Friday, August 19, 2011

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

"The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too."

- Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Today brings us to the final installment of the summer-long Cameron Curriculum, this blog’s examination of all James Cameron’s movies from 1984 through 2009. The subject of today’s review is Terminator 2: Judgment Day, an immensely popular 1991 genre film that even twenty years later boasts a very positive reputation.

While never the lean, ruthless thrill machine that its blockbuster 1984 predecessor was, Terminator 2: Judgment Day boasts other delights.   For one thing, it continues  the story of the frequently imperiled Connors with stirring intensity and amazing pyrotechnics and stunts.  And -- perhaps more significantly -- it provides the genre one of its most amazing and influential villains: Robert Patrick as the T-1000, a shape-shifting, CGI-morphing leviathan.

I still vividly recall seeing this film theatrically in 1991 and being blown away not just by Patrick’s steady, focused performance, but also by the elaborate and confident special effects presentation of the character. 

Patrick carries his strength not merely in his narrow, athletic form (a far cry from the bulging, overly-muscular Schwarzenegger) but in his predatory, all-seeing eyes, which showcase enormous power and drive.

If Robert Patrick were not completely convincing in his role, this movie wouldn’t work, plain and simple. But he’s up to the task, and thus creates a classic villain. A true testament to his powerful presence is the fact that throughout the film, Arnold truly seems imperiled and outclassed by his enemy.  Given Arnold's size and weight advantage over Patrick, that's an astounding accomplishment.

In terms of mechanics, the T-1000 was created through the twin techniques of morphing and warping.  Morphing is described as the "seamless transition" between two images or shapes, and generally uses points in common (like the shape of a nose, or a mouth...) as the basis for the transition. 

In the early 1990s, these visual fx techniques became the de rigueur effects in genre films, appearing in such efforts as Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and Sleepwalkers (1992). Although morphing can apparently be traced all the way back to the 1980s and ILM work in The Golden Child (1986) and Willow (1987), Terminator 2: Judgment Day represents, perhaps, the finest and most meticulous utilization of the pioneering technique, again placing Cameron at the vanguard of technical achievement.

Comparing The Terminator to Terminator 2, one can see that the sequel -- while still a serious film obsessed with fate and man's self-destructive tendencies -- is remarkably less bleak in tone.  As the quotation at the top of this review indicates, a sense of " hope" permeates the sequel. 

Notably, Cameron also mines the Terminator character (Arnold's, I mean) for laughs.  The T-800 (ed's note: thanks Grifter!) is the proverbial fish-out-of-water, unable to understand key aspects of the human equation, including how to smile, or why human beings cry.   This set-up fits in very well with Cameron's career-long obsession with the outsider; the person unfamiliar with a world/class system who steps in and attempts to navigate it, all while simultaneously pointing out its deficits.  The outsider can be social gadfly or observer, and reveal a new perspective about the film's dominant coalition (Ripley as the non-marine/non-Company exec in Aliens; Jack a Dawson lower-class passenger on the Titanic, etc.).

Although much of the  material involving Arnold's new Terminator character is indeed very amusing, particularly the actor's gloriously deadpan delivery of modern colloquialisms ("No Problemo," "Hasta la vista..."), some of this fish-out-of-water material feels very much like left-overs from Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

It's not so evident today, but at the time of Terminator 2's release, I was shocked at just how much the Terminator's journey towards humanity appears to mirror and reflect Lt. Data's (Brent Spiner) odyssey on that TV series, which ran from 1987 - 1994.  It's a very intriguing dynamic: Gene Roddenberry acknowledged that Data's spiritual parents were Questor (from The Questor Tapes) and Bishop in Cameron's Aliens (1986).  Here, turnabout is fair play and Data is certainly a spiritual predecessor to the T-101, only one assuredly less prone to bloody violence. 

Yet, interestingly, Star Trek: The Next Generation never rigorously established a thematic motivation behind Data's obsession with the human race, and becoming "human."  Audiences were left to infer that the character felt this ongoing fascination because his creator was human, or because he served with humans in Starfleet. Data wanted to more like those he was "with,"  in other words, a fact which raises the question: would he feel the same way for Klingons if they had built and/or found him? 

By contrast, in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-800's "learning" mechanism (his method of becoming more human) is utilized by Cameron with laser-like precision to transmit a very specific thematic point:  If a Terminator can "learn" the value of human life, than there's hope for us conflicted, self-destructive humans in that regard too. 

