Suspense in Terminator script

Suspense in Terminator



The story structure creates the backbone of the suspense in this film because the stakes are as high as possible. Not only are the protagonists unprepared and unbelieved, but they also have to kill an invincible killing machine. The Terminator is extremely well armed, inside and out, and the more damage he receives the more unstoppable he appears (p.54). This is a great man vs. machine film and the script emphasizes the animal nature of Reese. He is repeatedly described as feral and a lot of attention is paid to his instincts and quick reflexes (p.18). While Reese’s story gives us some hope, the existence of mankind is at stake and much of the suspense comes from this against-all-odds situation.

            The characters develop very slowly in the script and of course the Terminator does not experience any character growth. This creates suspense because until the very end of the film, Sarah is scared, confused, and weak.  Reese goes in the opposite direction, becoming more human in the end but then we question how that will affect his battle with the machine.

            The screen directions  written in the script are great and it is a shame the director did not get to use them all. The first directions that add to the suspense are the low angle dolly or handheld shots (starting p.5). This makes us feel small and scared particularly when cut with ECUs of the Terminator. Another shot that creates immediate suspense is the POV shot looking into the barrel of a gun.

            The suspense created by the production design comes mainly in the chase and fight sequences. One line sticks out in the chases because it seems all encompassing; “RELENTLESS FORWARD MOTION”. The audience is put right in the middle of everything with a lot of danger and confusion all around. We are in the normal world but the stakes are reiterated with the flash-forwards of the future. The images of a war torn future builds suspense around the Terminator because it shows what a terminator is made to do and what it could do in our normal world. The script also has the best apparent defeat ever as the smoking steel skeleton rises from the ashes.