TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
Two years after The Abyss, James Cameron would return to familiar ground with the long-awaited sequel to The Terminator. Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and the film had grown in popularity since 1984, so the sequel was a foregone conclusion. Sorting out the rights was one of the big stumbling blocks (the studio that made the first film, Orion, had since gone bankrupt).
Finally a deal was made for Carolco to finance the film. The troubled studio would face its own bankruptcy not long after, despite having the most successful movie worldwide two years running with T2 (the sequel would popularise the use of acronyms for movie titles) and Basic Instinct (1992). With the rights settled, Cameron turned his attention to writing a script that would make full use of the rapid developments in computer generated effects. The Abyss had just been the tip of the iceberg.
Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton would both return, though both of them would be playing very different versions of the characters they portrayed in the original. Major new additions to the cast were Edward Furlong as the ten year old John Connor (who was plucked off the streets of Pasadena to play the role) and Robert Patrick, as a more advanced Terminator known as the T-1000. The film's budget was $100 million (a record at the time), or around 16 times the original film's budget. If the sequel had been a flop, Cameron might never have worked again, at least on big budget films.
Though the time from writing the script to the start of production was very quick, the film had a lengthy six month shoot, including filming in the inhospitable Mojave desert in California. An ex-Israeli commando gave the main cast weapons training to help them get into character.
Many people wondered how Schwarzenegger could even return, seeing as how he was blown up and crushed to a pancake in the first film. This was helpfully answered in the film's memorable teaser trailer, which showed a new Terminator being rolled off the production line, given its flesh coating and emerging as Arnie (with, of course, his trademark line, "I'll be back"). Evidently all T-800 model 101's look the same, although the espionage value of cyborgs that all look like identical Austrian body builders does leave something to be desired.
The film begins with shots of 20th Century life, including children in a playground, as the voice of Sarah Conner tells us how 3 billion human lives ended on August 29, 1997 - Judgment Day. We see a glimpse of the war in the year 2029, though on a much bigger scale than the one seen in the first film. The main titles accompany ominous and disturbing images of the children's playground burning in the nuclear fire. The credits end with the face of the Terminator coming out of the flames.
The story begins proper in 1995 with the Terminator (the same model we saw in the original film) arriving naked outside a biker bar. The time bubble that cuts a sphere out of the matter around him is a neat effect that explains how a time traveler can arrive in the past without coming to harm by, for example, arriving in a too small space and being crushed.
He enters and scans various body types until he finds a match. When the man in question refuses the request for his clothing, his boots and his motorcycle, the Terminator has to deal with him and his companions with excessive force. It's interesting to note that, unlike with the punks in the first film, the Terminator doesn't kill any of the bikers, even though we later learn he hasn't been programmed not to kill yet.
Another traveler from the future arrives soon after and assumes the identity of a cop. Cameron cleverly makes it ambiguous at the start whether this new character or Schwarzenegger is the villain (although the marketing gave the surprise away, unfortunately).
Next we meet John Connor who is living with foster parents he clearly despises. While he goes riding off on his bike with his mullet-wearing friend, a very different Sarah Conner is seen working out in the state mental hospital.
The T-1000 pulling up outside John's foster parents' home in a police care with "To protect and serve" on the side is a nice bit of irony.
After we see John stealing money from an ATM machine with a code cracker (displaying the techno-savvy that will serve him well in the future), we cut back to the hospital where Silberman shows a tape of Sarah freaking out a la Kyle Reese. "I feel much better now," Sarah says dryly after watching the tape.
Both time travelers are now following John, who winds up in the mall playing arcade games. One of the games John plays is Missile Command. Out of date long before the film was made, but it ties into the nuclear war theme.
When the cop arrives looking for him, John flees and the T-1000 reveals its true intentions. John is soon trapped between both Terminators, and the T-800 turns protector. John escapes while the two shoot and slug it out. The T-1000 bests its predecessor momentarily and turns to pursue John (though not before looking at a silver mannequin - foreshadowing much?). Writer William Wisher has a cameo as the mall-goer taking pictures of the Terminator.
