CINEMA CLASSICS: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

He said he’d be back…

Who made it?: James Cameron (Director/Producer/Co-Writer), William Wisher Jr. (Co-Writer), Carolco Pictures/Pacific Western/Lightstorm Entertainment

Who’s in it?: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Earl Boen, Joe Morton.

Tagline: “It’s nothing personal.”

IMDb rating: 8.5/10 (Top 250 #39).

In the history of cinema, very few sequels hold as many distinctions as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, James Cameron’s follow-up to his first-rate, successful 1984 thriller which launched Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action career. Due to the acclaim and success of The TerminatorT2 was greeted upon its release by intense scrutiny, insurmountable hype, and colossal expectations. In many ways, Cameron’s sequel aced its various tests; providing an engaging story, groundbreaking special effects and pulse-pounding action sequences, all the while adding to the lore of the Terminator universe without relinquishing its integrity. In addition, Terminator 2 is a landmark due to the fact that it has not dated with the passage of time, and remains eminently re-watchable to this day. It was a phenomenon when it was released in 1991, and it remains a phenomenon to this day.

In the future, a holocaust known as Judgment Day wipes out the majority of the human population, denoting the beginning of the war between man and machines (controlled by a network known as SkyNet). The leader of the human resistance is a man named John Connor. In the original film, SkyNet sent a ruthless cyborg known as a Terminator back in time to kill John’s mother Sarah (Hamilton) before John’s birth. It failed. Thus, in T2, SkyNet sends another Terminator – a more advanced model known as a T-1000 (Robert Patrick) – back to the early 90s to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong) when he is still a child. Naturally, Connor in the future also sends along a protector for his younger self; this time a reprogrammed T-800 model Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). On the run from the T-1000, John, his protector and his mother begin working to destroy SkyNet before its construction in the hope of preventing the rise of the machines.

With the hulking Schwarzenegger assuming the role of the hero in Terminator 2, Cameron needed another actor to assume the villain’s mantle. Since it would have been silly to attempt to out-bulk the enormous Austrian Oak, the T-1000 is instead the picture of ordinariness whose ostensible physical inferiority is compensated for in the nature of its construction: it’s almost indestructible. The T-1000 is a Terminator comprised of “liquid metal” which can morph into physical objects of similar size, and form stabbing objects out of its limbs. With the T-1000, Cameron was given the chance to perfect the CGI technology that the director had pioneered in The AbyssTerminator 2 was not the first film to use CGI (filmmakers had used it for a decade or more previously), but it was one of the first movies to use CGI in such a capacity. Of course, the digital effects are not as seamless as they once appeared back in the early 90s, but they hold up quite well primarily because Cameron used them judiciously as bridge material between old-fashioned practical effects. As a result, Terminator 2 is a marvel of special effects and stunt work.

Terminator 2 is a quintessential summer blockbuster action picture. It succeeds because it tells a quality story, is full of imagination, has plenty of raw emotion, and pours on the action. When Mr. Cameron spends a lot of money on a movie, all of it shows up on-screen. The action scenes not only continue to top each preceding action sequence in scope and ambition, but were also executed with style, precision and elegance virtually unmatched by the director’s contemporaries. Of course, the film features action that’s bigger, bolder and more energetic than its predecessor, but that’s because Cameron had a budget of over ten times the size of the budget for the 1984 original. Additionally, while Terminator 2 delivers as an action flick, it has something more: it has heart. Also of note is the wonderful score courtesy of Brad Fiedel. The main Terminator theme at once haunts and entices, while all the supplemental music gets the pulse pounding.

However, for all the acclaim Terminator 2 has received, it’s a flawed picture. First and foremost, there are a lot of overly cheesy lines, most notably derived from John’s interactions with the T-800. As a direct consequence, the dark, edgy tone of the original Terminator was compromised. The violence of this sequel is toned-down, too – it’s a more “family friendly”Terminator movie, which is disappointing. Due to this, T2 ushered in a number of conventions which dragged the action genre out of the low-tech 80s and into modern, high-sheen action blockbuster territory. Additionally, Sarah Connor is too one-dimensional and over-dramatic. John, meanwhile, is whiny and fragile despite supposedly being a badass punk. Plot holes exist in the story, too. How did the liquid metal T-1000 get through the time portal without a covering of living tissue? Why did the machines send a cyborg assassin to take out John as a child when they could have sent one back to 1983 to kill an unsuspecting Sarah Connor? In addition, there are inconsistencies – the Terminators are emotionless robots, so why does the T-1000 give us the world’s greatest “Oh shit!” face just before its destruction?

On a more positive note, Schwarzenegger’s performance as the T-800 is excellent and focused. However, Arnie makes more sense as a villain – he’s an intimidating, well-built figure, and the “sweet, friendly cyborg” role is not a good fit for the Austrian Oak. Furlong’s uneven performance denotes another key flaw of the film. At times his dialogue delivery is perfect, but at other times wooden and awkward. He’s convincing while playing John as a delinquent, but he’s awful during the cutesy interchanges when he teaches the Terminator to talk like a wiseass. Even worse is when Furlong weeps. These discrepancies are particularly glaring alongside a powerhouse turn by Linda Hamilton. The character of Ms. Connor is not especially well-written, but Hamilton’s performance is great; sporting lean muscle, bitten-down fingernails, and a crazed intensity. Patrick also excels as the T-1000 Terminator, whose cold, stoic demeanour renders him an effective antagonist.

In spite of its myriad perceived missteps, Terminator 2: Judgment Day will forever be remembered as a film which helped to redefine the summer movie experience. Although The Terminator is the superior film due to a number of factors, Terminator 2 is more visually and aesthetically satisfying. Once again, the film’s box office success led to more sequels, beginning withTerminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003. The subsequent films in the series continued the tradition of big-budget action, but feel inferior when compared against Cameron’s efforts due to a lack of depth, heart and substance.

Best Scene

Too many, right? Well, this could be the film’s action highlight.

Sadly, the original isn’t on YouTube…

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Given Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $15 million salary and his total of 700 words of dialogue, he was paid $21,429 per word. “Hasta la vista, baby” cost $85,716.
  • In the audio commentary, James Cameron says that not only was the biker bar scene filmed across the street from where LAPD officers beat up Rodney King, but that they were filming the night of the beating.
  • Linda Hamilton’s twin sister, Leslie Hamilton Gearren was used as a double in scenes involving two “Sarah Connors” (i.e., when the T1000 -was imitating her), and in a scene not in the theatrical release (but in the “Special Edition”) as a mirror image of Linda.
  • Special F/X guru Stan Winston and his crew studied hours of nuclear test footage in order to make Sarah Connor’s “nuclear nightmare” scene as real as possible. In late 1991, members of several U.S. federal nuclear testing labs unofficially declared it “the most accurate depiction of a nuclear blast ever created for a fictional motion picture”. For Sarah’s nightmare of the nuclear holocaust, some of the materials used in the miniature Los Angeles model that mimicked all the destroyed masonry were Matzos crackers and Shredded Wheat. After each take, it would take on average two days to set the model up to shoot again.
  • To date, this is the only sequel to win an Academy Award when the previous movie wasn’t even nominated.

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