It’s been almost 12 year since we last saw Arnold in what is widely considered his most iconic role to date. Since then, not much has been going on in the “Terminator”-universe. We’ve had a short-lived Sarah Connor tv show, which gained a cult following, and then there was that awful McG-directed snooze-fest “Terminator Salvation”, which I think we all want to forget about. Now that the reboot is right around the corner, and with Schwarzenegger back as the T-800, I think it would only be appropriate to go back in time and take a retrospective look at the film that not only elevated the franchise, but also broke new ground in the special effects industry. The film of course is “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, once again directed by James Cameron.
The film picks up years after the events in the first film. Sarah Connor has been institutionalised, and her teenage son John is now living with foster parents in the surrounding suburb, wasting time at the local arcade with money acquired from credit card scams. But as we all know, the idyllic neighbourhood quickly turns into a murderous rampage, when two Terminators are sent back in time – one is programmed to kill John, the other is trying to protect him. That of course leads to one incredible action set-piece after another.
The highest-grossing film of 1991, ‘Judgement Day’ has been broadly accepted as being among the all-time greatest sequels. James Cameron’s screenplay naturally had a lot to do with that, bringing us classic one-liners like “Hasta la vista, Baby”, “Come with me if you want to live”, and of course “I’ll be back”. All of these and many other things have helped make T2 a cultural phenomenon that is universally loved by fans and critics alike. What is most remarkable about this movie is its realistic combination of CGI and practical effects. In fact, it was the first motion picture to ever incorporate motion capture, and also the first to ever have a partially computer-generated main character. The T-1000’s liquid metal substance was, as with all other computer graphics, created by Industrial Light & Magic, while the practical side was handled by Stan Winston Studios. Together the two departments paved the way for a technical breakthrough that would forever change the way blockbusters were made. The digital and tangible forces were united to create a whole new kind of illusion. A look so unbelievable that audiences had a hard time separating real from fake.
The funny thing is that all this wizardry only adds up to about 5 minutes of screen time. That’s right, 5 minutes. What is even harder to grasp is that 25 people worked on it for ten months, which amounts to 25 human years. It’s really quite astounding to think about how so much labor was poured into something that doesn’t even make up 10 % of the final product. Yet it is because of this massive effort that the movie is as convincing and riveting as it is. Without it the movie is nothing. The whole concept rides on the filmmakers’ ability to maintain the illusion that the costume is wearing the man, not the other way around. ILM did that to perfection, further cementing the legacy that would continue to grow over the years with equally impressive pictures such as “Jurassic Park”, “Avatar” and “Iron Man”. I don’t even think people know just how seminal and influential the film was. It basically laid the groundwork for post-modern Hollywood cinema.
But it isn’t just the technical finesse that makes ‘Judgment Day’ such a well-functioning piece of action. It’s the heart that Cameron injects into his characters. Sarah Connor, the traumatised mother who has to live every day of her life with vivid nightmares of the forthcoming apocalypse, locked up in a mental ward while knowing that her son is in grave danger. John’s strange attachment to a machine, who eventually becomes the father he never had. A responsible figure who will always be there to keep him out of harm’s reach. There is a sense of gravity to each of the players, and they all have something to risk, which makes them infinitely more relatable. Even Schwarzenegger’s stone-cold cyborg resonates with us emotionally, and that is perhaps the biggest triumph of Terminator 2. Mix all of that with a pulsating soundtrack, deft cinematography, and visionary special effects, and now you have a first-rate thrill-ride that instantly grabs you, pulls you in, and doesn’t let you go until only one Terminator is still standing.