And once more, this lesson fits in with the film's real life historical context: 1991 was the year of the first Gulf War, the first televised war which saw the deployment of  precision or "surgical strikes" on enemy targets.  Underneath the impressive Defense Department briefings on the War -- replete with stunning camera imagery of bombs striking targets -- the truth was evident.  Our automated weapons had made a quantum leap forward in accuracy and destructive power since the Vietnam War Era.  The Terminator (and Sky Net too) thus did not seem so far out of reach, given the (automated) tech we saw deployed in Desert Storm.  Today, we are even further down that road with our automated Predator drones and the like.

In terms of theme and vision, Terminator 2 also appears obsessed with the idea of forging a positive future for the planet Earth.  Not necessarily for this generation, perhaps, but certainly for the children of the 1990s.  John Connor (Edward Furlong) is only ten years old in this film (which makes it set in 1994), and he very much becomes the focus of two distinctive parental figures: Sarah Connor, and the T-101.  Accordingly, Cameron frequently showcases images of children in the film, either fighting with toy guns, or seen at a playground that becomes -- terrifyingly -- the setting for a nuclear holocaust.

Ultimately more complex, if less driving and focused than The Terminator, T2 also derives significant energy from audience expectations; playing ably on our preconceived beliefs about the series.  And again, Cameron was on the vanguard of a movement in cinema here.  The 1990s represented the era of the great self-reflexive genre movie, from efforts such as John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness to Wes Craven's New Nightmare and the popular Scream saga.  Part of this Terminator sequel's appeal rests strongly in the creative fashion that it re-shuffles the cards of the Terminator deck to present new outcomes, and new twists and turns.  The film gently mocks the franchise and the cultural obsession with "political correctness," transforming the Terminator into a "kinder, gentler" model who only shoots out kneecaps.

"It's not everyday you find out that you're responsible for 3 billion deaths."

Facing defeat and destruction in the 21st century, SkyNet sends another Terminator into the past to destroy resistance leader John Connor. 

This time, however, the attacking machine is even more advanced than before: a T-1000 (Robert Patrick) made of "poly-mimetic" alloy and a machine that can assume the shape of any human being it physically "samples."

Fortunately, General John Connor manages to send a protector for his younger self through the time displacement equipment too, in this instance a re-programmed T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger). 

The T-800 is programmed not only to defend Connor from the T-1000, but to obey the ten year old's (Furlong) every command.  This quality comes in handy when the T-1000 attempts to "acquire" Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), now incarcerated at the Pescadero mental hospital, and John orders the T-800 to mount a rescue operation.

After John, Sarah and the T-800 flee the sanitarium, they must make a decision about how they intend to stop "Judgment Day," the occasion in August of 1997 when a self-aware SkyNet precipitates a nuclear war.  Key to Sarah and John's decision-making process is Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), the man working at CyberDyne Systems who develops SkyNet in the first place. 

Sarah attempts to kill Dyson in cold blood to prevent the dark future from coming to fruition, but John and the Terminator stop her and propose a different course.  They will destroy all of Dyson's working, including the prototype chips (left over from the 1984 Terminator).

The mission is successful, but Dyson dies in the attempt.  Finally, the T-1000 re-acquires the Connors, and the T-800 must put his life on the line to stop an opponent of far greater strength and abilities.  At stake is the future of the human race itself.

I know now why you cry. But it's something I can never do.

Although overly-long and somewhat heavy-handed at times, Terminator 2 still works nimbly as a  self-reflexive thriller that dances a veritable ballet on the audience’s knowledge of the first film.

For instance, as in the first film, this sequel opens with two men appearing from the apocalyptic future. One is thin and lean, and very human-looking. The other is the pumped-up juggernaut Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Because of the earlier film, viewers are conditioned to expect Schwarzenegger as villain again, and look for the Michael Biehn-ish Robert Patrick to be a sympathetic hero. Of course, the opposite is true instead.  Our pre-conceived beliefs are used against us.

Secondly, Terminator 2 takes the unlikely but clever step of transforming Linda Hamilton’s character, Sarah Connor, into a Terminator herself. I’m not referring merely to her amped-up physique, either, but rather her very life philosophy.

Here, Sarah sets out to murder a man named Miles Dyson (Joe Morton) before he can complete SkyNet, the system that ultimately destroys mankind and births the terminators. In essence then, Sarah is adopting the approach of the machines she hates so much; killing a person BEFORE that person actually commits a crime. Just as SkyNet sent back a Terminator in 1984 to murder Sarah before she gave birth to John, so does Sarah endeavor to kill Dyson before he gives birth, in a very real sense, to SkyNet. 

The implication of this approach, of course, is that Sarah -- in preparing for the future -- has sacrificed the very thing worth fighting for, her humanity itself.  Terminator 2 very much concerns Sarah's loss of humanity, and her opportunity to re-discover it, in large parts due to her son, John.   As the movie begins, Sarah is lost and overcome with pain about the future that awaits mankind.  But John ultimately teaches Sarah that it is okay to hope again, that the future is "not set," and that there is "no fate but what we make."

