February 13, 2009

F5 #2: The Austrian Oak

Arnold Schwarzenegger is an embodiment of the American Dream: poor as a child in Austria, he became a rising star in the world of bodybuilding, becoming the youngest Mr. Universe in 1967 and then winning the title four more times, as well as six consecutive wins of the Mr. Olympia competition between 1970-75. Schwarzenegger used his fame as a bodybuilder to get to Hollywood, where movies such as Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator made him famous. Arguably the peak of his filmmaking career was the 1991 sequel to the latter. In 1986 he married Maria Shriver, a niece of John F. Kennedy. And in 2003, he became the second actor (after Ronald Reagan) to be Governor of California. And here Schwarzenegger has reached the peak of his professional life: unless a constitutional amendment happens, the Governator is ineligible to run for the presidency as he is not a natural citizen of the U.S. Still, at a shade over 60, no one can deny he's had a good run.

I honestly can't remember what the first Arnold Schwarzenegger movie was that I saw. Probably The Terminator - on television, of course, as I would have been too young to see it in the cinema. In fact, by the end of high school it wouldn't surprise me if my entire Ahnold intake was that and Commando - of which I remember precisely nothing, with the exception of one line; "Remember when I told you I would kill you last? I lied."

Besides, I have this tendency to think of Schwarzenegger as a science-fiction actor rather than an action hero. Which is odd, because while his 80s blockbusters include such films as the aforementioned Terminator, Predator, and The Running Man, it also included straight action-adventure such as Raw Deal and the comedic Twins. Well, there's Conan and Red Sonja too, so maybe my perception was coloured a bit by the fantasy. It probably reflects my then-interests as well, since as a teenager I was less interested in tough guys wielding heavy arms in the jungle, unless they were using them against aliens.

The first Arnold movie I saw on the big screen was 1990's Total Recall. I was already predisposed to favour this film, due to its being based on a story by Philip K. Dick, and Schwarzenegger in the starring role was just the icing on the cake. Total Recall has since been one of my favourites of his, second only to The Terminator. It has everything that makes Schwarzenegger films fun: an implausible plot (gigantic alien air-making machine buried under Mars), over-the-top violence (Arnie rips Michael Ironside's arms off), action-comedy (Arnold arrives on Mars wearing a defective, animatronic fat-lady costume), and Arnold dropping ridiculous one-liners ("See you at the party, Richter" and the infamous "Consider that a divorce") as he dispatches the bad guys. (If you're observant, look out for a considerable number of supporting actors who have also appeared in a Next Generation-era Star Trek series.) Total Recall also the only one of his movies I own: the "Special Limited Edition" DVD in the Mars-shaped film can. As a commentary junkie, I bought it mainly for the commentary track with Schwarzenegger and director Paul Voerhoven. (Let's just say Voerhoven's contribution is more informative.)

Arnold's best output was between 1984-94: the period between The Terminator and True Lies. While I've seen most of his films since then, they just don't have the classic appeal of his earlier work. And it remains to be seen whether he will return to the big screen in any significant way when his second term as governor ends in January, 2011. Certainly at 63 years of age, I would not expect him to return to the action-hero role. But there are still 15 years' worth of classic Arnie to enjoy. And hey, you never know.