John starts up his bike as the T-1000 runs super fast after him. John thinks he has escaped until the T-1000 crashes off a bridge in a hijacked truck - one of the film's signature shots. The T-1000 chases John through an empty canal as the T-800 follows on his bike (he does a cool one-handed reload). For the shot where the T-800 jumps into the canal on his bike the wires holding the bike were digitally removed, though the fake Arnie mask on the stuntman is a bit of a giveaway.
The Terminator rescues John and the truck explodes, but of course it's not that easy to destroy the T-1000. We get our first look at him in his liquid metal form as he walks out of the inferno.
Once they reach safety, the Terminator explains the plot to John, who becomes excited when he realises he has his own Terminator to play with. Back at John's home we get the memorable image of the T-1000, in the form of John's foster mother, spearing her husband through the mouth.
In the hospital, the slimy orderly Dougie licks Sarah goodnight. As soon as he is gone she begins her escape. At the same time the T-1000 enters the hospital and assumes the identity of a guard (rising out of the checkered floor in a memorable scene).
When Sarah gets out of her room she violently knocks out Dougie with a broom (a scene censored in the UK) before finding Silberman and stabbing a needle with toxic cleaning fluid in his neck, ready to inject. Outside John and the Terminator arrive at the hospital. At John's command, the Terminator says, "I swear I will not kill anyone" (a line that everyone thought was ironic in the trailer, but turns out to be genuine).
With her hostage Sarah almost makes it out of the building before the Terminator arrives. As he walks towards her in slow motion Sarah is sure her time is up. Imagine her surprise when the Terminator, accompanied by John, then saves her from the hospital guards (using enough force to leave them seriously injured, if not killed).
The T-1000 appears on the other side of a barred gate and walks through it, his body parting like butter. As our heroes escape in the elevator the effects get wilder as he uses various bladed weapons to attack them and we see his head blown apart and reformed.
Our heroes manage to escape by car, though the T-1000 leaves behind a tiny piece which John unhook and throws off. The piece later rejoins the rest of its body, which raises the interesting question of whether the T-1000, like John Carpenter's similar shape shifter in The Thing (1982), is capable of operating as a separate and deadly entity even if it's just a tiny piece. The T-1000 even has some opportunity for low-key humour next, when he says to a police officer (who he presumably then kills), "Say, that's a nice bike".
The plot takes a backseat for the next half hour or so. The Terminator fixes Sarah's injuries and she does the same for him (a dubbed line covers the missing chip scene, which I'll discuss later).
John and the Terminator check out weaponry, and the Terminator finds a big cannon that's definitely him. The Terminator doesn't understand why people cry, a common problem for robots.
Sarah leaves after she has a horrific vision of Judgment Day. The nuclear holocaust scene, while somewhat dated now due to its use of models, remains a powerful and shocking sequence. Creating the burnt bodies was not a pleasant task for Stan Winston's crew. Some scientists reportedly later told Cameron it was the most realistic depiction of a nuclear attack they had seen.
When John sees his mother has carved the words "No fate" (part of a message his future self gave Kyle Reese to tell his mother) he realises her intent to wipe out Skynet by killing the man responsible for creating the computer that wipes out most of mankind.
As Sarah stalks Dyson, he is saved from a bullet in the head by his son's remote controlled car hitting his foot. Sarah manages to shoot him in the shoulder, but breaks down crying before she can finish the job. Dyson and his wife are amazingly quick to accept that they're involved in a mind-boggling time paradox, even with the evidence of the Terminator peeling his skin to reveal the robotic arm beneath.
As Sarah's narration comments, Dyson takes the news that he's responsible for the deaths of three billion people pretty well. After Sarah's rant against the violent inventions of men compared to the child-bearing invention of women (which John comically cuts off) Dyson and his unlikely new friends come up with a plan to destroy all of Cyberdyne's work which will lead to Skynet and the Terminators.
The Terminator buys them a few extra seconds by shooting at the cops with no kills. When the cops finally enter the building they shoot Miles with no warning (a comment on the trigger-happy racism of the LAPD?). His last act before dying is to set off the detonator, destroying a whole floor of the building. For this scene, the production blew up a real four-storey office building.