This sequel to The Terminator is also fascinating for the manner in which it incorporates the dominant social critique that “these films” (meaning the films of Schwarzenegger and Cameron, I suppose) are “too violent.” In Terminator 2, young John makes Schwarzenneger’s emotionless machine promise not to kill any more humans, and the compromised Terminator spends the remainder of the film shooting up cops’ knee caps. This is quite funny, and it’s deliberately on point with what was happening in the culture of the nineties.  In other words, it's inventive, unconventional and politically-correct all at the same time.  It's not the eighties anymore, and Arnold has, in a sense, been domesticated. At least a little...

Like so many horror films of the 1990s, Terminator 2 also concern the American family and the modern changes in the shape of the American family. Sarah Connor comes to the conclusion that instead of providing her boy, John, a flesh-and-blood, human father figure, the Terminator played by Arnold is the sanest answer in an insane world. The Terminator won’t grow old, won’t leave, and will never hurt John. He will always be there for the boy, she realizes, and in vetting this idea, the movie states something important about men and machines.

When more and more American families were drifting towards divorce in the 1990s or outsourcing child care to nannies and day-cares, it’s not that odd that a woman should wish for the “ultimate nanny” – an unstoppable robot – to protect her son.  This also fits with the crisis in masculinity played out in films of the era, including Brian De Palma's Raising Cain (1992).  Men of the 1990s were supposed to be sensitive and masculine, strong and sympathetic, peaceful and -- in a single instant -- relentless protectors of the family unit.  Arnie's character dispenses with such contradictory input and sticks to his programming.  He has no conflict about what he should be, even if others impose on him their own set of rules.  Still, he manages to get the job done.

Although it spends relatively little time in the post-apocalyptic future compared to The Terminator, T2 is nonetheless haunted by the specter of nuclear war, another familiar Cameron obsession. 

In this case,  no less than five views of a playground are featured in the film.  The playground is seen at peace (before the war, in Sarah's dream), in flames (during the war), and ruined (after the war), behind the prowling, murderous Terminators. 

The pervasive playground imagery reminds viewers again and again what is at stake if humans take the unfortunate and unnecessary step of rendering this planet virtually uninhabitable: the innocent will suffer.  Children do not boast ideologies or political parties, and do not care about issues like nationalism.  They are collateral damage in any such  bloody conflict, and the prominent placement of the playground -- the domain of the child -- throughout the film makes this point abundantly plain.

At one point in the film, the T-800 also gazes upon two children fighting with toy guns and notes that it is in our nature to destroy ourselves.  The idea seems to be that as children grow and develop, these tendencies towards competition and aggression emerge fully, and move off the proverbial playground into matters of politics and international confrontation.  That may be the root of our problem.

It's interesting and also telling that Cameron has the T-800 make this observation about man in relation to children, and then later has Sarah Connor voice the conceit that males only know how to destroy, rather than to create life.  This seems a little like the pot calling the kettle black given Sarah's hardcore actions in the film, and yet one can't really deny the truth of the observation, either.  Women have simply not been afforded the reins of power as frequently as have men, historically-speaking, so guilt must fall upon the male of the species more heavily for our legacy of war and destruction.  It's an unpleasant truth, but a truth nonetheless.

But yet again, that sense of hope sneaks into the movie.  John Connor -- a male child -- proves able to curb the killing instincts of Sarah Connor and the T-800 here, paving the way for what ostensibly should be a positive future.  In almost all genre films, children universally represent the opportunity for a better future or better tomorrow, and T2: Judgment Day adheres to that trend.  It is possible to change, to correct our course, but sometimes it isn't this generation, but the next that sees that potential.

I'll now state the obvious in regards to the film: The action sequences here are truly exceptional. The film’s first major set-piece, involving a truck, a motor-bike and a motorcycle in motion, is a high-point, featuring stunning stunts and seamless cutting.

The finale, in a factory and lead works also proves highly dynamic, with the T-1000’s death scene seeming like an homage to Carpenter’s The Thing

But of course -- as we know from Cameron's other films -- the magic of the director's films occurs not just in the staging of the action, but in Cameron's capacity to make the action stirring.  He makes the action affect us on an immersing, emotional level.  Here, we have characters we truly come to care about (Sarah, John and the T-800) and so we feel heavily invested in the narrative's outcome.  I'm not ashamed to admit it, but when the T-800 sacrifices himself in the lead works, I always get a bit misty-eyed.   For John, he is losing a father and a best friend.  And the T-800 has finally learned what it means to be human, and in doing so come to the conclusion that self-sacrifice is necessary.  It's a great, even inspirational ending, if one sadly marred by the cheesy "thumbs up" gesture that accompanies the beloved character's demise.

