Should I Watch..? 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day'
What's the big deal?
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (sometimes referred to as Terminator 2 or simply T-2) is an action sci-fi film released in 1991 and is the second instalment of the Terminator franchise. It is a sequel to The Terminator and sees Arnold Schwarzenegger return to his signature role of the Terminator, a cyborg assassin sent back in time from the future. This time, he is programmed to protect the ten-year-old John Conner from a more advanced machine sent back by Skynet to prevent John from becoming leader of the human resistance. Despite being the most expensive movie ever made at the time, it became a landmark movie in terms of CG effects - the movie had the first use of motion capture and the first partially-CG main character. It is widely regarded to be one of the best action, sci-fi and sequel films ever made.
What's it about?
After their failure to kill Sarah Conner, Skynet decide to send back a more advanced machine in order to eliminate John Conner who is leading the human resistance against the machines after a nuclear apocalypse. This T-1000 has a liquid-metal body that can mimic human appearances and mannerisms far better than the old T-800 and is also far deadlier. To combat this threat, the future John Conner sends a reprogrammed T-800 back to protect both his younger self and Sarah.
With Sarah imprisoned in a mental institution and John living with foster parents, the race is on to prevent the T-1000 from completing its mission. After freeing Sarah and rescuing John, the T-800 helps them to destroy Skynet by eliminating those who work at Skynet's creators - Cyberdyne Systems and in particular, the unassuming project leader Miles Bennett Dyson who has no idea of the future repercussions of his work - or the lethal danger he finds himself in...
The Terminator / T-800
Dr Peter Silberman
James Cameron & William Wisher Jr
Release Date (UK)
16th August, 1991
Best Sound, Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup
Academy Award Nominations
Best Cinematography, Best Editing
What's to like?
I doubt that there are many fans of action movies who haven't seen Terminator 2, such is the reputation of the film. Indeed, it is testament to its continued strength that it remains such an outstanding movie. The action is adrenaline pumping and runs like a list of seemingly impossible moments such as riding a motorbike out of a building and crashing into a helicopter, allowing the liquid-metal antagonist to smash through the chopper's windscreen and pour himself in. The effects, even today, still hold pretty well due to the patience and care that went into the movie. The fact that the action is only one part of the story beggars belief.
The performances are also first-rate from Schwarzenegger's T-800 to Furlong's bewildered kid slowly waking up to his future responsibilities. The fact that he tries to teach the Terminator how to be human gives the film something comedic to break up the constant stream of stunts and explosions as well as Hamilton something to mull over while she fights to prevent a disaster that no-one else is even aware of. But personally, Patrick's T-1000 steals the show. Like Arnie in the first film, he realises that body language can speak just as much as dialogue and despite not matching the physique of his opponent, his abilities as a shape-shifter can be used to wondrous effect in a fight. And having survived an onslaught from Hamilton with a shotgun, the moment he simply heals up and wags his finger like a teacher might at a unruly toddler still makes me shudder in fear.
Lastly, the film is an imaginative tour de force - the script and ideas that prop up the film allow this epic movie to flow from one scene to the next without being distracting or forgotten about amid the chaos. Terminator 2 has a similar tension to it that was more understated in the first film - how can you stop the unstoppable? And despite all the attention going to Patrick's liquid-metal monster, the stunt work has a very real feel to it - Cameron realised that there was no point using CG for the sake of it like George Lucas might. Less is more, or so they say and this movie underlines that point brilliantly.
- According to James Cameron, the biker bar scene was shot across the street from where Rodney King was infamously beaten by four LA cops that very night.
- Schwarzenegger's pay packet of $15 million equates to a staggering $21'429 per word of dialogue. So "Hasta la vista, baby!" cost $85'716!
- This film was the first in history to have a production budget of more than $100 million. Carolco Pictures were nervous about spending so much on one film but needn't have worried - the film had a total global gross of over $500 million.
What's not to like?
Of course, for a film that has passed into public consciousness like Terminator 2 has, there are elements that haven't dated as well as the effects. The styles and fashions of the time firmly place the movie at the beginning of the 90s but John's Public Enemy T-shirt maybe isn't as cool as it once was. And it's also worthy remembering that unless you have watched the first film, the importance of John Conner and the events of The Terminator might be lost on those who aren't paying close attention.
Oh and I take umbrage at that dreadful "I need a vacation!" line - it didn't fit in at all and the situation doesn't demand it.
Other than that, I really can't think of much about this film that I didn't enjoy. The movie is that rarest of moments in Hollywood when everyone involved in the production was at the very peak of their powers. Schwarzenegger's long career has been shackled to this movie - in fact, nearly all the principal cast have. Furlong briefly looked as though he might escape John Conner's shadow in American History X but other than that, he's still associated with the antisocial brat riding around LA on his dirt bike looking over his shoulder...
Should I watch it?
Absolutely. This film makes an absolute mockery of the more recent efforts - Terminator Salvation is little more than a violent video game than anything else - and Terminator 2 serves as the peak of the series so far. It's more exciting than the original and more jaw-dropping to watch, despite the many years that have since passed. It is also a powerful reminder that imagination and effort will always triumph over excessive CG and lazy script writing.
Great For: action fans, sci-fi fans, fans of The Terminator.
Not So Great For: other Terminator movies that followed.
What else should I watch?
Action and sci-fi have long been partners at the movies with no shortage of films involving ray guns, murderous robots and fancy effects, everything from The War Of The Worlds to Avatar. But few pack in as much action as this does - RoboCop attempts to throw a healthy bit of satire into proceedings but still doesn't really come close although it trumps many other such efforts.
As for everyone's favourite leather-clad cyborg, things would inevitably tail off after this spectacular effort. Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines was a passable effort but a long way short of this while the aforementioned Terminator Salvation was a grim, depressing exercise in CG mayhem. After that, the series was rebooted (and Arnie returned) with the poorly received Terminator Genisys but frankly, my appetite for a fifth film has waned too much so I'm not in a rush to see it.
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© 2015 Benjamin Cox