The T-1000 hijacks a helicopter (pouring himself through the windshield like some dough) to pursue the heroes, in a chase much like the end of the first film. When the chopper crashes, the T-1000 hijacks a truck with liquid nitrogen on the side (seems like every truck in this film has "liquid nitrogen" or "highly explosive" or something like that on it).
The actor who plays the role of the driver of the vehicle the Terminator and his human companions commandeer took out a tongue-in-cheek ad in Variety magazine saying he was responsible for the film's success.
The chase enters a smelting plant and the Terminator manages to tip over the truck, spilling the liquid nitrogen. In a very memorable scene, the T-1000 gets a full dose and gradually gets frozen and breaks apart. The Terminator finishes the job by shooting him and shattering the T-1000 into a thousand pieces. Now would be a good time to gather up all the pieces before they can reform but instead the heroes flee and the T-1000's pieces melt in the molten heat and reform into a whole.
The heroes split up and the Terminator goes mano-a-mano against his superior model, getting the crap beaten out of him. He is eventually deactivated (or so it seems). However, Cameron doesn't waste time on suspense before revealing the T-800 has an alternate power source.
The T-1000 copies Sarah in an attempt to trap John, but the real Sarah turns up and almost defeats him until she runs out of ammo. The T-1000 wags his finger at her disapprovingly and it seems like our heroes are done for. But of course Arnie (who was a much bigger star by the time this film was made) isn't left on the sidelines for the end this time and reappears on a treadmill to take out the T-1000 himself.
The ending manages to be strangely moving as it resolves the father-son relationship between John and the Terminator, with the latter realising he must also be destroyed. The Terminator cannot self-terminate, which seems to indicate they obey at least one of Asimov's laws. He tells John that he knows now why he cries, but it is something he can never do.
A heartbroken John watches as the Terminator is lowered into the molten pool. The final shot of the T-800 raising its thumb is a little cheesy. The ending wraps things up while still leaving some uncertainty about whether the future war has really been averted. As Sarah says over a shot of the open road at night: "If a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too". Judging by the current state of the world, I'm guessing that's a no.
One of the strongest aspects of the film, unsurprisingly, is the characterisation. All the returning characters have gone through changes since we last saw them. The biggest difference can be seen in Sarah Connor, who has transformed herself into a warrior mother of the future, and is haunted by terrifying visions of the apocalypse. Hamilton is playing a very different version of her character, and the actress obviously went to a lot of work to convey the emotional and physical change.
Some people missed the more feminine Sarah Connor from the first film, but Hamilton convincingly shows both her torment at becoming the very thing she fears, and her eventual redemption. It's interesting to note that, despite her outburst against men like Dyson who built the bomb and only know how to destroy, she often neglects her emotional side, such as when John thinks she is hugging him but actually she's just searching for bullet wounds.
The Terminator itself has obviously been programmed for good, and is revealed to have a learning computer for a brain, which means he becomes more human as the film progresses. Many people were skeptical about his character being changed to a hero, but it works remarkably well without softening the film too much for younger audiences. This twist fit in with Cameron's view that technology is amoral and only its use for good or evil gives it moral value.
There are a few moments that mock his character a little too much, such as when he picks up a baby. Though Schwarzenegger doesn't have the cold menace he did in the first film, he nicely balances comic moments with the tough guy heroics his fans expect.
Also returning is Dr. Silberman, who now views Sarah as the same delusional psychotic he believed Reese to be in the first film. Amusingly, after Silberman survives the T-1000's rampage though the asylum, he is left in much the same situation as Sarah was in the first film, a witness to a frightening experience that no one else will believe.
Of the new characters, the young John Connor starts out as a typical bratty delinquent, but starts to grow throughout the film into the rebel leader he is destined to be. Furlong manages to be less annoying than most precocious child actors in the role, though his inexperience shows through in some scenes.