And yet, we've seen such sentimental, perhaps even over-the-top moments throughout the Cameron Curriculum, right?  This is a director who clearly works from both the heart and the head, and who, as a direct consequence, has given us some of the most exciting and most emotional moments in modern genre cinema.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what he comes up with next...

Next Friday: We begin our look at The Matrix films!


  1. As usual you brought an insightful review to bare on this film, John. And given that you end this summer's marvelous Cameron Curriculum with T2 means you bring it to close with the perfect bookend piece to the film which started it all, ALIENS. Both are extraordinary crowd-pleasers, and successful sequels on top of that, which bare Cameron's hallmark motifs and attributes. They are equally larger-than-life SFX features, with distinct intimate themes, along with enough corporate intrigue to underpin it all. You can see how James Cameron as a filmmaker continued to evolve as we've seen in his filmography. Still, he wasn't above taking note of what he and others have done since his breakthrough '84 film and adding them in to this blockbuster follow-up. What I found in this recent screening:
    • Robert Patrick's T-1000 (I swear he didn't get enough praise when this came out) periodically gives a 'Michael Meyers'-like head tilt; another nice homage to HALLOWEEN's The Shape.
    • the late, and oh so slow, 'elevator' scenario at the Pescadero Mental Facility (as Sarah, her son John, and the T-101 attempt to escape the oncoming T-1000) is a indirect salute to Ripley and Hicks' escape from the colonist base on LV-426.
    • the introduction of the mini-gun to Arnold's character in Sarah's desert munition's bunker offers some acknowledgement to that actor's post-TERMINATOR success with his '87 PREDATOR film.
    • and doesn't the T-101's impalement via that steel rod at the foundry by the nemesis T-1000 give one thought and reminder to Verhoeven's ROBOCOP (1987)? Like that, in the end, neither spike prove enough to hold off each of the cyborg heroes.
    • finally, Sarah bringing everything down (to a close) by the simple act of pushing a button (which in itself is another allusion to the threat, or start, of Nuclear Warfare) as she did à la 1984's THE TERMINATOR.

    (to be continued)

  2. Part 2:

    T2 does draw the criticism of using too much humor in its proceedings. Granted, it's far from its 'lean & mean' predecessor as one can get. Still, given that the sequel is even more graphic in its depiction of what a thermonuclear detonation (of my hometown) in L.A. would bring (though JC's SFX presentation of the heat and blast waves following an airburst nuc strike are artistically themed -- think Sarah's skeleton on the fence -- they remain sobering and close to accurate), that humor helps to offset the film's hard-wired grimness. Certainly, that mirthless nature is epitomized by the portrayal of Sarah Conner (God love Linda Hamilton in this film!). I cannot emphasize enough her characterization in this motion picture. You nailed it by calling her out to what she in fact evolved to. Terminator.

    Think about it. The woman prostituted herself by "shacking up" with whoever she could learn from to acquire whatever knowledge and skills she could pass on to her son. She'd do anything to protect her and her son. It's the sacrifice of motherhood -- something T2 employs throughout its story. In T1, it's all about Sarah learning of her and her son's destiny. She's not even a mother, as yet, by that film's conclusion. Pregnant, yes, but still not a mother. Here, as you probably well know, when motherhood arrives, there is a change of sorts that occurs with the person that is of prime upheaval (any husband, resident sperm-donor or significant other can attest to this when they witness the mother transfiguration). It's still the most awesome change I've ever observed in human beings. What Sarah has on display here encapsulates that… in spades.

    Yet, James Cameron still manages to establish much more social comment and context in his sci-fi tale. Beyond the nuclear weapons/war aspect, he puts some of our own historical factors in play (the other reason beyond effects and stunts which raised the bar with the sequel). And he uses Los Angeles' own to do so. As an 'Angeleno', using the LAPD (in the early 1990s) as a cloak for the emblematical villain drew many knowing chuckles in my neck of the woods at the film's screening. When Patrick's cyborg pulls up to John's guardian's house in the black & white squad car, and the LAPD motto, "To Protect and Serve" comes front and center in the frame, it offered wry comment that didn't go unnoticed locally. We -- the city and its residents -- have had a long love/hate relationship with our law enforcement entities through the years (as you might recall when we discussed CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES long while back, John).

    (to be continued)

  3. Griffter6:24 PM

    Great review. The comparison between Arnold's Terminator and Star Trek's Data was one I never considered before but is nonetheless apt. Terminator 1 and 2 are two of my all-time favorite movies, so I appreciated this retrospective.

