MOVE OVER, Darth Vader. Here comes Conan the Exterminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger takes the title role in "The Terminator," a futuristic action flick about a vicious cyborg sent back in time to aid the machines of 2029 against the survivors of nuclear war.

Schwarzenegger creates an inimitable villain, an unstoppable killing machine, part metal and part man. Terminators "look human -- sweat, bad breath, everything," says Michael Biehn, as the day-saver in this new skirmish between man and machine.

There's just no stopping those computers. In the film's near future, they decide man's fate in a microsecond by launching the weapons we've put in their control. But there's hope, or there'd be no movie, and a humdinger it is, with more car crashes and more broken glass per frame than any film since "Road Warrior."

And more. Arnold does his first nude scene. (I've gained new respect for the guy.) And if you want motifs, it's got plenty, just in case you need a good excuse to watch this stuff. There's even a messianic theme. Linda Hamilton plays the Terminator's target, a woman whose unconceived son will lead mankind to victory in World War IV.

Hamilton, born in nearby Salisbury, Maryland, is an excellent young actress who has already survived the horror of "Children of the Corn," so she's skilled at making the best of preposterous situations and dialogue. It's hard to laugh at Hamilton's obvious hard work and sincerity. Biehn is also effective, as are Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen as a pair of L.A. cops on the scene.

When "Terminator" is not taking itself seriously -- and sometimes even when it is -- it's lots of fun. And filmmakers James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd don't drown us in blood, though it's not for the squeamish.

After head-ons with trucks, laser guns and plastic explosives, the cyborg does begin to look a little the worse for wear. He just keeps on coming and coming, like an aluminum "Munster," till there's nothing left but a lump about the size of a hubcap. Then he's the ex- Terminator. -- Rita Kempley.

THE TERMINATOR -- At area theaters.