It’s a Classic: ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“I’ll be back…”

Edward Furlong joins a returning Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger for James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (image credit: StudioCanal).

Year:  1991

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton

Director:  James Cameron / written by:  James Cameron & William Wisher

What’s it about?

A reprogrammed cyborg is sent back in time to protect John Connor, the future leader of the human resistance against Skynet, an advanced A.I. that once attempted to have his mother ‘terminated’ and has now sent another killing machine to eliminate John…

In review: why it’s a classic

Irrefutably one of the greatest sequels of all time and a science fiction action classic on its own merits, Terminator 2: Judgment Day takes everything that was achieved with 1984’s The Terminator and amplifies it with the gift of a generous production budget in the region of $100 million (making it the most expensive film ever produced at the time) and cutting-edge special effects presenting a blockbuster film on an epic scale.  Returning to direct is James Cameron (who also produces and co-writes with William Wisher), whose career was launched with the surprise success of The Terminator and quickly assured by Aliens in 1986.  Cameron’s direction is both masterful and meticulous ensuring that T2 engages and thrills whilst having the same commitment to innovation the filmmaker had demonstrated previously.

At this point a household name as one of the world’s biggest stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises the role that made him – the Terminator.  Having become more familiar to audiences as the hero rather than the villain, T2 makes a creative switch with its lead actor and this time out Arnie gets to play the good guy, a reprogrammed T-800 model Terminator sent back in time by the human resistance to protect a young John Connor from being murdered by Skynet’s (the genocidal A.I. attempting to exterminate mankind) own Terminator, the morphing liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  Also returning is Linda Hamilton in a career high, providing an intense performance as a hardened and weary Sarah Connor, a credible evolution of the underdog everyday girl of The Terminator, physically and emotionally transformed into the troubled and burdened woman we meet in T2, now institutionalised and unable to safeguard her son.  Edward Furlong hits the ground running in his introductory film role as the rebellious pre-teen John Connor.  The young Connor’s ‘hero’ arc in T2, together with the surrogate father relationship he establishes with Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is the core of the film without which it simply would not have succeeded.  The excellent Joe Morton is also suitably cast as Miles Dyson, the man whose work would lead to the creation of Skynet and there are some great moments with him as he learns of what the future holds.

Not enough can be said of Robert Patrick, who puts in a chilling and predatory performance as the relentless and formidable T-1000, brought effectively to life using revolutionary computer-generated effects (supervised by Denis Muren, who would work with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park) which builds upon the pioneering CGI utilised by James Cameron in The Abyss.  The equally impressive practical effects and prosthetic/makeup designs are once again handled by Stan Winston and his team, integrating seamlessly into the film to provide a sense of authenticity and believability.  The superb technical work on T2 would rightfully result in Academy Awards for make-up, visual effects and sound.

Robert Patrick as the relentless T-1000 Terminator (image credit: StudioCanal).

The action set-pieces remain phenomenal and really hold-up when viewed today, enhanced by Adam Greenberg’s Oscar nominated cinematography.  From the opening sequences depicting the war-ravaged future of 2029, the T1000’s tanker truck pursuit of John Connor and his Terminator guardian and the rescue of Sarah Connor from the Pescadero mental institute to the assault on the Cyberdyne labs and the gripping steel-mill finale it’s all thoroughly entertaining, culminating in a crushing emotional pay-off.  Adding to this is composer Brad Fiedel who provides another memorable score, his electronic-synth music building upon the themes he crafted for The Terminator, highlighting all the excitement, tension and emotion of T2.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day would go on to gross over $500 million worldwide, a significant sum back in 1991 and a huge hit for the once mighty Carolco Pictures.  James Cameron would revisit the film to produce a ‘Special Edition’ extended cut (including a dream sequence that features Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese, reprising his role from The Terminator) two years later and a 3D theatrical re-release in 2017.  Beyond its ambitious effects work and action spectacle, T2 is a film with a great deal of heart and humanity at its core and it’s the successful marriage of those components – together with its wonderful cast – that makes it a film that continues to resonate with viewers thirty years later.

Standout moment

Tracking John Connor to a mall, the T-1000, disguised as a police officer, gives chase to its target.  But John is not alone as a large, shotgun wielding man comes to his rescue…

Geek fact!

Whilst Earl Boen is another actor to return from The Terminator, as Dr. Silberman, there is one more face from James Cameron’s 1984 classic to appear in Terminator 2: screenwriter William Wisher, who cameoed as an L.A. cop in The Terminator is seen as one of the mall patrons, taking pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fallen T-800.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

It’s a Classic: ‘The Terminator’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Come with me if you want to live!”

Terminator a

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the iconic killer cyborg in ‘The Terminator’ (image credit: MGM).

