by: Chris Eaton
Shit got real son…
20 years ago today, Terminator 2 Judgement Day was released to a frenzied public. The sequel to director James Cameron’s first break out hit, The Terminator, it would go on to be the highest grossing film of 1991. It was unlike anything people had seen before. Sure, it was a sequel to a very moderate hit, but Terminator 2 was something more. I can only compare the anticipation for it to the Dark Knight. The public knew there was going to be something big coming. Little did they know what they would get when they sat down to peep the film. Even at the age of seven, when I saw the commercial for it during the Simpsons, and my dad wigging out over it, that this was going to be big. Like every James Cameron film before and after, it was at the time on of the most expensive films ever made. There was concern that that the film would bomb and not make back it’s reported $100 million budget. Huge for that time. Thanks to the combination of the hugely popular Arnold Schwarzenegger, the action and special effects would pull people’s asses into theaters to see what would be the beginning of a new era for film. Coming off of his hit Aliens (which ironically is hitting it’s 25th anniversary next week), the film my dad would show me at the age of four and traumatize my fragile little mind until my teens, James Cameron had pushed the limits of film making with The Abyss. The film about a deep sea drilling crew coming in contact with under water extraterrestrials was not the grand action film that Aliens or even the first Terminator was. It did get Cameron to work around CG for the first time. The watery pseudopod sequence in the middle of the film would propel Cameron to write T2, as he could finally realize the shape shifting villain that was made of liquid metal. The end result being one of the most iconic villains in history.
Terminator 2 would go on to be a historic film that was more than just a mindless action flick. At the age of 11, I finally watched T2 at my best friend Rick’s house. He saw it during it’s theatrical run and wouldn’t shut up about it two whole years. His mom had bought it on VSH and we sat in his room after nearly killing ourselves on his trampoline outside. It was this viewing that I finally saw what the guy was going on about. This would be one of three films he would turn me on two, the other two, The Big Lebowski and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, would become staples of my late teens. Out of those three, Fear and Loathing and T2 remain in my top ten films that I love near and dear. There’s a reason for that. Terminator 2 is that rare sequel that far exceeds the original. Cameron took everything that he did with the first film and turned it on it’s head. He took the lessons he learned on The Abyss and Aliens and applied them to what he couldn’t do with his first film.he took the villain of the first film and made him the hero. Giving us a bad ass heroine that would make Ellen Ripley look like a shoddy bitch. An iconic villain in Robert Patrick’s T-1000, who was more robotic and soulless than Arnold’s performance in the first film. Even what many consider the worst thing of the film, Edward Furlong, was strong as a young John Conner. A que George Lucas could have taken when trying to established a bad ass before he was a bad ass. Clearly he didn’t take nod a young John Conner when he introduced the world to a young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. But I digress. There’s a reason why James Cameron is one of the best filmmakers in the world.
With a budget in hand, he took us on a chase through the LA river beds on the back a Harley with a semi truck in pursuit. All done practically. A robot taking out LA’s finest by pulling a mini gun on them. The showdown at the end when the T-1000 chase Sarah, John and the T-800 into the steel mill is Cameron telling the audience: This is what I would have done the first time around if I had the budget. Anyone paying attention though, would recognize that these big set pieces would be nothing if the film didn’t have a soul. There is so much emotionally iconic moments in T2 that it can be it’s own course in film school. The opening shot of the Terminator stepping onto the skull in the wastelands of a future LA. Sarah Conner’s introduction and torment in the mental hospital. The big reveal when the two terminators throw down at the Galleria. The T-1000 chasing after the car. Finally, that last, final shot that will forever be cemented in film history:
Tell me that doesn’t pull at your strings. This film is the definition of iconic.
Even thought effects of the film helped cement it in th annuals of time, the irony is, while most of this is done in practical effects. Of which are superb, and part of the reason the film holds up so incredibly well today, it’s the CGI use that would make this film stand out. T2‘s use of CGI to bring the T-1000 to life was revolutionary at the time. Never had so much of a character or effects relied so heavily on computer effects. ILM, George Lucas’s company, were on the verge of a massive breakthrough when they created the pseudopod for the Abyss. With T2, they obtained immortality. The seamless creation of the T-1000 would captivate audiences everywhere, and start a new era in film. It’s only fitting that this film was released in 1991, the begging of a new decade. The 90′s would soon go on to be a renaissance of sorts for Hollywood films. Little over a year later, Steven Spielberg would be swayed into using CGI to bring many of his dinosaurs to life for Jurassic Park. The rest is history.
Today, we have films like Green Lantern and Transformers, who rely heavily on CG to bring full characters and worlds to life. Sadly, while pretty, they don’t have that special touch to them like a 20 year old movie dose. James Cameron, who would go on to win an Oscar and return to create fantastical worlds with the use of computers in Avatar, clearly knew that CG is more than a flashy effect. It’s a tool. One that properly used can create many grand adventures. Since the release of Terminator 2, the franchise has seen better days. Terminator 3 would be a fun film, but one that seemed out of place with the world that Cameron created . Terminator 4, featuring just as big of a budget as T2, showed why it takes talent like a James Cameron to tell this story. The Sarah Conner Chronicles would be an interesting footnote in the series history, but sadly not much would ever come of it.
In the end, 20 years ago, on the 4th of July weekend, the world changed. Imaginations would be sparked and create a new generation of filmmakers and artist. The bar for films was set again, almost 15 years after Star Wars. Terminator 2 Judgement Day remains, to me at least, the very best in the career of James Cameron and everyone involved. It remains one of my top ten all time favorite films. And it’s the high water mark when the ambition of the 80′s was washed away for the futuristic out look of the 90′s, when the internet, mass communication and many other things T2 would describe started to become reality. It was fitting that The Matrix, another event film, would close out the decade. I honestly believe that film would not only exists due to T2, but owes many of it’s themes to it too. Like T2, it would go on to predict more futuristic trends that aren’t far off, all the while using CG to elevate it’s story to heights that hadn’t been seen before. To that I say raise a glass to an awesome movie. Here’s to another 20 years of appreciation for Terminator 2.