Despite all evidence to the contrary mathematics tell us 1991 was thirty years ago. As such I bring you a retro review of one of the best films of that year…Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Spoiler Warning – Massive spoilers for this film ahead
What’s Going On?
As established in The Terminator, in the future sentient computers turned against their human masters and launched a devastating nuclear attack, and followed it up with the terminators – terrifying robot killing machines. Despite this humans continue to fight. Skynet (the sentient computer) decides to eliminate the human resistance leader, John Connor, by sending a terminator back through time to kill his mother so he was never born. Not only does this fail but the human resistance sends their own fighter back in time to protect Sarah Connor and becomes the father of John Connor. In T2 Skynet decides to have a go at killing John as a child, and again, the resistance sends back someone to protect John. The key twist being that times have changed – Skynet sends back the latest terminator – a T1000 liquid metal, able to change it’s appearance and body shape. The resistance sends back a reprogrammed Terminator, an older model, a T800, but still stronger than any human.
Behind The Scenes
The film was directed by James Cameron, who directed the original The Terminator as well as Aliens, True Lies, Avatar and of course Titanic. A huge figure in science-fiction Cameron has contributed so much to the pop culture, and broader cultural, understanding of time travel, artificial intelligence, paradoxes etc.
In Front Of The Camera
The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T800 Terminator, Edward Furlong as John Connor, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and Robert Patrick as T1000 terminator. Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and Patrick are all amazing, with Furlong being a bit mixed (a problem being he is quite annoying and so sometimes you wouldn’t be too upset if the T1000 got him). Schwarzenegger’s acting is peculiar as he is playing a character essentially without emotion, a slow and deliberate way of speaking that is not natural but fits entirely with the character and makes the moments of emotion have all the more impact. Hamilton is fantastic and her transformation from normal if determined civilian to ruthless imprisoned quasi-terrorist is perfect and makes complete sense. Robert Patrick is great as the T1000, the ease with which he switches from utterly emotionless killing machine to making banter with people when it suits his purposes is eerie.
Does It Work?
T2 is a truly outstanding film and is rightly regarded as one of the greatest action films and sci-fi films of all time. In my opinion, it is better than the Terminator and obviously better than everything that followed. The plot is perfect – the troublemaking child, raised by foster parents and convinced his mother is insane, saved by one terminator and hunted by another. Connor’s insistence on saving his mother, how it switches from not just protecting John but trying to save the future.
The film has some of the best action sequences ever filmed. The confrontation between the two terminators in which it is revealed which is the good and bad terminator, the chase through the aqueduct, the extended scene at the hospital where Sarah Connor is rescued…it just goes on and on. It’s worth talking about special effects at this point as they are astonishing. Aside from things like exploding vehicles and tearing the skin off to reveal robot parts underneath there is the liquid metal terminator. Despite thirty years passing the scenes of this terminator changing shape and appearance still look amazing. The scene at the hospital has a number of impressive shots, the T1000 rising from a puddle on the floor matching the tiles into the shape of one of the guards (incidentally using one of the oldest special effects tricks – identical twin actors), the terminator walking through prison bars (with the brilliant moment of his gun catching on the bars, as this is not liquid metal) to him chasing the car on foot, his arms becoming hooked spikes.
The film has entered the cultural landscape with quotes and iconic scenes, from Hasta La Vista Baby to Sarah Connor’s apocalyptic vision at a playground to the “thumbs up” scene – referenced in sitcom Spaced as the reducing unemotional nerd men to tears.
What elevates this film above a well-directed action film is the fact that you care. Despite Furlong being a slightly annoying John Connor you become invested in his survival, particularly around his relationship with the T800. In fact, three of the four main characters have major character changes and changes in perspective – the exception being the T1000 as he’s not meant to change (although by the end of the film he does seem pissed off that he can’t manage to kill John Connor). As well as forming a relationship with the terminator John reconnects with his mother, Sarah Connor is able to see the terminator as something more than just a killing machine and gets back some measure of hope. As for Schwarzenegger’s terminator he changes from a simple programmed machine into something more – the “thumbs up” scene I referred to was one of the last scenes of the film. The T1000 has been destroyed and in an effort to prevent Skynet from coming into existence the T800 lowers himself into molten metal, giving a thumbs-up as he vanishes. The character at the beginning of the film would have sacrificed himself as it what his programming demanded but he wouldn’t have understood why John cared so much.
Retro Review – One of the all-time great films and just as impressive today as when it was released. This film was the highest-grossing movie of that year and I think it is a rare state of affairs when the highest-grossing film is also, maybe, the best film of the year.