August 29 is an infamous date in the world of The Terminator. Decades later, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Skynet’s big achievement, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is being re-released in theaters and thanks to the director’s own supervision, upgraded to a 3D format.
That fateful day when Skynet became self-aware and started thinking for itself, August 29, is the beginning of the end for humankind in James Cameron’s world. In 1991 his Terminator 2: Judgment Day arrived in theaters an instantly became a classic. It is one of the best sequels of all time. It is one of the best action movies of all time. It also single-handedly revolutionized time travel movies and pushed the special effects envelope well beyond what audience had ever seen. Yeah, it was pretty cinematically seismic.
Sure, we can debate the merits of the actual 3D upgrade. But, that is not the crux of this essay. What struck this writer the most witnessing the 3D screening of one of our favorite films of all-time recently is exactly why this is one of our favorite films of all-time. It is iconic in every way. Just witnessing it on the big screen again is just as much of an event as it was all those years ago.
Oh, Terminator 2, how do I love you so? Let me count the ways.
TURNING A HIT ON ITS HEAD
When The Terminator arrived in 1984 it was a ground-breaking film that firmly placed Cameron on the map. Then, seven years later, he unveiled a sequel that was in some ways… the polar opposite to his first film.
First, it had a bigger budget. Second, it turned our wallflower target of a Terminator’s bullet into her own version of a killing machine. Third, our first film villain was suddenly our sequel’s hero and that storytelling switch-up proved to be a stroke of brilliance.
When Sarah Connor is running down the hallway in the insane asylum and reaches the elevator and the doors swing open, she thinks she is free. Then, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator steps out. The look on her face alone is worth the price of admission. Her sheer terror is electric and palpable, and what’s more, that plot turn is so effective, it even works for people who never saw the first film. That is just one spoke of brilliance in the wheel of awesomeness that is Cameron’s masterwork.
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and essentially that is what Cameron gave us with Terminator Deux. The first found a Terminator coming back to kill Sarah Connor so she would never give birth to the resistance leader, John Connor. In the sequel, a technologically advanced Terminator is sent back to kill Connor himself. It is a liquid metal version of the robotic killer that seems to have been built to solely ruin your day. The T-1000 (played by Robert Patrick) arrives and immediately his laser focus is on execution and will not stop until his mission is successful. Ever the smart strategist, Connor sends back the rebooted Terminator from the first film whose soul purpose now is to ensure that Connor the teenager stays alive.
We get an expanded world storyline in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a dramatic plus and something all sequels must do to truly succeed. John’s Mom, Sarah (Linda Hamilton), is obsessed with stopping Skynet from ever even being able to launch that nuclear attack that wiped out the human race on August 29, 1997 in the first place. She tracks Skynet’s creator, Miles Dyson, down to his home and starts to shoot at him from afar like a sniper. Realizing he’s hit, but not mortally wounded, Sarah gets up and robotically walks towards his home, firing her weapon the entire way. It is a scene that finds Sarah mirroring the militaristic fierceness of a Terminator and just another genius stroke of mirror storytelling that Cameron employs with his breathtaking follow-up. Dyson (Joe Morton) is the scientist who will give the machines all they need to become self aware and destroy us all. Kill him, Sarah thinks, and kill Skynet.
There are so many elements going on in the internal world of Terminator 2. It is a much more complicated tale than the first film and in the end proves to be richer and a more compelling film in all ways. It is, frankly, a story for the ages.
The only way that the terror and thrills of this film could feel emotionally real to the audience is if the special effects were envelope-pushing. We’ve seen The Terminator and that was scary enough. But what the T-1000 does in T2 makes one think there is no way to defeat it and therefore, the fear factor for all those onscreen (and in the audience) is upped exponentially.
To achieve that, Industrial Light and Magic moved the special effects bar with their work in 1991 and it remarkably still holds up today. Nowhere during the witnessing of this 3D upgrade will anyone in the audience be able to tell that the technology utilized in making this film is dated. It is anything but. How the T-1000 moves, changes, alters and becomes different people, voices and forms is seamless and as mind-blowing today as it was two decades ago.
Speaking of the T-1000, it was the most perfect movie villain audiences were given to fear since Darth Vader. No matter what Schwarzenegger does to protect the Connors, Patrick’s evil-doer just keeps coming. It is like you couldn’t kill him. For the audience, nothing heightens the tension with each action sequence more than that fact. They might be able to get away from him. But, he can be all things at all times and that entity will eventually catch up with you. The danger is real and that is because Cameron and his team crafted the ultimate villain with the T-1000. Twenty-plus years of movie-going later, there have been few film baddies that top Terminator 2: Judgment Day’s automated assassin.
A lot of that credit has to go to Patrick. One of the headlines around this anniversary re-release is how Billy Idol was originally offered the part that Patrick took. One cannot imagine a world where Patrick didn’t simply kill it as the killer who never stops coming. He is everything Arnold was in the first film and so much more. He took the Terminator performance to a whole new level. It is one infused with pure evil meets a wicked sense of humor (love the waving of the finger scene… tsk, tsk tsk!).
It is a culture reverberating turn. Remember when Patrick approached Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World as a cop who had pulled them over? Yeah, nothing needed to be said. His mere presence in that policeman’s uniform was all that was needed.
THE ACTION SEQUENCES INTERWOVEN WITH HEART
There are so many memorable action sequences. It is hard to know where to start when saluting them. But, what is so effective in this film is how Cameron wove those iconic moments throughout T2 with an influx of heart that is rare in an action film. These scenes, like when Sarah narrates how the Terminator is a good of a father figure as any of the men she has had in her life simply because he will go to the ends of the earth to protect him, are sublime. They don’t last long. They didn’t have to… but their purpose is clear. It brought the heart into the film for the audience beyond it simply beating faster.
ARNOLD GIVEN MORE LINES
Who knew that giving more lines to an actor not necessarily known for his acting would be a plus?
Schwarzenegger uttered 17 lines total in the first film. History has shown that his increase of dialogue in the sequel was downright iconic. A slew of classic quotes emerged from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and gave the action hero more mojo with audiences than ever before. “Hasta la vista, baby,” “No problemo” and of course a new lease on his classic, “I’ll be back,” gave Arnold more quotables than he’s had in any film before or sense. Our favorite will always be, “He’ll live.” And talk about turning things around! How about Schwarzenegger’s Terminator uttering the words, “Come with me if you want to live” to a terrified Sarah Connor after he comes out of that mental facility elevator? That is just astoundingly creative.
The Terminator 2: Judgment Day re-release is something to celebrate because it allows a whole new generation of film fans to witness the glory that is Terminator 2 on the big screen. The fact that it is in three-dimensions is not necessarily a huge addition or subtraction. As Cameron knows all-too-well, given the work he has done with 3D cinema, the original Terminator sequel is not the most conducive to a 3D upgrade. It is dark and gloomy and that is just one of the reasons we adore it. The transfer itself works in places and is flat in others, but it does not matter. This is a film that needs to be feted and there is no better place to do that than in the temple where people go to worship the movies… the theater.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day comes back to theaters in 3D on August 25.