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Everything you always wanted to know about 'The Terminator'

Scott Von Doviack and a wax figure of his subject.
Jennifer Hill Robenalt
Scott Von Doviack and a wax figure of his subject.
<b>If You Like The Terminator...</b>
If You Like The Terminator...
<b>Scott Von Doviak</b>
Scott Von Doviak

From the Web

By Joe Gross

Scott Von Doviak would like you to know that if you like "The Terminator," you should probably get down with "The Planet of the Apes."

"The nice thing about this project was that I got to write about a lot of the stuff I loved as a kid," said the Austin writer and critic.

Von Doviak is a former contributing film writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the author of the book "Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema." These days, he's a frequent contributor to The Onion's A/V Club, and Hal Leonard Books just published his "If You Like The Terminator ...," part of their "If You Like ..." series.

"The idea of the whole series is that you have sites like Netflix and that are constantly recommending things to you based on your purchases or viewing history," Von Doviak said. "The problem is that algorithms make these suggestions. The idea of this series is to get a human being who has actually studied this stuff to lead you down more quirky areas and give you a breezy history of the genre. We want to give you a lot of jumping-off points."

The first book in the series was "If You Like the Sopranos ...," written by Texas author Leonard Pierce. Pierce and Von Doviak were pals, and Von Doviak chose to look into James Cameron's "The Terminator."

The book offers a potted history of sci-fi movies, moving from Georges Méliès's "A Trip to the Moon" through Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and beyond. There are also solid chapters on Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as "The Terminator" was a game-changer for both.

Von Doviak immersed himself in the world of "The Terminator" for six months, chasing down the film's thematic ideas and inspirations. Some weren't even sci-fi.

"One of the biggest influences on Cameron was the German sub picture ‘Das Boot,'" Von Doviak said. "Just this idea of very clanky technology at work was it."

Another important film was John Carpenter's groundbreaking slasher "Halloween."

"There is a lot of first-person, point-of-view stuff from the villain's POV in there, something that Cameron used a lot in ‘Terminator,'" Von Doviak said. "And there's ‘Frankenstein,' as both the monster and Terminator are sort of lurching creatures of few words."

And there are plenty of post-"Terminator" movies. "Even the ‘Matrix' series owes something to ‘Terminator,'" Von Doviak said. "Both movie series are about a future war against machines with one human being who can save us all from this enslavement and death."

Time travel and the problems therein are also crucial to "The Terminator." This is where Von Doviak's beloved apes come in.

"‘Planet of the Apes' is about changing the future," Von Doviak said.

At the end of the second movie, "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," Earth is destroyed by an underground nuclear weapon triggered by Taylor (Charlton Heston — thanks a lot, man). In the third, somehow even more depressing film, "Escape from the Planet of the Apes," we learn that three apes — Cornelius, Zira, and Dr. Milo — escaped into the past, essentially changing the history of ape/human relations. (Don't think that sentence wasn't fun to type.)

So, either two timelines were created or the latter movies negated the existence of the first two. Which is sort of what happens, or what they try to make happen, across the various "Terminator" movies and the sadly underrated TV show "The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

Was there anything he wouldn't watch again? Von Doviak doesn't hesitate. " ‘Threads,' he said, referring to the famously harrowing 1984 British documentary-style drama of the after-effects of a nuclear war on Sheffield, England. "I will never watch it again. It is so incredibly depressing." (Seriously, if you see it, hide the knives.)

He also points out something fascinating about Cameron's career. "Cameron was out of the shoot-it-in-a-week, lean-and-mean, Roger Corman school of filmmaking," Von Doviak said. "‘The Terminator' is a movie that warns us against becoming to dependent on technology. And that's what's become of Cameron. His movies are just overwhelmed by the technology involved in their creation. This is maybe not the path you could have seen the director of ‘The Terminator' taking."

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