Year:  1984

Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henrikson, Earl Boen

Director:  James Cameron / written by:  James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd

What’s it about?

An unstoppable cyborg is sent back through time from the year 2029 to murder Sarah Connor, a waitress who will be mother to the leader of the human resistance waging a future war against the machines…

In review: why it’s a classic

Prior to 1984 it would be hard to believe that James Cameron would become one of modern cinema’s greatest auteurs.  Having previously worked as an art director on Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (and later increase his profile by co-writing the screenplay for Rambo: First Blood Part II with Sylvester Stallone), Cameron had made his directorial debut with the dreadful horror sequel Piranha II: The Spawning.  Yet his fever-induced vision of a robot killing machine would spawn not only a successful filmmaking career but also a pop culture phenomenon.

Setting out to create the definitive technological science fiction terror tale, Cameron would drive The Terminator above its perceived B-movie trappings and create an all-time classic.  Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role, The Terminator sees a formidable and seemingly unstoppable cyborg sent back in time to the then present day of 1984 from the year 2029, where mankind faces extinction in a war against Skynet – an advanced form of A.I. – and its army of war machines, to murder Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the human resistance’s leader, John Connor, before he is born and can lead the human race to victory.  There’s hope for Sarah in the form of Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn – later to star in Cameron’s Aliens), a resistance soldier also sent back to 1984 with a mission to find and protect her from Skynet’s ‘Terminator’ at all cost.

Terminator b

Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in ‘The Terminator’ (image credit: MGM).

Say what you will about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting abilities, but his balance of subtlety and intensity created a truly terrifying adversary, a shark-like robotic predator driven relentlessly to fulfil its programming in a career-defining role that would propel him to superstardom and a performance that is a crucial component in the success of The Terminator.  The film is a tense, exciting and often terrifying sci-fi action chase-thriller that posits a frightening scenario in which the advancement of technology and humanity’s hubris results in its obliteration.  Its dystopic elements are levied by the romance that builds between Sarah and Reese and together with the hope of humanity’s survival, creates a sense of hope amidst the bleakness.  Michael Biehn is great as Kyle Reese in a performance that conveys more depth than the average action hero.  Biehn is certainly adept at handling all of the required physicality but there’s a vulnerable quality to Reese that brings a lot of humanity to the character and a believability to a man out of time who has only ever known a life of hardship and struggle.  Linda Hamilton is perfectly cast as Sarah Connor with a fine portrayal of the everyday girl-next-door who has the fate of humankind literally placed in her hands.  Despite the fantastical aspects of the story, Sarah’s arc and her growth unfold naturally as she begins to unlock her inner strength and ultimately accept her destiny.  She is the heart of The Terminator and Linda Hamilton helps to create one of the most iconic screen heroines, inspired by Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

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No escape? The Terminator continues its relentless pursuit (image credit: MGM).

The film’s special effects have aged extremely well and bely the $6 million production budget.  Younger viewers may scoff at the more practical nature of The Terminator but the ambitious blend of miniatures, puppetry, stop-motion animation and rear screen projection are a testament to Cameron as a pioneer in filmmaking.  Of course not all of the credit should go to Cameron, sure, through his tenacity the film’s grand vision was realised but it mustn’t be forgotten that the film’s groundbreaking effects and design would never have been achieved without the works of effects company Fantasy II and Hollywood legend Stan Winston (who would collaborate with Cameron again on Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day as well as creating the deadly alien hunter in Predator).  The Terminator is the successful sum of numerous parts and would not have been complete without Brad Fiedel’s score, undoubtedly one of the greatest revelations in motion picture music.  As strong as the film’s concepts and visuals, the metallic clunks and thrumming beats infused within Fiedel’s electronic score bring the killer cyborg and ravaged future Los Angeles to life.

Whilst the franchise may have faltered in recent years, James Cameron’s The Terminator remains forever a classic piece of science fiction cinema and with its laudable technical achievements, thrilling action and a captivating story it’s a film that will continue to endure.

Standout moment

Homing in on its target, the Terminator tracks Sarah Connor to the Tech Noir nightclub – making its way through the crowds on the dancefloor, drawing a handgun as it approaches Sarah and prepares to make the kill.  But Kyle Reese is already there, waiting to spring into action…

Geek fact!

Initially under consideration for the role of the Terminator were Lance Henrikson (who would go on to appear as LAPD cop Vukovich, alongside Paul Winfield’s Lt. Traxler) and O.J. Simpson.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was also originally put forward by his agent for the part of Kyle Reese.

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RoboCop (1987): the ‘other’ iconic 80s techno sci-fi action classic, director Paul Verhoeven executes a violent and satirical film with a superb central performance from Peter Weller as the titular part-man, part-machine future cop.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).