The T-1000 is everything you'd expect from a newer model, sleeker and deadlier. Cameron knew he couldn't top the physical menace of the original Terminator, so the T-1000 is a Porsche to the T-800's human Panzer tank. Cameron dubbed the character's unusual composition as a "mimetic poly alloy" and good use is made of his ability to imitate other people and form other shapes. Cameron supposedly had the idea for a shape-shifting villain when he made the first Terminator, but of course the technology wasn't available then.
Robert Patrick made his name with this film and he perfectly captures the menace of the T-1000 with his walk and stare, without copying Schwarzenneger's performance in the first film.
The other major new character is Miles Dyson, played by Joe Morton. His character shows how good intentions can lead to great evil. He still gets briefly excited about his work even after he knows the deadly consequences, before stopping himself. Some critics complained there were no characters to root for in this one, but there clearly are, even if none of them quite fit into the victim role of Sarah in the first one.
One returning actor was unfortunately cut out of the film, even though he featured in the trailer, namely Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese.
The dialogue is generally good, though there are some moments that are a little too on the nose. The film has a lot more comic dialogue than the first film, and most of it works. It also allows Schwarzenegger to say, "I'll be back," once again, though the real catchphrase this time is "Hasta la vista, baby". Some of his dialogue is too cheesy, such as when he declares at the end, "I need a vacation".
The narration by Sarah Conner at key points in the film works pretty well, though it's a little on the nose at times. It's a bit obvious when it explains that the Terminator is a father figure for John, which should be apparent without narration.
The film features probably the best action directing of Cameron's career. The first chase scene is a particular highlight. Though some people even dismissed the whole film as one long chase, Cameron directs the quieter moments with equal skill.
T2 set a new benchmark for action and stunts. Cameron is one of the few action directors who knows how to stage action with both intelligence and heart. Some of the stunts look very dangerous, such as stuntmen rolling out of moving trucks and a chopper flying under a low bridge.
The editing is impressive, keeping the plot and/or action moving forward all the time. As with nearly every other Cameron film there are some great deleted scenes that it would have been nice to see kept in, but eventually showed up in the Special Edition. Many of the scenes were cut from the section of the film after Sarah escapes from the hospital to when she decides to kill Dyson, since Cameron considered this a dead period of the film.
What more can be said about the groundbreaking visual effects? Four major effects houses worked on the film, but it was the liquid metal effects by ILM that blew audiences away at the time. They expanded on the tiny hint of what was possible in The Abyss. Cameron cleverly delays the full reveal of the T-1000's abilities, just giving hints at its shape shifting and invulnerability early on.
The Terminator animatronics were greatly improved from the first film, and were used not only for scenes without their skins but for any times it would have been impossible for Schwarzenegger to be onscreen, such as when the Terminator is shot repeatedly by the SWAT team.
As T2 was made before digital compositing took over completely, there are a few fake looking shots particularly in the scenes involving rear projection, which Cameron liked to use because it allowed the actors to see what was going on in the scene. The scene where the Terminator reveals his robotic arm also isn't as believable as it would look now.
Some of the wildest effects were actually created with practical effects not CG, such as the T-1000's split-apart head look and his final form before he falls to his doom at the end.
Brad Fiedel's theme makes a welcome reappearance and there is also a perfect use of "Bad to the Bone" in the scene in the biker bar at the beginning. The Guns 'N' Roses song "You Could Be Mine" is featured prominently in the film, seeming to play continuously as John rides his bike across half of L.A. Schwarzenegger even appeared in the video for the song (carrying a gun in a box of roses, get it?) and decides Axl and co. aren't worth shooting.
Like The Abyss, this is an anti-war action film. Some noted this irony (Peter Nicholls wrote in "The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction" that it was, "perhaps the most violent pacifist movie ever made"), but Cameron, unlike most action directors, takes pains to show the consequences of violence, and how it dehumanises the people who commit violence, even if they have noble intentions. The scene that best demonstrates this is where Sarah tries to kill Miles Dyson. In essence she becomes the Terminator in this scene.
Though the plot is well thought out in most areas, it's never explained when and how the Terminators were sent back, since Kyle Reese said in the first film that they destroyed the time portal after he and the original T-800 went through. We can only assume that another time portal was discovered somewhere.
