Sunday, January 18, 2009

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Countdown From Judgment Day - Part 3

When I think of the 1990's in film, I believe T2 is one of the defining moments and clear high points of the entire decade. Its groundbreaking visual effects, combined with a well-crafted storyline, flawlessly continue the saga set forth in the 1984 predecessor and make this one of the few sequels that is (arguably) better than the original. James Cameron's direction and attention to detail paid off, and some consider this movie to be one of the best action movies of all time.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Writer/Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong

Since we're heading backwards in time with this countdown series, it's difficult to recap what's going on without directly referencing events that took place in the first film (yet to be reviewed), but let's be honest - T2 came out in 1991, so there's no excuse for having not seen it by now. In short, the film follows John Connor as a ten year old (Furlong) as he tracks down his mother Sarah (Hamilton) and frees her from a mental institution with the help of a Terminator (Arnold) that looks identical to the one that attempted to kill Sarah eleven years earlier. They try to stop Judgment Day - the nuclear destruction of billions of people and the start of Skynet's takeover - and avoid being assassinated by the T-1000 (Patrick), a new kind of Terminator with the ability to morph parts of his body into sharp objects.

The Terminator franchise has done a brilliant job of balancing a great action-based storyline with serious subject matter. The films raise valid questions about humanity's reliance on technology, and Hamilton's performance allows the audience a physical representation of one who has factual knowledge of the future but is deemed insane because of her isolation in that knowledge. Scenes involving Miles Dyson, the computer engineer who would have created Skynet if not for Sarah's interference late in the film, look at deeper issues: how would you react if you discovered your well-intentioned actions would be responsible for the deaths of billions of people? Questions like these and many more are what separates Terminator 2 from being "just another action movie." I really enjoyed the scenes with Dyson (Joe Morton) - I thought his acting was the best in the film.

Cameron has complete control over this whole movie, and it doesn't drag for a second. Every scene is necessary to the story, and the action more than makes up for the slower sections of the film (Sarah's dreams, etc). The scene that most stands out in my mind is the one where John first sees the Terminator in the back hallways of the mall. The Terminator pulls a shotgun out of a box of roses and steps on the flowers as he walks closer, metaphorically crushing any doubt in John's mind about his mother's sanity and effectively changing his life forever. The ensuing chase scene on the motorcycle through the flood control channel is a high point in the movie, and (aside from the - spoiler alert! - massive explosion of Cyberdyne Systems at the end) probably the one that people most remember from this film.

The acting in this movie was solid, if not slightly over the top. I guess you're allowed to be over the top in a film featuring time travel, molten lava, and cybernetic organisms. Linda Hamilton buffed herself out nasty style for this movie, slimming down to a soldier physique as opposed to her normal girl look from the first film. Robert Patrick was predictably robotic as the T-1000, who had very few lines and didn't need any more than he had. His poker face must be amazing, because that guy barely blinked in the whole movie and he looked like he could kill someone just by looking at them. His small stature and speed made for a good matchup against Arnie's brute strength. Schwarzenegger was much better in this film than the original Terminator, and not just because he plays the hero this time - you could tell he was much more comfortable as an actor, since his role in the first came very early in his career. Arnold played the surrogate father role to the young John Connor, mixing humor with curiosity while following his programming and getting the job done when necessary.

I kind of have mixed feelings on Edward Furlong's take on John Connor. It's hard to rank him against the other portrayals of John Connor in the media because Furlong was stuck playing the character at his youngest age. In this regard, I feel he did a good job transitioning the character from whiny brat child into a kid who slowly accepts his role and his destiny as a leader. I'd probably rank him higher than Thomas Dekker's version in The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show, only because Dekker is more of an emo pansy who never really does anything action-oriented. At least Furlong's Connor could tamper with electronics.

Now, straight from Wikipedia, a little trivia for you. James Cameron originally wanted singer Billy Idol to play the role of the T-1000, but Idol had a motorcycle accident around the time they wanted to start production, so Robert Patrick was chosen instead. Linda Hamilton has a twin sister, and she doubled for her in T2 during dream sequences and the times when the T-1000 took her form. The movie was made for about $100 million, which was the most expensive movie ever at the time, and was the highest-grossing film of 1991. Here's a link to the full script of the movie, in case you're into that kind of thing.

So where does T2 stand in the hierarchy of the franchise? Firmly at the top, and it doesn't look to be shaken off any time soon. McG's new take looks promising, that's for sure - but it's going to be extremely difficult to top one of the best action movies of all time and even harder to become as entrenched in pop culture as James Cameron's classic has over the years. How many times did you hear people say "hasta la vista, baby?" in the 90's? OK, maybe that's a bad example - but there's no denying T2's influence on the sci-fi and action genres over the past 15ish years. Stay tuned for the final entry in the Countdown From Judgment Day series. Until next time...

1 comment:

Head Hero said...

My "Terminator" perspective was skewed for so many years.
I saw this film before the first one and really didn't understand what the heck was going on. But over the years I found out there was another one and the one I saw was the 2nd.
When I found out Arnie was the bad guy in the 1st...I...I just couldn't believe it.
"How can the good guy be the bad guy?"
I was young...but now I have everything straightened out and love this series. "Salvation" will make a good addition to the franchise (in my far).