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!”

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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.

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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.

If you like this then check out:

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).

Film Review: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

The ‘Terminator’ franchise is given a new lease of life as Sarah Connor returns…

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Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reunite for the James Cameron-produced ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox/Paramount Pictures).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes

Directed by:  Tim Miller / written by:  David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes & Bill Ray (story by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, David S. Goyer & Justin Rhodes) / 128 minutes

What’s it about?

A cybernetically enhanced soldier from the future teams up with Sarah Connor to protect a young girl from a new and even more lethal Terminator…

In review

Director James Cameron returns to the franchise he created, as producer (as well as story co-writer) for Terminator: Dark Fate – the sixth Terminator film – which functions as a direct sequel to Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (thus ignoring previous entries Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation and 2015’s failed reboot, Terminator: Genisys), facilitating the return of Linda Hamilton as the tough as nails Sarah Connor.

A solid and action-packed continuation of Cameron’s humans versus machines time travel story, Dark Fate may not be in the same league as T2 but it’s comfortably the best Terminator since 1991.  That’s in no small part thanks to Linda Hamilton, reprising her most iconic role with ease, intensified by the further grizzle and weariness that age – and circumstances – have brought upon her.  Connor may have prevented Judgment Day but as we learn in Dark Fate, a cataclysmic conflict between humanity and advanced, self-aware artificial intelligence was merely postponed.

In Terminator: Dark Fate, Grace, a cybernetically augmented human resistance fighter (Blade Runner 2049’s Mackenzie Davis) is sent back in time from the year 2042 to the present in order to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes), a young auto factory worker from being murdered by a relentless ‘Rev-9’ type Terminator (Gabriel Luna, previously Ghost Rider on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).  Over two decades after destroying the work of the Cyberdyne labs, Sarah Conner, then the literal mother of the human resistance, finds fate aligning her path with Grace’s mission to ensure Dani’s survival – the importance of which soon becomes clear.

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Mackenzie Davis as the human resistance’s augmented super soldier Grace (image credit: 20th Century Fox/Paramount Pictures).

Restoring the anxious tension and sharp brutality of the original Terminator films, Dark Fate is enhanced by its casting, it goes without saying that Linda Hamilton is a standout but she is greatly matched by Mackenzie Davis who, like Hamilton some 25+ years prior, brings a believable sense of fierce physicality to her role and the concept of a human/cybernetic hybrid is both intriguing and frighteningly prescient.  Natalia Reyes also holds her own as Dani, who is given a strong arc that helps drive the heart of the story, completing the film’s trio of engaging heroines.

Of course, this wouldn’t be Terminator without Arnold Schwarzenegger who once again returns as the original form of Terminator – the Cyberdyne Systems T-800, model 101.  Notwithstanding the pure nostalgic delight of seeing Schwarzenegger and Hamilton reunited on screen, Arnie brings that extra bit of presence to proceedings and is given new layers to explore as Dark Fate provides an interesting and neat twist to his character.

Gabriel Luna provides a palpable and deadly threat as the new breed of Terminator – a sort of ‘dual’ combination of the T-800 exoskeleton and the morphing liquid metal T-1000 – giving audiences another new spin on the old as Luna slices, stabs and crashes his way through anyone and anything that stands in the way of the Rev-9’s mission.

Whilst he’s no James Cameron, Tim Miller is an efficient action director, utilising his experience from Deadpool and marshalling his skills effectively in balancing the visual effects (the odd weak CGI moment forgiven) and exciting set-pieces – including an edge-of-the-seat tussle aboard a C5 cargo plane and a satisfying and scintillating finale – with character and story.  The narrative may evoke a sense of familiarity, it’s overall structure undeniably reminiscent of T2 which perhaps make Dark Fate a little predictable in moments, but there are enough small tweaks that add elements of the new and keep the commentary (and cautionary statement) on technological progression meaningful and relevant.  The real challenge will be where to take the franchise next but for now, Terminator: Dark Fate is something of a shot in the arm for the series.

The bottom line:  Resetting the future of a troubled franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate is an enjoyable and effective sci-fi action blockbuster that combines the comfort of the familiar with some pleasing touches of the new.

Terminator: Dark Fate is in cinemas across the U.K. now and opens in the U.S. and other worldwide territories on 1st November.

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

Film Review: ‘The Predator’

Shane Black takes the reigns for the newest addition to the ‘Predator’ franchise…

 

The Predator

One of cinema’s most lethal creations returns in ‘The Predator’ (image credit: 20th Century Fox, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane

Directed by:  Shane Black / written by:  Shane Black & Fred Dekker/ 107 minutes

What’s it about?

The crash-landing of an alien spacecraft leads to a fight for survival as a rag-tag group of ex-military personnel find themselves being hunted by a dangerous and lethal extra-terrestrial…

In review

Along with the Alien and Terminator series, Predator is another franchise that refuses to die despite diminishing returns.  Having said that, Predator 2 and Predators are actually pretty good so far as sequels go but a pair of underwhelming Alien vs Predator films sullies the overall quality.

