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Terminator 2: Judgment Day


Well after my review for The Terminator we coincidentally move on to....Terminator 2! What are the odds?



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Year of release
1991

Directed by
James Cameron

Written by
James Cameron
William Wisher Jr.

Starring
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Linda Hamilton
Edward Furlong
Robert Patrick
Joe Morton
Earl Boen

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

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Plot - Almost ten years have passed since a cybernetic killer called a Terminator hunted down and attempted to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton) and her unborn son who is due to lead the human resistance to victory in the future. That attempt failed but now a new Terminator has been sent back in time tasked with eliminating John Connor (Furlong) while he is still a young child. The new Terminator is a more advanced and powerful model than its predecessor, named the T-1000 (Patrick). Sarah and John need to go on the run, but this time they will have help from an unlikely source. The human resistance have managed to send back a Terminator (Schwarzenegger) of their own, tasked with protecting them at all costs.

In a recent interview James Cameron stated that these days he greatly prefers this sequel to the original. And I've got to say that it's not really a surprise. When you look at 1984's The Terminator and compare it to all of his films that followed there have very little in common. Following the lean, economical approach he took to that venture, his subsequent films became increasingly more epic and bloated, both in terms of their scope and budget. In fact in the six subsequent films since The Terminator not a single one has come close to clocking in at under two hours. So when you take the efficient, concise Terminator and the effects-heavy juggernaut Judgment Day, with almost an hour's difference in their running times, it's easy to guess which way Cameron would lean. It's for those same reasons however that I now prefer the first film to this much bigger and shinier sequel. Whereas The Terminator was one of the most direct films I've ever seen this has a tendency to meander; it's nowhere close to being as focused as its predecessor. I particularly find this to be the case in the stretch that leads up to the big conclusion. While Sarah's attempted assassination of Miles Dyson and the subsequent assault on the Skynet lab makes sense for the story, and even includes some terrific moments of action, I feel that it really does have a negative impact on the film's momentum. It really feels like the film becomes distracted, and I think it's a real problem when you completely sideline your main antagonist for a full 45 minutes. For a film that placed great emphasis on its chase element, not having Robert Patrick on screen whatsoever during that time seems like an odd choice.

I also don't think that the script is as strong this time around. In numerous ways it is actually just a straight remake of the first film with only a few slight alterations, namely the target of the hunt (John not Sarah) and the implementation of Arnie (no longer the villain). As a result it doesn't feel anywhere near as fresh or inventive as the original story, and also suffers from some occasionally dodgy dialogue and some irritating plot holes. My problems with the dialogue can most readily be found in the stretch of film centred in the desert where Sarah indulges in some pretentious, flowery and hippy-like voiceover sentiments. As for irritations with the plot there have always been a couple of things that have irked me. Such as why does the returning Dr. Silberman never mention Kyle Reese? The omission of his part in her story seems very strange, both in their sessions together and particularly when he is giving a tour to a group of medical students and talking about how fascinating her case is. Something else that has always confused me is why at the conclusion the T-1000 tries to torture Sarah into calling out to John. Considering that he can mimic both the voice and the form of Sarah this seems completely pointless. One thing I will give the script credit for is that it enhances the central issue of the film about humanity's over-reliance on technology. We see that Miles Dyson, the man responsible for everything, was a decent guy with the best of intentions who just happened to over-reach is grasp.

Film Trivia Snippets - Believe it or not but the first choice to take on the role of the T-1000 was actually Michael Biehn. It would have seen Biehn and Schwarzenegger once again go head-to-head but in a complete role reversal of the first film. The idea was abandoned however when the filmmakers deemed that it would be confusing for viewers. /// In the audio commentary on the film's DVD release, James Cameron revealed that not only was the biker bar scene filmed right across the street from the spot where LAPD officers beat up Rodney Kind, but that they were actually filming on the night of the incident. /// How about this for validation of the work done by the art and FX departments - local residents in Lakeview Terrace actually held a protest outsider their local Medical Centre when they thought it had been transformed into a state hospital for the criminally insane. It was only when they realised that it had been set-dressed to represent the Pescadero State Hospital that the protest disbanded. And in a similar incident the effects at the steel mill were so convincing that some former works of the plant, which had been closed for over 10 years, actually thought that it was back up and running. /// A sequel to The Terminator was first announced back in late 1984, with a projected budget of just $12 million. When the film was eventually made the final budget ended up coming in at $102 million.
While Judgment Day retained the same R rating as the first film the tone this time out is certainly a lot lighter with a lot more humour present. We can see this right from the outset with Arnie's terminator being introduced to the cheesy tones of “Bad to the Bone.” Arnie's Terminator just has a much more user friendly interface for the sequel (and I did steal that line from somewhere! ), bonding with young John to create a humorous double act and tossing out one catchphrase after another; the “I need a vacation” line in particular feels so silly. As well as that you've got the surrogate father angle that evolves between the Terminator and John, culminating in the terrifically hokey thumbs up as Arnie enters the molten steel below. Even the look of the film is a lot easier on the eyes. While the first film seemed to take place almost exclusively at night and had an extremely grubby aesthetic, this sequel often takes place in the bright LA sunshine and in general is just a lot shinier and brighter lit. If the first film was a gritty thriller on the fringes of horror, then this is a purely bombastic blockbuster.