Some people wondered how the T-100, if it is made of liquid metal, was able to go through the time portal when it was stated in the first film that only living tissue could pass through? It's never answered in the film, but perhaps the T-1000 was coated with a thin layer of human skin before it went through (which would explain why Robert Patrick is naked at the beginning).
Cameron showed a rare example of cost cutting by using Linda Hamilton's twin sister, and casting twin brothers as the guard at the hospital, rather than using split-screen when the T-1000 imitates those two characters.
T2 is the rare sequel that matches (and some would say surpasses) the classic original. The groundbreaking effects still hold up and the film manages the rare feat of being a rollercoaster ride of a movie that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence.
While some may favour the leaner and fresher original, T2 takes the basic story and everything that was good about the first film and plays it out on a much grander scale. If only all sequels were this good.
The film was released in the U.S. in July 1991 and broke opening weekend records for an R-rated film, making almost $32 million. It went on to earn over $200 million in the U.S. and over $500 million worldwide, as well as receiving very favourable reviews compared to most blockbusters.
While it obviously didn't match the original for its profit margin, it confounded those who claimed a $100 million film couldn't possibly return its investment and set a new benchmark for effects driven action films that would arguably not be equaled until the release of The Matrix (1999). It won four Oscars, and ILM were once again honored for their visual effects work.
The T-1000 became an iconic movie villain and was spoofed in later films such as Wayne's World (1992) and Hot Shots! Part Duex (1993) as well as The Simpsons episode where Homer chases Flanders's car with golf clubs in his hands. Similar morphing effects were used in countless films afterwards, until the technique became old hat.
The later Special Edition of the film restored around fifteen minutes, most notably a dream sequence featuring Kyle Reese and a scene where John and Sarah open the T-800's head and set his memory chip to read and write. The former sequence was a nice emotional tie to the original film, though the acting was a little off and Hamilton felt it made her character regress to how she used to be. It was preceded by some violent mistreatment of Sarah by Dougie the orderly when she refuses to take her pills, which makes her later retaliation more satisfying.
The chip sequence was an elaborate scene that Cameron managed to cut around without harming the plot too much, but it would have added another layer to the story. When John and Sarah learn the Terminator's brain has been set to read-only they open his head up so they can set it to write as well, allowing him to learn more human emotion. However, Sarah decides to destroy the Terminator's brain while they have the chance and only John's insistence that they need him (showing his future leadership skills for the first time) stops her.
Instead of using complicated special effects to show the inside of the Terminator's brain, a simple animatronic head was used in combination with a trick mirror shot (and Hamilton's twin sister playing Sarah in the mirror) to create the illusion we are peering inside Schwarzenegger's robot brain.
A scene where John teaches the Terminator how to smile was probably a wise deletion. While amusing, it would have tipped the balance towards the character being even more of a self-parody. There is also an extra scene with Dyson and his family, which adds more depth to this character and shows the good intentions behind his fateful labor.
The most welcome additions include the glitches in the T-1000 after he has been blown apart and reformed. These cool little visual gags (such as his feet melting into the metal grate as he walks over it) also foreshadow his eventual destruction.
There were also some deleted scenes that weren't cut back into the film but have been included as extras on the DVD. One of these was where the T-1000 searches John's room using his fingers as sensors. There was also a coda that showed an aged Sarah in a future untouched by war watching a grown up John lead a normal life. Cameron decided this ending was too pat and optimistic, and opted for the more uncertain ending in the film. This worked out well for the third film in the series.
The same year as T2 was released, Cameron also produced the Kathryn Bigelow film, Point Break. Bigelow was seen by many as the female James Cameron, (women action directors in Hollywood being a rarity), and her earlier film Near Dark (1987) had starred three of the cast members from Aliens. So it was almost inevitable the two would work together. Cameron had written an early screenplay for the film, which concerned bank robbing surfers. The finished version would make an entertaining if preposterous action movie.
CHAPTER: THE ABYSS
CHAPTER: THE RECENT YEARS