    Oh, and it's "T-800," not "T-101." He is Cyberdyne Systems model 101. Sorry to be a geeky nitpicker, but I just couldn't resist.

    By the way, I really enjoy the blog and your books. Keep up the good work!

  4. Part 3:

    And a community's is reflected here. Also, having Miles Dyson as an African-American put forward another prominent and unpleasantly associated facet. When Sarah comes to assassinate the microchip developer at his own home, something her son John senses and acknowledges is wrong and moves to prevent, it conjures (at least in my and some of my friends minds) an abysmal 'lynching' history so painfully documented in the pre- and later Civil Rights era and of our country's past. Think about it. A white armed person (Sarah) coming into a black man's home to kill him (Dyson), and subsequently terrorize his wife and kids. It hits uncomfortably close to home, I believe. Watch Joe Morton's and S. Epatha Merkerson's eyes during that scene. The fear and enmity are right there to it, and they make oh so powerful. We know, through the story, the first person who gets shot by LAPD SWAT upon entering the Cyberdyne Systems building is Miles… in the back. I tell 'ya, T2's social observations aren't subtle, but then again I don't think they should, or were meant, to be. It's why I think this film doesn't take a backseat to the first film.

    Finally, your points concerning the T-101's own evolvement onscreen are dead-on (so to speak). Here, seeing this once again at this stage in my life, I now think JC is making the point about men and fatherhood. When I first saw this in '91 (married, but without kids), it was the loss of a friend to John that moved me (like you, I get misty-eye at the film's finale). But after looking at this once again, now that I'm a gray-haired dad, I see Arnold's cyborg developing, byway of John/Sarah enabling the chip to learn (remember, the default was read-only, something the T-1000 couldn't change), as analogous to males having to 'learn' to be fathers (as opposed to be being parentally instinctual as their mother counterpart). Perhaps, I see my deficiencies in this as a parent. It's an awkward, sometimes throbbing (but essentially tender), process that in many ways only your spouse/mate/Yin (to your Yang) and your children can deliver. I think TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY delivers on that note. Certainly, you see T2 offering up the time-worn displays of self-sacrifice (of the mother) for the child and to the family (T-101's ultimate fatherly duty to protect John, Sarah, and mankind) during that climatic sequence. All of this gets to me even more now.

    Great, great job at delivering on the promise of this study of one of the great filmmakers out there, my friend. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Thanks so very much, John.

  5. @ Griffter: excellent catch! I got caught on that one, too, in my comments. If only Blogger's comment system offered a global search & replace function ;-). Thanks.

  6. Anonymous10:15 AM

    What an insightful and thorough piece! (And @le0pard13's companion writing as well) Great stuff, all around.

    I love the notion of Sarah as Terminator. One of the very first things that I think of when I think of this movie is the image of her padding lithely down the mental facility corridor, baton in one hand, eyes fixed and determined. Believing/knowing a terminator to be 'out there' with her son somewhere, it's time to -Go- and Gods help anything that stands in the way of that exit. Her journey through the film is extraordinary.

    And I have to agree about @le0pard13's similar observation about fatherhood. I definitely get a new added vibe when I watch this now, having four kids under my roof, as opposed to the first time - when it was just me and myself in a movie theater with kids only a disbelief in the back of my head.

    I will say though, I did enjoy the dry humor scattered about. That kind of thing works for me. For many folks, cracking a joke at a usually inappropriate time helps them cope. (I'm most partial to the T800's comment "He'll live" when John starts to freak out about the guard getting shot, as well as John's response to the question of how many police have arrived at the scene.) It's not a laugh-track punctuated slapstick-fest after all, so I'm personally not bothered and enjoy it.

    Great stuff. Looking forward to Matrix now!

  7. Great review as always, John. And excellent comments by le0pard13 as well.

    Another on my list of to watch (geez, sometimes I feel inadequate, LOL) films.

    I remember seeing the previews for this film. The morphing tech was absolutely incredible to watch in the trailers on tv. It really flowed into Cameron's water motif he's got in his films. Even in Avatar; there, Jake's beginnings of his personal reawakening happen after he leaped into the river to escape the creature. In essence, it's a baptism as well as a step on his role towards his spiritual growth. Cameron has the twin motifs of water and family throughout his career. Even in Titanic, we have a family dynamic, albeit in reverse, as Rose is pushed into joining a family she doesn't really want to by her family.