So far all I seem to have down is point out flaws in this film and why I prefer the first outing for the characters. Despite this I still find Judgment Day to be a tremendously entertaining slice of action. In massive contrast to the first film's shoestring budget, Terminator 2 boasted a budget just north of $100 million, making it the most expensive film ever made at the time of release. And it's very evident where all that money went because Judgment Day is a masterpiece in special effects; so much so in fact that for the most part they can still stand up to this very day. If a film was released today with this level of CGI then very few eyelids would be batted. Right from the opening seconds the upgrade in special effects is clear to see; the sequence detailing the warfare of the future is a much more up-scaled, high tech version than we saw in the first film. And the absolute pinnacle of the effects can most definitely be found in the liquid metal capabilities of Robert Patrick's T-1000. Whether it's morphing into other people or objects, transforming its hands into vicious weapons or conveying the damage caused by gunshots and the like the effects are fantastic. In fact the T-1000 remains to this day one of my favourite ever CGI creations. Some of the images the effects help to create are just fantastic, particularly to show the damage inflicted upon the T-1000; the gunshots which actually look like pie tins, the large impacts which damn near split the character in two or my personal favourite, the hole in the head that the camera moves around to peer through. I also love the scene where the T-1000 is doused in liquid nitrogen, freezing to the point where his legs begin to snap as he walks. Further great work from the Stan Winston company is to be found in the realisation of Sarah's nightmares, with the film this time relying on good old fashioned effects such as miniature models to bring to life the horrors of the forthcoming nuclear assault. It has been labelled by experts as the most realistic nuclear blast depicted in film and is an exceptionally vivid and horrific scene.

When it came to casting the upgraded Terminator sent back to hunt down the young John Connor, it must have seemed like a near impossible task. How exactly do you find someone who not only has to follow in the intimidating footsteps of Schwarzenegger from the first film, but has to be able to stand up to Arnie and convince as a formidable foe. Well the film pulled an interesting and inspired rabbit out of the hat with the casting of Robert Patrick. He certainly doesn't have the same physical frame as the Austrian bodybuilder, but on the strength of his own attributes he damn near proves a match for Arnie's T-800 in terms of menace; his sharp, chiselled, angular features and icy blue eyes making for an unnerving prospect. Whereas Schwarzenegger's muscles made him a weapon of brute strength, the T-1000 is a more wily and stealthy opponent. Even if he was nearly impossible to stop there was a feeling that you may somehow be able to outrun the T-800, but that's certainly not the case with the T-1000. And it actually makes a kind of sense that the film would switch things up with the Terminator. After all as technology advances it always becomes more compact, so having a smaller, nimbler Terminator is logical.

Film Trivia Snippets - When looking for inspiration on how to play the T-1000, Robert Patrick looked to nature. For the character's head movements he mimicked the American bald eagle, while when it came to moving through crowds he patterened himself after a shark moving in on its prey. /// If you want an example of the large divide in scale between this film and its predecessor beyond their budgets, take a look at their filming schedules. While the first film was shot in a mere six weeks, this sequel had a shoot that run for eight months! /// Arnold Schwarzenegger's “Hasta la Vista, Baby” line is amongst the most iconic quotes in all of cinema. For the Spanish release of the film it is translated into “Sayonara, Baby” to preserve the humorous nature. /// The date of Judgment Day is August 27th, 1997; the same date that the Soviet Union first detonated an atomic bomb in 1949. /// There was a proposed sequence that would have shown the design of the Time Displacement Machine that sent the Terminators and Kyle Reese back in time, but it was rejected. The machine would have consisted of three rings independently rotating around each other, with the subject to be displaced levitating in their centre. The design ultimately resurfaced in the 1997 Jodie Foster film, Contact.
With Robert Patrick taking over on villain duties it frees Schwarzenegger up to be the hero. While it's an understandable story choice given how iconic and popular his character proved to be in the original film, I preferred him as the terrifying threat rather than the noble hero. That said, his character is still pretty cool. I love the way the character continually spin-cocks his shotgun in between firing. As the mother of the resistance, Linda Hamilton is almost unrecognisable from the first film in the role of Sarah Connor. Where once was a damsel in distress there is now this intense, ripped warrior. She is just bursting with fury and violence, resembling a caged animal during her time in the mental institution. Her sanity has been pushed so far that she's actually rather frightening on occasion. As strong as it is on its own, it's only when you compare the performance to her first outing as Sarah that you see what an incredible transformation she pulled off. She very much inhabits the characteristics of Michael Biehn's Reese from the first film. As her son John, thing don't run quite so smoothly. Edward Furlong is a bit hit and miss, though in the end does a pretty decent job, especially when you take into account that it was his first ever acting gig. What I think also hurts him is that I've never been overly fond of the character that the script sticks him with; he's a little bit of a whiny, emo bitch! There's also a very brief but welcome return for Michael Biehn in the form of a dream-induced cameo. Oh and I also found Joe Morton very engaging as Miles Dyson.

When it comes to the action sequences I don't think they have quite the same intensity and edge as the first film. What they lack in those departments however the sequences most certainly make up for in terms of sheer spectacle and scale. The initial chase is thrilling and features some astonishing stunts, with the moment a huge 18-wheeler truck flies off a bridge into the flood control channel being an incredible highlight. Arnie's explosive one man assault on the entire Los Angeles police department at the Cyberdyne building is another very memorable set-piece. Earlier on I talked about the lull that occurs when the T-1000 is sidelined for 45 minutes. After that lull however the film does rally for a pretty bad-ass finale that centres around the brutal smackdown between the two Terminators and features some incredible special effects.

Conclusion - Back in the day I used to hold this above the first film. While that is no longer the case I still think it's an incredibly entertaining film, still one of the best films of its kind. And to be honest I should perhaps still be giving it 5 stars, it's just that I wanted to show the slight preference I have for the first film. I kind of see it like the first and third Die Hard films. The first Die Hard is undoubtedly the better film, but With a Vengeance comes damn close to it in terms of entertainment. And it's a similar case her I feel. It may not be as creative or as direct in its approach but it's still an astonishing mix of action and special effects that remains great fun on every viewing.