while T1000 is weapon on a mission who “does not sleep, he feels no pain and he absolutely positively will not stop until you are dead.”  If you injure T1000 he will not bleed instead he becomes a wicked chrome skeleton with demonic scarlet eyes, Mr Smith breaks his sunglasses, enough said really. The excitement and energy of the central villain is crucial to excellence of a film and clearly, The Terminator is vastly superior to The Matrix. There is also the matter of heroes within the series,  The Mattrix uses the hero Neo,  Neo as a character who is a hero might have  fine (computer geek goes action hero) but it is played by the wooden face of Keeanu Reeves and as such the character has no emotional depth.  The Terminator on the other hand has a father, son duo (pretty cool idea really.) The first film features Kyle Reese the father, he is a man who has  been sent  by his son (he does not know that John Connor is his son)  back in time to meet the mother of her child and to protect her.  He is a man who has been hunted since birth, who has witnessed horror abound, he is a rouge soldier defending the last remaining scraps of humanity.  Despite this he falls in love with the vulnerable yet feisty Sarah Connor and he fathers John, only to die tragically in the same night, it is tragedy and pathos with Shakespearian dimensions. It is the diversity, complexity and density of the characters of The Terminator that gives an edge over the much more mundane The Matrix.

Another way in which The Terminator proves its filmatic muscle is with its supreme plot. Although character is important, critical even, in the field of Sci- fi it is the plot that defines the genre and the fans expect, nay demand, that it is rich and novel.  The Terminator has it all, time travel, wars with lasers and skull crushing tanks,  road trips,  apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic earth yet despite the enormity of the vision, it is the small human tragedy and tenderness, elegantly told that provides the twists and the action in Terminator. This is not a movie that is just supposed to wash over us while we watch,  the Terminator asks us to think, listen and care.  This is not the story of T100 and T2000, this is the story of a boy , his mother and his father.  This is a story of horrific destiny and heroic fates yet played out in the smallest of theatres- the human heart. The Matrix however has everything to work with, the script itself does have ingenuity and cleverness but it has no real pulling power because while it may intellectually appeal it has the emotional excitement of a Chux rag. The Terminator  has emotional integrity, it reaches out from the screen and  it asks you, the viewer “Are you Sarah Connor?”  The answer to this is clear- we all are Sarah Connor.

The world of the Terminator is our world and we are the heroes of that world,  ordinary people can relate to this series and they can see who they are and who they would like to be reflected back at them. The toughest criteria of all to apply to sci-fi films is relatability, after all don’t their audiences wish to escape their relatable world and visit a “galaxy far, far away.”  It is conceded however that if the audience cannot on some level recognise the fantasy world they will, as The Matrix points out, not accept it, they will reject the vision passionately. The intriguing thing is that despite The Matrix pointing that out it is here that they made their biggest flaws. The Matrix asks you to believe that the crew could harbour the traitor Cypher, in close quarters and never notice that he was capable of killing them, it asks the viewer to believe that Neo made no connections at all in Matrix, no mother, no best friend and no girlfriend yet his is evolved emotionally to have a relationship with Trinity, Orpheus and the rest of the crew. It is these anomalies that lead the viewer to feel disconnected with the film however the characters of The Terminator are recognisable and their responses  to the strange situations and emotional complications around them are genuine.  When the audience is feeling as if fiction has an authentic representation of reality then they are receptive to messages that the film is trying to impart- thus the film is more meaningful.

Needless to say, both of these films are great sci-fi classics yet if pushed to identify which film is the greatest it obvious that The Terminator wins hands down and twice on Sundays.  The Terminator is not just an action piece, it is also a character portrait with some depth and authenticity.  The plot of The Terminator is unique and works on both the macro and micro level and yet despite a nuclear war, robot hitmen, and a synthetic 80’s music there is something timeless and genuine about this film that speaks even to modern cinema goers.  The Terminator is the perfect vehicle to carry the warning about complacency in the modern world, the theme is delivered by this film with touching power, making us uncomfortable and yet believing  that there is “No Fate but that Which We Make.”

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