Enlisting Iron Man Three director Shane Black to helm a new Predator instalment would surely give it instant potential, then?  Sadly, The Predator proves more of a low point for the franchise than a triumphant return, a promising set-up and an interesting creative approach let down by a weak script and messy final act.

Boyd Holbrook (Logan) and Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) are capable leads, the former as sniper Quinn McKenna – bringing the requisite dose of gruff alpha male – and the latter, convincingly, as biologist Dr. Casey Brackett.  Joining them is a group of kooky military misfits, amongst them Thomas Jane’s Tourette’s-inflicted Baxley, the endlessly profane Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and the surprisingly stable ‘Nebraska’ Williams (Trevante Rhodes).  Adding a touch of villainy is Black Panther’s Sterling K. Brown as Traeger, an oddly comical government agent with special interest in the mysterious Predators.

By giving us a set of oddball characters, The Predator seeks to draw the audience in and have viewers become emotionally invested and to a degree it works, proving most effective with an endearing performance by Jacob Tremblay as McKenna’s autistic son, Rory, who may hold the key to defeating their enemy.

There’s some misjudged (though perhaps necessary at this point) attempts to broaden the mythology of the Predators themselves which some may be receptive to and others may not as it removes some of the mystique surrounding the iconic alien hunters.  Disappointingly, the ‘Super’ Predator seen in the pre-release trailers is nothing more than an oversized version of the original creature, although it does raise the stakes as the film progresses toward its denouement.

Making full use of its ‘R’ rating (certified ’15’ in the U.K.), The Predator is fairly bloody at times and its language littered with profanity which fans of the franchise would rightly expect.  The film’s action is satisfying in places but, bar one or two moments, there’s a lack of tension – especially during the rushed finale that feels generic, choppy and uninventive.

It all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity and a genuine shame given Black’s history with the franchise, having played the part of Hawkins in the classic 1987 original as well as providing uncredited contributions to the script.  The screenplay for The Predator, co-written by Black with Fred Dekker (RoboCop 3) is a little clichéd, with some embarrassing and dumb dialogue and an overreliance on humour – some of which provide genuine laughs but too much of which feels stilted.

The direction is fairly competent and it’s commendable that a slightly different approach for The Predator was sought, but ultimately the fusion of action, horror and humour doesn’t quite gel as successfully as it could have with stronger writing and better editing.  As a result, The Predator is best watched more as a straight forward, slightly cheap action horror flick than a notable and essential continuation of the franchise.

The bottom line:  A flawed sequel to a beloved classic, there’s some fun to be had with The Predator but its creative potential is squandered by some weak execution.

The Predator is in cinemas now.

Terminator 5…really?

He always said he’d be back…

The long mooted Terminator 5 is moving ahead with Arnold Schwarzenegger poised to return as our favourite killer cyborg.  But, I have to ask, should there be a fifth Terminator film?

Firstly, I am a huge fan of the Terminator franchise in general (and enjoy a good Arnie film as much as anyone), James Cameron’s The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day rate highly amongst some of my all-time favourite films and I really enjoyed the overlooked short-lived small screen spin-off Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines had its moments and is generally entertaining but just wasn’t the same (imagine if Cameron had done a third film) but director McG’s Terminator Salvation totally missed the mark, promising a lot but delivering very little resulting in an uncertain and convoluted mess.  That was it for me, I was content to let the franchise retire, be nostalgic and relive happy memories by periodically revisiting T1 and T2.

Cue Arnie’s return to Hollywood following the conclusion of his political career and I doubt few were surprised that Terminator 5 was one of the first (if not THE first) projects being discussed.  The production rights to the franchise were secured by Annapurna Pictures with Fast & Furious director Justin Lin attached, only for him to subsequently drop out due to his commitments to Fast & Furious 6.

It seemed that T5 would languish in development hell but now news has emerged that Paramount Pictures are in talks to acquire distribution rights and it looks like the project is (more or less) set to go again with sights set on a January start date for production.

I’m glad that Arnie is back in town, his role in The Expendables 2 was fun (if a little cringe inducing at times) and The Last Stand showed potential.  Having grown up spending many late Saturday nights watching and loving his films (and I still do), it’s like welcoming back an old friend.  I’m certainly looking forward to seeing him team up with pal (and once box office rival) Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables 3 and the forthcoming Escape Plan and not even his age is really an issue so far as T5 is concerned (the wonders of modern digital effects – just look at what was accomplished in Tron Legacy with the post de-ageing of Jeff Bridges), it’s the fact that if T3 triggered a decline in the quality of the Terminator films then Terminator Salvation damn well secured it.  What if T5 is another ill-conceived embarrassment?  Is it really worth the risk of building up the hopes of audiences?  I appreciate it’s too early to tell but I’m not confident that it is, I’d love to be proven wrong and nothing would please me more than to report that Terminator is back on form but I’d sooner see Arnie move on to other (hopefully great) things and let be what once was (unless James Cameron fancies another crack).

What are your thoughts on Terminator 5?  Leave a comment below!

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