Arnold Schwarzenegger is the greatest special effect of all time. And I know that sentence seems weird. “Darren”, you say, “Arnold is a person, not a special effect.” Is he though? Let me explain.
Arnold Schwarzenegger — or Ahnold, Arnie, the Austrian Oak, Governator, or whatever term of endearment you prefer — began as an action hero star through sheer, muscle-bound spectacle. Whether playing himself in Pumping Iron or embodying fantasy, myth and otherworldliness in Hercules in New York or Conan the Barbarian or Terminator, Arnold was just there for your eyeballs. Like crazy explosions and digital monsters of today, Schwarzenegger exhibited that same level of “whoa” just through simply existing.
In most of his iconic action films, Schwarzenegger may be our hero (OK not Terminator but T2!) but he is also distinctly Other. He’s not like us. He’s something else, a monster or mythic creature or cyborg that films nowadays use CGI and mocap to portray. Arnold pretty much did by himself.
And this idea of Arnold as a special effect reached its apex when Arnold himself actually became a special effect because who could forget this weird-yet-wonderful moment from Terminator Salvation:
That is what we call coming full circle.
You’ll notice that all the characters around him, in most his films, are also as equally transfixed by his presence — just like the audience. Characters gawk at Arnold constantly, even if he’s buck-arse naked in a Biker bar or women are just gazing in stunned silence, Arnold is the special effect, which is what make all his action movies absolutely, positively amazing.
Yes, all of them. I will admit that I am biased when it comes to Arnold. I’ve had to explain to friends and family many, many, many, times my honestly concerning obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He’s a terrible actor,” they say. “What about Twins,” they say.
Well, first. This is Action Hero Week so let’s not bring Danny DeVito into this. Second, Arnold isn’t a great actor. He’s an amazing one. You know why? Because he gets it. Seriously, just look at how he approaches action film roles. It’s also why I unapologetically love The Expendables franchise because it has a similar level of self-awareness I wish most films could have. You know what I’m talking about, all those movies that shove in half-assed plot points to drive home some deeper meaning. Or you could just feed us cheesy one-liners and badass action sequences, then role credits.
So not only do you have an actor whose massive size draws your attention, but one with a self-awareness about his status in the genre where he absolutely thrives AND delivers some of the greatest puns OF ALL TIME (all delivered right before/after Arnold has just killed a dude). Let’s just take a minute to reminisce.
“Let off some steam, Bennett.” [Commando, 1985]
“Stick around.” [Predator, 1987]
“Here is Subzero! Now…plain zero!” [The Running Man, 1987]
“See you at the party, Richter!” [Total Recall, 1990]
“I’m the party pooper.” [Kindergarten Cop, 1990]
“Iced that guy, to cone a phrase.” [Last Action Hero, 1993]
“To be or not to be…not to be.” [Last Action Hero, 1993] BEST LINE EVER
Every line in Batman & Robin [Batman & Robin, 1997]
“Yippie-Kai-Yay.” [Expendables 2, 2012]
And all of these are just the puns, not to mention the most memorable lines — the “I’ll be backs” and the “Get to the Choppas.”
And despite my lifelong love of everything Arnold, I’ve only seen Arnold Schwarzenegger, live and in person, once. In late May 2007, I was in Los Angeles (ahem, for a Star Wars convention) and spent one afternoon baking in the hot LA sun for chance to see a live recording of Jay Leno. That night’s guest? Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time, he was governor of California, there to talk about some new Green initiative and explicitly not to promote an amazing awesome action film. It wasn’t much. 15 minutes maybe? And I was a good 30 metres away from him.
He never even glanced in my direction, but I was transfixed. This was Arnold Schwarzenegger, the greatest special effect of all time, and the one and only action hero of my childhood.