    But then, there's also the twin Star Trek ripoff/presaging we have going on here with T2. First, in Next Gen, we are introduced to the kind, gentle Data---but we discover later he wasn't the first. Indeed, his twin brother Lore turns out to have acted murderous, not unlike the Terminator of the first film (and would do so again . Doubtless anyone who knew the first one would have expected Data to be similar. Lore does try to wipe out all organic life, and later "reprograms"---well, actually, tries to replace all organic parts in Borg to help them in his quest against organic life. But the 'good' droid stops the 'bad' droid.

    Similarly, we first meet Odo from Voyager and know nothing about him. It turns out he is from a race of shape-shifters who want to control all life because of their fear of solids.

    Like the Terminator stories, the Data & Lore/Odo & Founders tales are from the late 1980s and early 1990s. I don't think anyone was trying to rip anyone off, specifically, but it is interesting to see these ideas develop across the separate franchises. Unlike Trek, however, Cameron abounds in strong women. For all of the equality, I cannot see any Trek women (except maybe when they were mothers of younger children) being as strong as Cameron's women. But Cameron's women---Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Grace Augustine, Neytiri, Jamie's character in True Lins, the soldier from Aliens and the chopper pilot in Avatar and Ed Harris' wife from The Abyss---are feminine and masculine at the same time, as needed, when protecting family, or young (Neytiri clearly thinks Jake is young, in the beginning, and treats him like a kid).

    You'll notice the corporate scum from Cameron's worlds are cut from the same cloth as Skynet, ruthless in achieving goals, not caring who or what gets hurt, willing to treat everyone as a tool no matter what, etc. There is no practical difference between Quaritch and the two company bozos in Avatar, Burke from Aliens, or Skynet.

    On the other hand, Arnie's re-programmed Terminator develops the ability to SEE, much as the natives of Pandora can see each other (if different in actually execution). Patrick's morpher and Skynet never develop the ability to SEE. In fact, as I alluded to in another response to a different blog, none of the Skypeople except Jake, Grace, Trudy, and a couple of science geeks try to see. And, when the Sky People/Earthers are in their choppers and shuttles and fighting suits, they have become Terminators in their own right. Quaritch, in his combat suit, is both Terminator and Robocop, ED-209 and Ripley in the power suit. And yet, unilke the partially human Robocop vs ED-209 or wholly human Ripley vs Queen Bitch Alien, the humane non-human Neytiri kills the inhumane human Quaritch. Cameron has come full circle and stood all the motifs on their collective heads; he's become as great a director as Lucas or Spielberg or John Ford or Hitchcock. And clearly needs a up-to-date book about him.

    Gordon Long

  8. God, Robert Patrick is so frickin' awesome in this movie. I still have T-1000 nightmares, and I'm not exaggerating.

    What Cameron did MASTERFULLY with Patrick's character is make sure that the character's presence was felt even when he was not there or disappeared from the film for up to 40 minutes!

    At one point, as Arnold and crew invade Cyberdyne (spelling?), we ALMOST forget that the T-1000 is still a problem. But then, bam, he shows up and all hope just DRAINS from you.

    I dare say that he almost accomplishes, but with better skill, what Arnold did in T1. In T1, Michael Biehn says that 'he'll never stop' blah blah blah. While Arnold was intimidating, the T-1000 seems to LIVE that credo. When not on screen, I still FEAR the presence of the T-1000. It is a haunting, terrifying type of character to portray and portray well because even if I don't have a dream specifically about the T-1000, I sometimes fear the IDEA that someone unstoppable is out to get me.

    The only other film I can say convincingly gave me that 'well, we get a break but we'll HAVE to deal with it later' kind of character was Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight but even that pales in comparison to Patrick in T2.

    JKM, love the comparison to Data. Never thought of that before.

  9. There’s very little for me to add here but redundancy. JKM’s initial review has nicely accounted for the T2’s thematic qualities and the above comments have further reflected some keen insights from alternate perspectives; I had never really considered the social/racial tempers that underline the film or even the totality of Arnold’s T-800 as a paternal figure and how he completes the motley family unit. Some good thoughts.

    This movie was a pretty big deal during the summer (the year, in fact) of ‘91. Anyone here remember how popular the Guns N’ Roses video ‘You Could Be Mine’ was? I sure do. They played it all the time. I remember the first retailed VHS copies of this film were priced anywhere from $65 to $90 bucks, no bullshit. I also remember the toy commercials that advertised a play-set with one of the two boys (always two there were, blonde haired, exaggerated enthusiasms) crashing a vehicle through a stack of those anonymous clear plastic cubes that existed nowhere else but on TV. It’s strange to look back at an R-rated film that was heavily merchandized for kids: toys, trading cards, comic books, video games, back-to-school clothing & accessories... bonkers, there was even a Universal Studios theme park attraction, T2-3D: Battle Across Time. And yet these cash-ins were in no way inappropriate, given that the film’s heart protagonist is also a kid who at one point even embraces his cyborg protector as a full-scaled action figure: “Cool, my own Terminator!”

