The Terminator Movies: Why the robots lost…badly.


I’ve been watching the first and third Terminator films the last couple of days and something occurred to me as to why the robots–from the future, of course–always lose: they’re not very smart robots.
Let’s face it, the robots of the future didn’t exactly choose the “calm” approach to getting things done. The first Terminator was a large, muscular Austrian with a trigger finger. Go figure. He can’t talk all that well–no offense Arnold, but sweet-talking isn’t really your forte–and he has a tremendous social deficiency. You’d think that robots who eventually take control of the Internet, the military, and everything else attached to some sort of digital component would have learned a little about what makes us tick. They’d have known that people don’t generally respond well to being shot at, chased, followed by creepy guys in leather jackets who have a constant look of anger and speak like the Grim Reaper if he were born in Eastern Europe or hit over the head with a large hammer. But they didn’t do this research or decided it didn’t matter for some reason.
You see, the robots could have easily killed off Sarah Connor the first time around by taking a little time to program “fake” emotions into their robots. I know, they’re robots and are supposed to be emotionless. That’s sort of the point of the movies. But we’re talking about this in a different light, so get over it. They could have programmed their Terminators to be a little more, well, human, even just a smidge. By doing so they would have ended up with a robot that could at least blend, somewhat, into the human world and might actually weasel its way into Sarah Connor’s good graces. And then, with her back turned, all trusting and what not, it could have just snapped her neck and been done with it.
But that didn’t happen.
And then came Terminator 2, where the Austrian version gets reprogrammed by humans who don’t have the time to deal with implanting human qualities into it, considering their desperate situation and all, and the evil version is a suped up model that can turn to liquid and runs really fast–oh and has the handy ability to turn his hands into toothpicks and golf clubs. The robots were almost there this time around. Sure, the T-1000 has a trigger finger, almost no emotions, etc., but it does manage to express a little humanity at times, albeit in an attempt to get what it wants. But, it’s not nearly enough and in the end the T-1000 is just another monstrous robot bent on killing one of the Connors (this time John) and causing as much explosion-happy mayhem as humanly, I mean robotically possible. And, just like with the first Terminator (T-101 or some such), this approach draws far too much attention, and really, if you’re going to jump into the past to hunt down a kid, you probably should do it quietly so that not every cop within three-hundred miles knows what’s going on. Subtlety is the wave of the future. Wait…no it’s not.
Finally came Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. I’m intentionally ignoring the Sarah Connor Chronicles, mostly because I haven’t watched them and because the few episodes I have seen really didn’t do much for me at all (sorry, I think they suffer from “stuck in the middle” syndrome like the new Clone Wars movie does). T3 was, more or less, an attempt to expand upon the Terminator story without doing anything too outlandish and ridiculous in comparison to the first two films. It succeeded on that front, giving us lots of explosions, chase scenes, fights, and what not without overloading it with the big movie killer in Hollywood today: excessive CG. Sure, there was a lot of CG in T3, but they seemed to avoid designing scenes that would rely entirely upon CG in exchange for a bit of realism (George Lucas, you should be paying attention here). In T3 we have Austrian Terminator being reprogrammed yet again by humans–human qualities missing, obviously–and sent back in time to protect John Connor and Kate Brewster–who apparently is Connor’s future wife. The robots, however, send back the T-X, and I’m going to use John Connor’s words to describe her:

“She’s an anti-terminator…terminator.”

She’s supposed to be an extremely advanced Terminator model, but she does come with limitations–she can’t turn into liquid like the T-1000, though she can change her appearance, and she can’t turn her arms into golf clubs. Sure, she’s superior to the T-101, or whatever model you want to call Arnold’s Terminator, but she’s not nearly as terrifying as the T-1000–mostly cause she’s a pretty woman and the T-1000 was that slightly creepy guy who later worked on X-Files. Having said all this, though, we find that despite T-X’s ability to control digital networks–such as the computer systems in our newfangled cars and what not–and her seemingly limitless physical capabilities–like punching through a car seat and a man’s chest all at once or simply walking away after being bitch-slapped by a rocket propelled grenade–she falls prey to exactly what made the first and second Terminators failures: she has absolutely no concept of what it is to be human. Well, I should say “it”, but because it’s a woman most of the time I’ll just say she. In the end, it is the original Terminator’s ability to have some semblance of humanity that leads to the success of humanity (which is sort of a strange type of success, since the robots succeed in starting the war anyway, but don’t worry, cause John Connor and Kate Brewster live, and Connor turns into a scarred badass that eats Terminators for breakfast and probably has his face on a Wheaties box at some point, or the future equivalent–Termies perhaps?).
You see, after three attempts (more if you want to include the Sarah Connor stuff), you’d think they would have learned that creating robots that are incapable of blending into human society isn’t conducive to hunting down a single individual, or even a handful of individuals. You start blowing things up and causing havoc, you expose yourself, and the one thing robots need to learn about us humans is that we’re notoriously nasty when cornered. We’re like dogs, or rats, or something like that. You can’t corner us. You’ve got to sneak in, gain our trust, and strike us from behind. The Terminators were never designed to hunt humans. They were designed to hunt animals, and while we are animals, we have characteristics that make us somewhat different. I don’t know what they are, but you can’t hunt us like you would a deer or a cow or whatever. We’re just different, and the robots of the future never learned that. They relied on simplistic tactics for hunting us down, which is especially concerning when you realize just how powerful the Terminators, in their various incarnations, really are. And they lost. Three times and then some.
So the next time robots rise up to defeat us, maybe they should do some research. Explosions are pretty and exciting, but not really great ways to get a job done. Maybe a nice bear hug would be more efficient…

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

2 thoughts on “The Terminator Movies: Why the robots lost…badly.

  1. I know this is a REALLY old post, but I had it favorited for some reason. I think I intended to comment and never got around to it, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna necropost a bit.

    I agree with you generally about the future robots not blending in very well, but there’s also one thing you didn’t take into consideration — the fact that each time the target was attacked they had help from someone with advanced knowledge from the future. Sarah Connor was helped by that guy from the future who became the fater of John Connor, Sarah and John were helped by a reprogrammed Terminator, and John and his girfriend were also helped by a reprogrammed Terminator. So each time, they knew what to look for. Sarah relied on the future guy’s experiences with other T-101s, and then they had a super strong reprogrammed T-101 with inside knowledge about enemy tactics.

    So while I agree that they needed to be more subtle to fool the helpers, if it had just been Sarah and John on their own, they would have been dead turkeys pretty quickly, because they wouldn’t know what to expect.

  2. That’s just it, though. If the robots had made their various Terminator models (or at least the ones following the first movie so as to show a progression in thought on their part) more human, the humans wouldn’t have been much help. You can have prior knowledge, sure, but if every Terminator looks and acts like a human being, there will not be any easy ways to differentiate. The humans won because the robots were too inhuman for their own good and were unable to grasp what it is to be human and why that allows us to persist through almost any crisis.

    That’s why the robots lost. They couldn’t fathom that humans were smart enough to tell the difference between a robot and a human. Maybe they thought we were too stupid for our own good once…after all, we did unwittingly allow them to complete take over…

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