Though it may sound funny, some of the most intelligent movies ever made are those under-appreciated sci-fi’s of Universal Pictures’ stalwart director Jack Arnold, who’s probably best known for having made The Creature From the Black Lagoon and some truly disturbed Audie Murphy westerns. But it is his first foray into sci-fi, It Came From Outer Space, that sticks in my mind as his most enlightened and terrifying. Deemed the decade where anxiety battled complacency, in the 1950s Arnold pulled out an underlying fear that suggested No One and Nothing could be trusted to be how they appeared. In this movie based on Ray Bradbury’s The Meteorite, an alien spacecraft crashes to Earth resembling a meteorite slamming into the desert. Able to replicate humans, the aliens need mechanics to repair their “car.”
People working at the theater where I saw director Marc Furmie’s apocalyptic thriller Terminus appeared to have no idea the movie was even playing, as it slipped into town along with Furmie’s other film, Airlock. What begins as a meteor shower quickly turns into a once-in-a-lifetime Christian sci-fi retelling of It Came From Outer Space, as redneck mechanics and salvage workers hover on the precipice of thermonuclear end-of-the-world antagonistic death threats from black-suited National Science Agency operatives hoping to collect all the meteorites to use them as future weapons!
Whew! And it only gets weirder from there.
I love a cross-pollinated, screwed up “what if” premise as much as the next guy, but this one is a doozy!
It seems that our occupation of Iran has led to a pending presidential bill to reinstate the draft, causing a mass exodus to Canada and leading previous war vets to mount a protest against the draft. The best line in the movie (and all great movies have to have that one great line) is, “You know, the benefit of having a colostomy bag is you don’t have to wait for a commercial to take a piss”!
Naturally, patriotic locals don’t take too kindly to the protesting vets!
Terminus illustrates just how fertile Jack Arnold’s films are by being easily translated for today’s times. After all, look at Marvel’s Ant-Man, which is nothing more than a reworked Incredible Shrinking Man from 1957.
Focusing on the mechanic David Chambers, following a near-fatal accident it’s determined that he has two perfectly functioning kidneys…even though years earlier he donated a kidney to his ailing wife! Once released from the hospital, David returns to the scene of his accident to recover the meteorite that caused him to wreck. After coming to the aid of an amputee in a bar fight, he discovers the meteorite, which resembles a seed pod, has restorative powers and regenerates the vet a new limb.
Christian references abound throughout, from the Middle East being ground zero for the coming world showdown to lines such as, “War gives people a purpose when they’re starving,” to these space pods being seeds of creation and not the process of evolution. The film opens with a dying man muttering “rebirth” over and over!
With a genuine stripped down aesthetic and its sense of impending doom, this low budget Australian thriller, filmed in and around Sydney, is set in the American Midwest and recalls the devastating tension of that Guy Pearce film from a few years ago, The Rover, which suggests that instead of pulling together at the end of times, mankind will be driven further apart.
Underneath it all, Terminus is about healing wounds, whether between father and daughter or disabled vets – science won’t save us.
Every bit a throwback to ‘50s sci-fi, this movie maintains a conspiratorial edge throughout its 90 minutes with the “us vs. them” premise that science, though it may be well meaning, while at the disposal of the military, cannot be depended on. It’s up to the wounded, the mechanic, the daughter who was taught survival skills to recognize and protect this seed pod meteorite at all costs.
Whether in Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Hammer’s Quatermass films, the deciding factor between life or death is always human intelligence.
I live for this stuff!