    Cameron’s films, this one being no exception, are definitely rendered with state-of-the-art aesthetics. I’m not just talking about the edge cutting visual effects; there is a certain high-tech modernism that permeates T2. Visually, the film looks as if it’s been chromed – blue tinted settings littered with stainless steels and metallic reflections, the T-1000 himself a glob of shinny mercury. The sleek white interiors of Sarah’s mental hospital carry over into Miles Dyson’s beachfront house, the latter of which, along with the Cyberdyne building, are lit with outdoor landscape lighting that accentuates the kind of neoteric sensibilities of Southern California’s private sectored suburban sprawl – a corporate future on the rise. Glass structures are seemingly abundant, filtering our view of rooms, characters and technologies. Computer terminals appear in all shapes and sizes, from the one in the police car to John’s code cracking laptop, Dyson’s home desktop and the many assorted in the Cyberdyne lab; and you gotta love the cameo of After Burner, the jet fighter arcade simulator that John is playing at the mall.

    Even Arnold’s flattop connotes programmed efficiency.

    There is a distinctive sharpness or clarity to the film’s imagery that I can’t quite explain; having to do with the lensing and composition, yes, but more so regarding the content itself – the way Cameron streamlines the extraordinary into a simple but strikingly powerful visual. A good example of what I mean is the scene where the Terminator removes the skin from his forearm, revealing to Dyson the endoskeleton beneath. It’s a sensational in-camera effect for one, but also the angle and alignment of the Terminator scowling down past his robotic form, and the how the reverse close-up rack focuses to Dyson’s expression as he realizes what he’s seeing. And there’s no time wasted on disbelief. Dyson is not stupid: the instant he recognizes the technology, he seems to comprehend almost instinctively the full gravity of the situation. From the Terminator to his mechanical hand to Dyson’s face, Cameron zeroes-in with emotional intensity the entire space-time spanning, apocalyptic arc of the story.

    This is a good movie, and fine note on which to end the Cameron Curriculum.

  10. Gosh John, when you do a film marathon you do it right. You leave no stone unturned as they say. This was a thorough and comprehensive analysis of all things James Cameron and if it weren't for his connection to the massive uber-Hollywood-sized budget I might discount the man as an artist. Once again, you remind me of why the man is both talented, intelligent, thoughtful and deserving of his blockbuster success. He certainly does for films what you do for the artists in your writing and books. It's in the details my friend.

    To begin, one of the things that always grabbed me about this film seeing it in the day is how it took a meager, dark but intense film in The Terminator and turned it into a grand, pulsating spectacle. Second, Robert Patrick nearly steals the show. He's amazing in his determination and resolve. He is the kind of actor, like a Kurt Russell, who brigs something special to a limited role. He certainly is part of the ensemble here, but it's Patrick along with HAmilton and Arnold that really sell the film. THey are the collective trumvirate of this one.

    But Patrick is truly David against the Goliath, but it is David who is truly frightening. That is an impressive accomplishment indeed. I've always felt that Robert Patrick brought so much talent to the role of John Doggett on The X-Files that he makes those final two seasons a wild success. If you consider Carter could have selected someone for the role that could have concluded the two final seasons as a true disaster is something of a miracle in Patrick's selection. He raises the bar. He's an underappreciated talent falling somewhere between character actor and lead.

    But, yes, as you mention, I was always impressed and pleasantly surprised how Cameron reversed the role of Arnold for this film. It was a smart and ultimately terrific twist in taking his story to the next level. The breakdown of convention and expectations works beautifully.

    Further Sarah's transformation and growth in the face of the coming war is another remarkable touch, and yet one more reason T2 differentiates itself and goes much further.

    I enjoyed your fx historical footnotes. I also really enjoyed your look at the film and the concept of the contemorary family. It's an interesting take and one that I too find fascinating in so much of today's pop culture.

    Wonderful commentary from everyone above too.
    Excellent work John. I'll be back.

  11. Great comments by all on T2, the last of our Cameron Curriculum films.

    Le0pard13: Your multi-part comment is a wonder my friend. I'm sorry it took me this long to respond to it, but it's been a hectic week here in Muirville, with unexpected assignments and other diversions keeping my attention away from this post.

    But your comment is extraordinary, and you get at several deep facets of the film. I enjoyed, in particular, your discussion of the race component of the film and how it applies to the setting (Los Angeles) in the early 1990s. And you're right about the scene with Sarah's assassination attempt on Miles Dyson. There is a racial component there, under the surface, that intrigues.

