The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight…
Right away in the title card, the film sets up machines as the enemy of humanity, which is about as technophobic as you can get. Note that the machines aren't just trying to enslave or domestic humanity—they're trying to "exterminate" us. Needless to say, we take it personally.
OWNER: I may close early today. It's a 15-day wait on the handguns, but the rifles you can take now.
[The Terminator puts a shell into the shotgun.]
OWNER: You can't do that.
[It shoots the shop owner.]
Of course, the Terminator is a machine, and it's the main antagonist in the film. But notice how the machine can manipulate other machines to serve its purpose. In this scene, it uses a shotgun, but later, it will also use telephones, radios, and vehicles. Ah, we see the sextant has become the master. Does…does that joke scan? No?
REESE: Defense network computers. New, powerful…hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat. Not just the ones on the other side. It decided our fate in a microsecond. Extermination.
The film suggests that it's our modern reliance on technology that will lead to our downfall. We trust technology to "run it all," rather than shoulder the responsibility ourselves. Of course, this kind of technophobia is nothing new, and with every technological leap, someone feels it'll destroy the world. But, um, sometimes it really can get pretty destructive, so who's right?
REESE: Hunter-Killers. Patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal. [He shows her a barcode scarred into his arm.] This was burned in by laser scanner. Some of us were kept alive. To work. Loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day. We were that close to going out forever.
The technophobia is on overdrive in this lesson of future history. It isn't just a mistrust of machines on display here, though, since these machines have designed methods with the sole purpose of killing people. What strikes us as odd is that they would keep some people alive to work rather than create machines to do the job for them. Guess the machines have a sense of irony. Or they're just rubbing it in.
SARAH: I was dreaming about dogs.
REESE: We use them to spot Terminators.
SARAH: Your world is pretty terrifying.
Humans domesticated dogs thousands of years ago to help us survive the wilderness of the natural world. To battle the machines, humans have returned to their older, pre-technological ways. Had they thought ahead, of course, they could have simply challenged the machines to a game of Go. That would have solved the problem.
[He turns on the machines in the factory.]
SARAH: What are you doing?
REESE: Cover. So he can't track us.
Sarah and Reese are only able to destroy the Terminator thanks to the technology they have at hand. In this scene, the factory machines provide cover so that the Terminator cannot easily track them. In this way, the film may provide a distinction between good and bad technology. Unlike Terminators and our ground units in StarCraft,the good tech does what it's told.
SARAH: You're terminated, f*cker!
And the world returns to normal. The rebellious machine is destroyed by a hydraulic press, a machine that does what it's told. Now, before the inevitable future war, let's find out which other enemies of humanity will meet their end beneath the hydraulic victor.