In his new book If You Like The Terminator…, author Scott Von Doviak provides a fun and illuminating time-travel journey of sorts as he takes his readers through film, TV, literature, and comic book history in order to chart the relatives, past and present, of the Terminator franchise. The book is broken up into multiple pieces, focusing on one specific aspect of “Terminator History” per section, which allows the far-reaching research project to maintain a sleek intelligibility and coherence.
In terms of its audience, this book is quite clearly written for those fans of the Terminator franchise who are not serious students of film history. That is not to say there is nothing of merit in this book for the hardcore fan, not at all; there will just be some skimming in the first few chapters as Von Doviak charts the rise of science fiction from A Trip to the Moon and Metropolis up through the heyday of 1950s sci-fi and encompassing post-classical sci-fi game-changers like 2001 and Alien. More illuminating to those readers already schooled on film history is Von Doviak’s equally knowledgeable trek through TV history, a far more neglected area of scholarly inquiry. There is still much that needs to be written on the development and evolution of TV storytelling, and Von Doviak admirably and adroitly sheds light on the debts the Terminator franchise owes The Twilight Zone and even more so The Outer Limits. The battle between James Cameron and Harlan Ellison may be well-known, but credit to Von Doviak, he focuses more on the episodes themselves and how and why they are important to the genesis of the Terminator franchise.
Between discussing the pre- and post-Terminator histories, Von Doviak sets aside space for two chapters looking specifically at the initial emergence and subsequent rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron. In chronicling the inimitable Arnie, Von Doviak opts, instead of a redundant, by-the-numbers biography/filmography, for “having a little more fun with it” and offering an admittedly “highly subjective ranking of the big man’s top twenty movies,” excluding the Terminator films, as well as a list of what he considers to be the five worst Schwarzenegger vehicles.
Not only is Von Doviak’s choice to proceed in this fashion unusual, his list is highly unusual, as well, with the rarely-seen The Jayne Mansfield Story ranking higher than Twins, the lame box-office failure Raw Deal ranking higher than Kindergarten Cop, and the perennially underrated Stay Hungry staggeringly situated in the #3 slot. Most affronting of all, coming from someone who has published a glowing write-up on Jingle All the Way, is Von Doviak’s inclusion of this brilliantly reflexive comedy actioner as the second worst of all of Schwarzenegger’s films (#1 not surprisingly goes to Batman & Robin, which has unfairly been designated the punching bag of contemporary popular cinema).
Moving on to Cameron, Von Doviak offers insights into the making of many of Cameron’s films, from his debut feature, Piranha Part Two (a.k.a. “the finest flying-piranha movie ever made”), to his more acclaimed efforts such as Aliens, The Abyss, and Titanic. Closing out the chapter is a neat section entitled “Five James Cameron Oddities,” which are projects either spear-headed by Cameron, produced by him and/or his company, etc., basically projects he had a hand in but that were not all-consuming efforts on his part. Among the oddities are Dark Angel and the fictional Aquaman, on which Von Doviak offers interesting commentary.
Overall, If You Like The Terminator… is a very fun and enlightening read, more so for the less historically aware Terminator fan but still loaded with trivia information and backstage stories for even the hardest of the hardcore fans, and the rigor with which the research was undertaken combined with the laid-back and often times humorous writing style make this a high-quality piece of writing that definitely warrants your purchase.
That is, if you like the Terminator. . .