    I also fancy your discussion of Sarah and her development/evolution. I likened her to a Terminator, but in fact, she's just the biggest, baddest mother of them all, right? As such she directly follows in Ripley's footsteps. But I found your discussion of her sacrifices very moving, and true. It's an interesting thing: She would do anything to save John, and yet doesn't care much for his feelings or emotions. That part of her is "programmed" to save him, but not be, necessarily, emotionally available to him. Fortunately, human beings, like Terminators, can learn. And Sarah re-discovers her humanity in the course of the film.

    I really, really enjoyed your comment my friend, and I want to thank you for all of the marvelous participation and insights you brought to the Cameron Curriculum.

    All my best,

    (more to come...)

  12. Griffter: I want to thank you for your comment, and also for setting me straight vis-a-vis Cyberdyne Systems 101 and T-800. Interestingly enough, I just watched T3 and Arnie refers to himself there as a T-101, so I guess I'm not the only one who got confused over robot nomenclature! :)

    Thank you for your supportive and kind comments about my books and blogs. Stick around!

    (more to come...)

  13. Hi woodchuckgod:

    Thank you for the excellent comment, my friend, and insights on T-2. I could not agree with you more that being a parent/father changes one's perspective of this film deeply. That's a journey I've traveled, as well. As a parent, I've thought more about sacrifice and my family than I ever would have imagined. When I watched Titanic a few weeks ago, I thought about how the most important thing for me would just be getting my son and wife on a life-boat. Nothing else would matter. It's funny (and I suppose, natural and right...) how priorities come to change.

    Thank you for the excellent comment!

    (more to come...)

  14. Gordon: I like your comparison of the Terminator universe with various, later incarnations of Star Trek. I agree with you that there is a lot of cross pollination, but that's it not about being a rip-off. These just seemed to be the issues roiling the culture of the late 1980s and the early 1990s. I think there was then a fear of "science run amok" because of the Human Genome Project and the advent of the Internet. We also, for the first time, had -- on a national basis, really -- integrated the computer into the home, and into the routine of life. I think that characters like Data and the Terminator reflect our uncertainty, at least, about this development.

    I also love that you found another Cameron connection here, noting the Terminator's development and ability to "see," as we've seen that term applied to Titanic and Avatar. Great catch!

    Awesome comment, my friend.

    (more to come...)

  15. Will:

    I absolutely share your admiration for Robert Patrick's performance in this film. He's amazing in this role, and not in a two-dimensional or stilted fashion. He doesn't play the character as the stereotypical, unemotional robot. There's much more going on, and I also cotton to Le0pard13's comparison with Michael Myers in the Halloween series. Yes, indeed. Patrick, I think, plays the part specifically as a predator, a hunter, not as a machine. He's always prowling, seeing, hunting, calculating his next shot or gambit.

    He's amazing in this movie. A performance for the ages, and one that really gave this film a tremendous boost.

    best wishes,
    (more to come...)

  16. Cannon:

    I love your assessment and description of the visual palette of T2. As usual, your comment does not disappoint. I like how you described the surfeit of consoles/computers, and the "chromed"/silver/blue look of the film. I couldn't agree more: There is a richness in hue that works brilliantly for the film.

    I also like your dissection of the Terminator/Dyson scene wherein the T-800 carves up his room. You are right about the ruthless efficiency in the scene, and the manner that it plays with the emotions.

    A great comment! I hope you stick around for our look at The Matrix films. You've become an absolutely invaluable commenter in these parts...

    (more to come...)

  17. SFF:

    Thank you for the kind comments about the Cameron Curriculum, my friend. I had a blast writing this movie marathon, and I'm sorry to see it end. It's been a fun summer revisiting Cameron's works.

    I love this trenchant observation in your comment: "one of the things that always grabbed me about this film seeing it in the day is how it took a meager, dark but intense film in The Terminator and turned it into a grand, pulsating spectacle."

    Yes, you nailed it, I think. It is incredibly impressive the manner in which Cameron opened up his epic, and turned essentially a time travel chase movie into a sci-fi franchise for the ages.

    I also agree with you about Robert Patrick and Doggett. I love the last two seasons of The X-Files -- despite the naysayers -- because he registers so strongly as a presence. I would have loved to see the show go on with him for another four or five years. He brought dignity, charm and presence -- as you say -- to that role. I always hate it when people compare him to Duchovny, because it was never about replacing Duchovny, it was about adding a new and interesting character as a lead. Patrick excelled in that role.

    Great comment my friend.

    All my best,

  18. Anonymous8:13 PM

    Sadly, the one thing I remember about this film, was the day after I saw it, I got into a dispute with my late father. The result of that led to me punching him out hard and a fist fight right after.

    Not a memory I like to think about.


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